My roommate doesn’t bathe as much as she should. Is there a way that I could tell her that she smells terrible without hurting our relationship?
Often people who are the worst offenders can’t see (or in this case smell) it for themselves.
I think your approach depends upon how close your relationship to her is. Sometimes people of a different culture are not brought up with the same stringent hygiene training we have in the U.S. You are doing her a favor by telling her; after all, you would want to know, right? So think in terms of how you would like to hear it from someone: the words you would want to hear, the sincerity of the person, the benefits you would want to know about having good hygiene and some points on how to go about making the change. Keep in mind that your roommate is her own person, so keep her personality, values and sensitivity in mind when you speak with her.
You may want to consider purchasing her a little gift basket of bubble bath, scented powder, body spray and stick in a bit of deodorant/antiperspirant in there for good measure. There are some nicely scented stick deodorants for women. I have known several people over the years, men and women, who actually use their body odor as a deterrent to making new friends or allowing people to get close to them. It is a way of putting up a wall to keep society away; a sort of boundary against letting the world in. And then again, some people have an erroneous belief that their own “natural scent” is what should draw people to them; perfumes and deodorants be damned! Sometimes people allow themselves to stink because it is a way of expressing anger or hostility; and sometimes it is a sign of depression or other emotional/mental illness. Some are just lazy or have low self esteem and don’t take care of themselves in more than one area of their lives. If you have a good relationship with her, you may want to give her the gift basket along with the “talk” wherein you ask her if she is aware that without a daily bath or shower bacteria builds up on the skin and in our “delicate parts” and emits an offensive odor. If she is interested in having friends or a boyfriend (and keeping them), tell her she may want to consider freshening up daily. Perhaps your enthusiasm over the items you give her and a frank, caring discussion will go a long way, especially if no one has ever bothered to take the time to “show and tell” her. I’d also say you care about her as a friend and don’t want to hurt her feelings, but if you (meaning you, not her) were to have an issue you would hope she would come to you and let you know about it.
The last resort, of course, would be to get a new roommate and if this is the case, don’t feel bad or guilty about making that decision. You have a right to live with a clean person who respects and takes care of her body and respects others who have to live with them.