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Dirty Niece

Question:

I have a niece who seems to have a problem with personal hygiene. She bathes once a week on average. She doesn’t clean anything. Her house, her car, her self. The topic has been discussed to no avail. She has been given body and bath fragrances that sit in her bathroom collecting dust. Any direction will be greatly appreciated.

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Answer:

Beyond sitting your niece down and directly (but lovingly) telling her that she smells, that this is definitely going to affect her social and occupational prospects, and being prepared to teach the mechanics of how to bathe, there isn’t much you can do. She is an independent human being who makes her own decisions and after a certain point you have to respect that. You cannot force her to bathe against her will (at least not without possibly breaking the law and causing irreparable damage to your relationship – grin).

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p> I’m assuming that your niece is a reasonably intelligent adult and knows that she smells. If this is the case, the interesting question is why has she chosen to not bathe, in violation of all civilized norms? She may have a good reason for not bathing. You might approach this more compassionate question peer-to-peer style when next you speak with her, rather than trying to brute force her into cleanliness like some embarrassed parent. For instance, she may be actively trying to make herself as revolting as possible so that, for instance, someone incesting or raping her might become less motivated to do so. This sounds like something out of the movie “Blue Velvet” by David Lynch, I know, but this sort of thing does happen. At one point in my life I knew someone who didn’t bath for just this reason. Think about how shameful and helpless it would feel to come to believe that the only defense you might have against being raped would be to make yourself disgusting and you’ll know why (if this is the case with your niece) she hasn’t before make her motives clear.

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