How Do I Tell My Sister to Practice Better Hygiene for My Wedding?


AAPW: She gets offended at every suggestion I make

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

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Q: My sister (who is three years older than me) and I are very different and have never been close. Now that we’re grown, we lead very different lives: she is a teacher in a quiet town in the Midwest, and I am a marketing manager in a city. We see each other for the holidays, and occasionally exchange texts and Facebook messages, but we otherwise don’t have a very active relationship.

While I wish we were closer, the truth is that she really aggravates me. It’s not because we’re so different, but because she’s lazy and stubborn with respect to her appearance. To paint a picture, she gets her hair cut about once or twice a year. Between cuts, because she doesn’t really understand how to wash or care for her hair, it is matted down with months’ worth of shampoo. This causes it to look really grey and gunky, not to mention smell sort of weird. She has body odor generally. She hasn’t seen a dentist in at least five years, which has caused her teeth to steadily look more and more yellow. She does not exercise, and she has a very poor diet (e.g., Kraft mac and cheese, soda, brownies, etc.). And she doesn’t wear clothes that fit her.

I could go on but I think you get the point. I love my sister, but every time I see her, she seems to have “let herself go” even further. I try to talk to her about things she is interested in. I try to subtly encourage her to choose healthier foods. I have brought her hiking. But those few times when we see each other are not enough to make a dent. She prefers to spend nearly all of her time watching TV and eating junk food.

My sister is extremely sensitive with regard to any sort of criticism about her appearance or her hygiene habits. If any family member so much as slightly indicates that she should, say, brush her teeth, or, brush her hair, etc., she gets VERY offended. These conversations always end up in her yelling/sobbing that she is treated like the black sheep in the family.

Now that she’s a part of my bridal party, I’m starting to get stressed about my sister’s appearance at the wedding. I hired a stylist to do our hair and makeup, but I’m worried that not even the best stylist in the world will be able to do anything with such matted, unwashed, uncombed hair. I just want her to care about what she looks like. I want her to want to see a dentist, to want to learn how to wash her hair, to want to look like the best version of herself. I don’t want her to look perfect, but I want her to want to try to look nice.

What should I do?

—Frustrated and Sad Sister

A: Dear FASS,

Just leave her alone. You’ll have some say in how she looks whether she likes it or not. That’s how this wedding stuff works. Though you express doubts, picking her dress and hiring a hairdresser and make-up artist give you a lot of control, and I can’t imagine she’d find a way around all of that. I’m sure your sister will look very nice on your wedding day.

And even if she doesn’t, just let your sister be who she is. Not everyone has the same priorities, and it’s okay that your sister’s differ from yours. Yeah, sometimes neglecting aspects of your appearance can signal something deeper about self-care and emotional health. But it sounds like this is just who your sister is, and always has been. Haircuts and healthy eating aren’t important to her, which is allowed. Both at your wedding, and in life in general.

Part of what itches at me about your letter is that I think that you think you’re helping your sister by worrying about all this for her. But are you? She’s content in her life, so why change it? Is it possible that, more than being motivated by concern for her, you’re worried about being embarrassed by her? Which probably stings to read (sorry), but in all fairness, any of us can understand. My point is to keep that motivation in check. No matter how much you try to convince yourself that you’re helping, chances are that needling your sister about what she wears or eats only hurts her. Your sister is who she is. The wedding isn’t going to change that, and you shouldn’t try to, either.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTION, PLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Amy March

    Practical thought: instead of hiring a stylist to come to you, go to a salon. A salon has those great hair washing sinks. When you book, explain that all of you will be getting your hair washed.

    • Caitlin

      Sometimes hairdressers want you to have “day old” hair though, so that might not work

      • Eenie

        My hair looks like crap the second day, yet holds any style you put in it like a pro. (I’ve washed my hair the morning of every time I’ve ever had it styled even though they’ve told me not to.) The day old hair is just so it has more texture to hold the style especially for fine hair. Tell the stylist to wash it and use texturizing spray if it looks dirty the day of the wedding.

        • Jess

          Thin, greasy hair, cannot do the “day old hair” thing. I can confirm – texturizing spray usually works just as well.

          • MirandaVanZ

            Yep, washed my hair morning of and used dry shampoo to give it texture, it held my style the whole day. Dry shampoo bonus: no stringy, greasy bangs at the end of the night.

          • Jess

            I’ve had really good luck with powders, too.

      • Mary Jo TC

        Or go together to the salon the day before the wedding so you can have a nice blow-out style for the rehearsal dinner. Maybe a manicure too. Frame it as something for you to do together rather than something she needs to do to make her body acceptable to you.

      • Amy March

        Eh, yeah, but you’re paying so I think they can make do.

      • Kelly

        Any stylist worth the bucks you’re paying them can do an up-do washed or unwashed.

        • Caitlin

          Good to know. I’ve never actually had my hair done professionally, I’ve just picked up things from my friends. I’m scared to trust a hairdresser with my hair, as it air dries nicely into ringlet type curls, but if you touch it while it’s drying? All frizz, all day.

          • kcaudad

            go there with your hair washed and dried like you normally would, then ask that they ‘work with your natural curl’ rather an try to straiten and re-curl it! Also, get a ‘preview’ done a few weeks before the wedding to make sure that you like it and really tell the stylist what you want without the pressure of needing to look perfect on the real wedding day.

          • Caitlin

            I’ll have to do a test run for sure, because I’m from a small town and I’ll be getting married in a different small town and not very many people actually wear their hair curly here, so none of the stylists learn what to do with it (see my response to Lisa for more info)

          • Lisa

            A bit OT, but have you heard of Naturally Curly, Curly Girl, or DevaChan cuts? As a fellow curly-haired lady who spent much of her life bouncing from one bad cut to the next and figuring out most of it on my own, finding a great stylist who is certified to cut curly hair was a total game changer. There’s even a stylist finder on Naturally Curly’s web-site that helped me find the best hairdresser ever!

          • Caitlin

            Ugh, the best I’ve done is to find someone who will tolerate my “crazy” request. She thinks I’m nuts for requesting the cut that I do (two blunt layers, so my corkscrew curls all end together instead of having thousands of hairs sticking out in all directions on the way down the spiral), but she’ll do it. I got my hair cut for my best friend’s wedding and she ended up being out recovering for awhile after dental work and I had to spend twenty minutes explaining to her coworker that “yes, I do want a ledge on my head” and “really, my normal person cuts my hair like this”. One time, the person cutting my fiance’s hair actually leaned over to another hairdresser and said “WHAT is she doing to that poor girl’s hair?!” because she could see me in her mirror. So I’m completely surprised to see OMG there actually is one salon in that stylist finder thing in my city, but sadly it isn’t the city I’ll be getting married in :(

  • clairekfromtheuk

    Oof, great advice as always.

  • br

    I wouldn’t exactly say that neglecting dentist visits for multiple years (unless, of course, insurance is a concern! and it might be) and not knowing the basics of washing your hair falls under the average ‘that’s just how she is’ category, but I don’t have any advice on how to help, either. :

  • Jenna

    What I wonder about this letter is…when she said “my sister really aggravates me”, I thought she was going to mention a personality clash or something like that. I can see being irritated by bad breath or body odor, and I guess gunky hair can be visually unappealing, but what do you care if her clothes don’t fit or her teeth are yellow? She isn’t obligated to please you with her appearance or choices, and, as Liz said, it sounds like you are more worried about being embarrassed by her than actual concern for her well-being.

    I am curious how one’s hair gets matted down with “a month’s worth of shampoo” – like she soaps it up but doesn’t wash it out?

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      We don’t owe other people pretty. And people don’t owe it to us either.

    • jubeee

      Yes, you need to accept people as they are, even if you find it unappealing or hard to relate to. I am also wondering about the month’s worth of shampoo thing.

    • A.

      Build up is definitely a thing. Most likely the sister is using cheap-o drugstore shampoo [which I do too but you have to be more careful with it generally] and not thoroughly rinsing. Then later, it makes you think your hair is still dirty, so you use even MORE shampoo and it adds more weight. And forget it if you’re also using conditioner on top of it. Lather, rinse, repeat. :-/

      • RisaPlata

        Yes, and if you live somewhere with hard water, it’s almost impossible to rinse thoroughly. A lesson I had to learn the hard way: If you think the back of your head feels like a swamp, get a shower filter. It can change your life.

        • Ashlah

          Yep. Growing up with divorced parents, I always came back to my mom’s house with loads of buildup from my dad’s well water. I was a kid and didn’t care, but it drove my mom nuts trying to find the right shampoo to counteract it.

        • Liz

          Occasional vinegar rinse also helps!

          • Eenie

            The vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar) can make it look greasy too if you’re not careful!

  • emilyg25

    “I just want her to care about what she looks like.”
    I understand that, I totally do. But we can’t control other people. Please try to meet your sister where she is. At least stop the “subtle” hints about how she should change. Trust me, she probably hears you loud and clear.

    • Eenie

      It takes a lot of time and effort to look “acceptable” physically by social standards. Sometimes I honestly wish I could not care and not put in the effort.

    • Lawyerette510

      And probably she hears it from everywhere because we live in a society that cares deeply about physical appearance, especially that of women. How had it would be to be the sister in this dynamic and have all society telling you you’re not worthy of love and respect because of your appearance and then have your family also be so focused on your appearance as well.

    • sahara

      And even if there are times when we can control other peoples’ actions (the hairdresser, the dress) we definitely can’t control their desires.

  • S

    I felt super weird reading this because I’m sure at times over the years my siblings have had similar thoughts about me. I don’t have a sense of smell, have naturally greasy hair, aren’t particularly interested in fashion or makeup, am happy to leave my house in a state that a lot of my friends would refuse to leave their houses in. I grew up in boy clothes and still live in my PJ pants and old t-shirts at home. My favourite food is ‘carbs’ and the only reason I don’t eat mac and cheese five out of seven nights of the week anymore is because I’ve recently become a vegan. It takes my friends an hour to leave the house, it takes me five minutes. I’ve made a lot of progress over the years, and a big part of that was just…growing up and finding myself, and those around me loving me for me and giving me space to do all that growing. My appearance will never be a huge priority for me, and that’s probably never going to change, but I’ve learned how to be more hygienic (important), and I’ve come to be ~more~ interested in my appearance. It’s been…a slow journey with tiny little things influencing small changes over the years: my hairdresser giving me tips about washing my hair, having friends who are into fashion, friends in school clue-ing me into the fact that my breath smells (not so mean when you remember I don’t have a sense of smell!), getting into new TV shows and digging a character’s personal style, etc. I used to get super defensive when my mother made hygiene observations and it did make me self-conscious but that self-consciousness was a part of how I learnt. I think there’s room here to help your sister live her best life – gift her new clothes and spa packages for birthdays and holidays (clothes you actually think she’d like!), suggest treating you both to manicures when you’re in town, asking her opinion on your own clothes, etc. Maybe ask your mother to make suggestions about the dentist, etc – I think when it’s coming from a parent, who probably had to arrange their dentist trips as a child anyway, it might be easier to see it as caring? (Depending on exactly how old your sister is and whether or not she still lives in your home town and your family dynamics, could your mother just make an appointment for her? My mother makes dentist appointments for me and drives me there whenever I’m in town because I’m lazy and broke and she remembers and I don’t and I don’t find it infantilising at all because I think sometimes it’s okay to be an adult and still “need” your mother for some things!) And if you’re that worried about all of this for your wedding, schedule a beauty day the day before the wedding “as a treat to help you relax” and go and get your eyebrows waxed and your hair washed and blow-dried so you know it’ll at least be clean. But you have to love her for who she is. There’s clearly room for improvement here, sure, but a lot of this is just her not being into her appearance that much, and the fact that you find that aggravating and don’t want to be around her because of it breaks my heart a little.

    I had an ex boyfriend about 6 years ago who had a little sister who was a LOT like me when I was her age. She was a teenager and he’d constantly complain about her greasy hair and how she didn’t care about her appearance and how she didn’t care that she looked gross. I was like, “Dude, she’ll grow out of it, and if she doesn’t, literally who cares?” It broke my heart and without sounding dramatic it made me feel a little emotionally unsafe in that relationship because I felt like I was still that girl at heart and he didn’t have the capacity to love the not-so-pretty parts of me. I was very much on Team Sister. Has my ex’s sister grown out of it? Yup! But I hope my ex would have learned to love and appreciate her even if she hadn’t, because damn, that kid had so much to offer. She was the coolest, most fun girl and had great taste in movies and TV shows and to be honest if my ex had felt “aggravated” just being around such a cool person because she didn’t wash her hair all the time…it would have said a lot more about him than about her, you know?

    Sorry for the massive novel, this just feels…super personal to me.

    • S

      I should add that I get my hair done two times a year, AT MOST, by a hairdressing trainer school that does it for a bargain, and in between visits I cut my own fringe. The fact that anyone would judge me for this is just staggering to me – it had actually never occurred to me that some people might find me weird or slobby or gross for “only” getting my hair done twice a year? Dude, finances are a consideration for me and my spare pocket money goes to records and books, not hair-dye that washes/grows out or trims that I could theoretically do myself (albeit not as cute), and if your values/interests differ that’s cool, I can appreciate your ‘do and you can appreciate my record collection, but can you just not dislike your sister because she doesn’t want to go to the salon as much as you? Please???? Why is this even a thing that you care about?

      • br

        It seemed to me that the issue was the sister doesn’t take care of her hair at all. You take care of yours yourself – it’s not the paying someone else part that she is struggling with.

      • Sally

        I just need to add that I, too, thought the comment about visits to the hair salon was strange. I don’t think most people would think of me as a person who doesn’t care about their appearance (though probably some would) as I wear make-up almost every day, shower every day, wear deodorant, etc, etc, but I never get my hair cut more than once a year and more often once every two years. I just wear it long and often wear it tied up in a bun. To me it’s no big deal and I would be mortified if someone close to me (including a sister I don’t talk to very often) thought that this was an annoying trait of mine. I also don’t have much money/time to buy new clothes so most of what I wear doesn’t fit great (mostly because pregnancy and postpartum bodies but I could imagine this would also be the case from general weight gain) and is a few years old (or from high school — when I’m 32).

        Great. Now I’m worried that all sorts of people are judging me on my appearance.

        • Eenie

          Generally speaking long hair needs less maintenance than short hair. Shorter hair cuts will look “grown out” within 6 weeks sometimes depending on the style. I also typically wear my hair long/up and get it cut maybe 2 times a year. If you don’t style with heat or product the ends don’t get split as easily as someone who uses a hair dryer and straightener every day.

          • Ashlah

            Oh my god, now that I have a faux hawk with buzzed sides, I have to go in every two weeks >_< One thing I desperately miss about my long hair is the twice-a-year haircuts.

        • Sara

          The way I read it is that she mentioned the 1 or 2 times a year haircut because her sister’s hair was washed during those visits, and then was ‘incorrectly’ washed the rest of the year. I don’t think its a big deal to go more or less than that. Granted I LOVE the hairdresser, so I go probably four or five times a year, but my best friend probably goes once every two years because she wears it long and doesn’t color it.

        • Saxyrunner

          I also cut my hair once a year at most. I think you’re probably fine on the hair front. :)

        • anon

          A lot of people are reading ‘can’t wash hair right to the point it is a matted mess’ as ‘hair is slightly messy’ and getting self conscious about it.

          • tr

            That’s the thing: I feel like this is all so subjective!
            I mean, on a personal level, I *think* I look okay. I’m a reasonably healthy weight. I comb my hair every day. My clothes basically fit, more or less. I wear deodorant. However, depending on your standards, I look like anything from a former pageant queen to a hobo. I have relatives who I can totally picture writing this letter about me…even though 99% of society seems to think I look perfectly fine!
            We just don’t really know how the sister looks. However, by the fact that she’s able to hold down a job as a teacher, I can’t help but suspect the LW may be overly critical.

      • Sara

        The way I read it is that she mentioned the 1 or 2 times a year haircut because her sister’s hair was washed during those visits, and then was ‘incorrectly’ washed the rest of the year. I don’t think its a big deal to go more or less than that. Granted I LOVE the hairdresser, so I go probably four or five times a year, but my best friend probably goes once every two years because she wears it long and doesn’t color it

      • This is me too, I just don’t care about getting my hair cut. I actually really dislike it, because it’s annoying to have a stranger touching my hair and making small talk with me for like an hour while I just sit there unable to move. It’s not an experience I value. When my hair is longer, I’ll usually do my bangs and tips on my own and then I’ll get some layers cut in twice a year. BOOM. Money and time saved.

    • sarah

      This feels super personal to me too – I’m sure my sister has similar feelings about me and the way I dress/look. She tells me everything wrong with my clothes every time I see her, which is one reason we generally don’t see each other.

      A woman’s “look” is not a measure of her worth as a person. It’s hard enough to go through life looking at every advertisement and navigating every expectation from society of what a woman should be – having it come from your family too is heartbreaking.

      I think the LW should do both herself and her sister a favor and let her bow out of being a bridesmaid if that’s what she wants. Just be real for a second – it sounds like you only care that she’s going to look bad in pictures. Release her from this and let her be herself.

      • Lawyerette510

        “A woman’s “look” is not a measure of her worth as a person. It’s hard enough to go through life looking at every advertisement and navigating every expectation from society of what a woman should be – having it come from your family too is heartbreaking.” this x1000! Thanks for saying this because while lots of the comments have focused on feelings, there’s also a big feminist issue here related to pressuring women to conform to appearance standards (beyond basic hygiene like bathing and dental care).

        • sarah

          It’s a huge feminist issue! Are we allowed to define ourselves, or must we conform to what society (and our families, still can’t get over that) want us to be?

          If anyone’s interested, the book The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg analyzes how looks, the work it takes to maintain them, and beauty products have replaced earlier emphasis on character and good deeds by girls and women. Essentially, good looks have become a marker of “quality” as a girl or woman. I’ve actually even heard men say this – “there are a lot of quality women here tonight” when they actually mean “there are hot girls I’d like to bang”. It makes me sick.

          • Lawyerette510

            Oh I look forward to reading that book. “The Beauty Myth” is another good one about all the forces that go into teaching women their worth is in our appearance. It’s a little dated but it’s still holding true.

      • Amanda

        Real question: A “woman’s look is not a measure of her worth as a person”

        How do you deal with someone who really truly believes that her only value in this world is how she looks? My future SIL (I posted about this below) is like this, and I don’t know how to be around her. She only values being thin, which doesn’t come naturally to her. And she’s so angry and mean (and probably very hangry) and selfish, she takes advantage of everyone and throws people under buses. She can’t imagine that the world is concerned with anything than how she looks. And I just want to talk to her–and for my partner to be able to reach her, because he feels a lot of guilt about it–as a whole person, with insides and feelings and thoughts. I want to talk to her about interests, even if her interests are going to the gym. But we can’t get over the barrier of her pants size. It creates so much stress for the whole family.

    • yay for going vegan! :) congrats!

    • Ashlah

      That story about your ex’s sister breaks my heart too. I was decidedly…frumpy during the second half of middle school and first half of high school, for reasons both within and beyond my control. I didn’t really notice or care at the time, but if my mom, friends, or siblings had been mean about it, I imagine I’d still be struggling with a lot of insecurity about my looks. I’ve had conversations with my mom since about how she worried about me at the time, but I’m so glad she made the choice to let me find my own way without making me feel bad about myself.

  • Poeticplatypus

    I might be the harsh person to think this. Yes I understand that she is your sister and that’s why she is a bridesmaid. On the other hand if you knew these things about her why would these habits change for your wedding? Then again I’m not the gal that would have my sister as a bridesmaid because we aren’t close like that.

    • Lawyerette510

      I wondered this myself.

    • tr

      Seriously, no law required you to make your sister a bridesmaid.
      The thing about bridesmaids is that you can pick who you make a bridesmaid, but beyond that, you’re stuck dealing with the fact that being a bridesmaid won’t magically change anyone. Your fat friend will still be fat. Your control freak friend will still be a control freak. Your critical cousin will still be critical. And your sister who isn’t exactly into flossing and kale? That’s right–she won’t be into flossing and kale. If you *really* wanted bridesmaids who all looked magazine worthy, you probably shouldn’t have picked your sister.

      • Anon

        I absolutely agree with your sentiments throughout this post but often people are under significant family pressure, whether expressed in so many words or not, to include siblings as attendants in their weddings. Maybe the bride in question would have preferred not to ask her sister (particularly as they aren’t that close) but felt obliged. Certainly not saying that she made the right or wrong decision or that her wanting to alter her sister’s hygiene habits for the day is the right thing to do, just wanting to bring another perspective.

  • Caitlyn

    One thing that isn’t being addressed is how the sister feels about being in this wedding. Can you imagine how hard it must be to be in the wedding party of a group of women who (I assume) all care a great deal about their appearance when you don’t? My mom remarried when I was ten and my aunt was a bridesmaid. My aunt is a hippy, she wears baggy clothes, doesn’t shave, uses a deodorant rock instead of traditional antiperspirant. It’s part of who she is and on a typical day she embraces it. But when my mom asked her to be in her wedding, she really struggled with that. Having to wear a fancy dress (that showed her armpits). Being in a group of tiny, very well groomed women and being the ONE who didn’t quite fit. It was hard. I was pretty young, but I remember my aunt struggling with this. But she did it because she wanted to support my mom and stand up with her. So maybe the LW could acknowledge that her sister is probably stressing about being in the wedding too. And is willing to subject herself to a very uncomfortable situation for the sake of her sister. Which is a pretty awesome sisterly gesture in my opinion.

    • Jess

      I would like to step in a second this. I am generally not the girliest of girls, and I’m not a vagrant hippy. I wear make-up on weekends because I like to play with the drama. I don’t feel the need to wear it to work.

      I am not good at fashion, and really struggle to be “put together”. Most of my clothes are a variation of jeans and some sort of v-neck t-shirt or cardigan because everything else looks costumey. I struggle to find clothes that fit me well because my proportions are weird for the fashion industry, so I do the best I can in the realm I can afford.

      I am marrying into a family with a very fashion forward, is not seen without make-up, very “put together” sister. I tell myself DAILY that she doesn’t care how I look and isn’t judging me this way, because that’s the only way I can interact with her without fear.

      To know for sure I was being judged this hard instead of just feeling like I don’t really fit in? It would be catastrophic for me. I’m already trying so hard to feel accepted.

      • Glen

        Are you interested in looking better?
        If not, stop here.
        If so, I really like MissusSmartyPants.com — it’s a subscription service that identifies clothes at certain shops (Macy’s, Talbots, JCPenny) for your shape type (she can identify it if you’re not sure which of the 5 types you are). She also has a blog, but I don’t find that as useful. And it’s inexpensive. Personally, once I kinda learned what to look for in clothes, I stopped subscribing. (Just to note: I don’t get any kind of kickbacks from this.)

        • Jess

          I am to a point… but I’m pretty wary of the subscription services in general. It would be interesting to see what she would say.

    • Ashlah

      I think this is a very insightful thing to point out. I had a similar experience getting ready for my friend’s bachelorette party and wedding. I was not quite as hippy as your aunt, but at the time I had never worn makeup, never did anything with my hair, didn’t wear short or tight dresses. Her friends had to do my hair and makeup for me both nights while they were also doing their own. It felt weird as hell, and I frankly felt like kind of a loser wearing sandals and leggings under my dress, while they all wore super short club dresses and high heels. I felt almost like a child because I didn’t know how to do “grownup” fashion stuff. Expect this to be rough for your sister, and remember that no one side (super made up, super not made up) is right or wrong. But it can be tough when those worlds collide, and someone is expected to fit in with people who are their opposite, fashion-wise.

    • EF

      yuuuuuup.

      I was a bridesmaid for my sister, and it was the one time that year I wore a dress. A long one. Medieval themed. *shudder* My sister was on my back to wear makeup. I let another bridesmaid put it on me (I don’t own any, and think it’s harmful for loads of reasons). She asked me to grow out my hair — it was about chin length and I hated it. She asked me to wear jewelry (which she handed me from her own collection). She picked out heels I fell over in, and kicked off at the reception. She very nearly made me get a manicure, but for reasons, it was canceled.

      Did this help me grow closer to my sister? Nope. I felt used. Whenever I tried to speak up, she’d be full of emotion about what a beautiful day it would be, and how great that I’d look ‘normal’ for once. And she’d thank me ahead of time. I went with it because the rest of the people I knew who would be at her wedding, including my family, were all on her side, and I kept holding out hope that someday she’d respect me for being me.

      Surprise! She still doesn’t. Before my wedding, she told me how surprised she was at my appearance, very short hair, no makeup, no heels, etc. I didn’t get my teeth whitened because 1) money and 2) I moved to England, where people are much more reasonable about these things.
      Why not glam it up for a bit, my sister asked.
      I tried playing femme in my early 20s. It didn’t work. Wearing a wedding dress (for reasons) was as far as I would probably ever go again.

      For the record? I care a fair bit about my appearance, in a very androgynous hipster sort of way. I got my haircut today in Shoreditch (like, the Brooklyn of London) and am so fucking thrilled that it looks like the lead singer of Fun.’s hair. I wear button down shirts with rolled up sleeves. I wear ties and bow ties and chinos and never ever socks. But to my sister’s eyes, I am frumpy because I am not feminine. Caring for your appearance is in the eye of the beholder. And changing for someone’s wedding is maybe not as worth it as I though.

      • Lawyerette510

        I’m sorry you went through this. It sounds like she tried to erase who you are for her wedding and that’s shitty.

        • Martha Fleischman


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      • Danielle

        Your style sounds awesome and your sister can suck it!

        • Melissa Shorter


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        • Maureen Walker


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      • If I was your sister, I would have picked out a nice pantsuit for you that looked nice with the dresses of the other girls.

    • JC

      As someone who recently went through this last summer, and will go through it again in a few months, it’s awful! I don’t think my distaste for clothes/hair/makeup matches the LW’s sister in this case, but it’s not easy when you’re a part of a group that cares SO much, and you just don’t. This is especially true when you are afraid of letting someone– the bride– down. So much anxiety. So many panicked moments.

  • S

    I’ve already written a novel below but I had another thought on the teeth thing. I was dating a guy once who had HORRIBLE teeth and was really self-conscious and weird about it. He hadn’t been to the dentist in…god knows how long, because it had snowballed into this big awful scary thing for him, kind of like how if you are late paying a bill, it can become this paralysing awful thing that you have to avoid in your mind in order to function? And you know as soon as you pay it you’ll feel a thousand times better, but you’ve become so stressed about it even the small act of just paying it has become a mountain to climb. I’m guessing that’s what your sister’s deal is with her teeth. You don’t go for a year, you get worried your dentist will yell at you, so you put it off, and off, and oh my gosh it’s been five years so I can’t go now because it’s too terrifying and awful and it’s so bad what have I done I guess I’ll never go to the dentist again. I don’t know how you could help her out of the hole other than physically dragging her there (probably not a great idea?), but maybe understanding that there’s probably more to why she’s not going to the dentist than the fact that she’s “gross” might help you to come to your interactions with her from a place of compassion?

    • Alice

      I know, and some dentists can be so mean! I remember being chewed out by a dentist for needing a root canal and then not being able to afford to drop $2200 at a moment’s notice. She snottily offered just to pull the tooth out for $500 (needless to say I was out of there pretty fast). Not to say all dentists are evil or anything, but a lot of people have had experiences like this, and even a basic cleaning can easily run upwards of a hundred bucks. And no one likes being chastised, even if it’s just the dentist.

      • Hear hear! I have a diet coke habit and have since I was a kid; every time I’d go to the dentist and they’d go “oh you have a lot of stains, do you drink a lot of coffee?” no, I hate the taste. “or tea, maybe?” Nope, not much tea. It would usually take them awhile to ask about soda and I wouldn’t volunteer it because I didn’t want a lecture.

        I finally snapped one day and started with with “look, I have stains. I drink diet coke and its not going to stop. I come here for you to scrape those stains off my teeth, so do it and don’t lecture me about it.” Although, come to think of it, its been awhile and I need a new dentist because I moved, so I guess I’m gonna have to break a new dentist in with my angry speech.

  • AP

    My dad has worn dirty jeans, oversized t-shirts, and baseball caps to every major event in my life (including college graduation and wedding.) It’s his uniform. Every now and then my stepmother will wear slacks but basically she dresses to match. Their hygiene is not always great.

    I stopped caring about their appearance a long time ago, but my grandmother (my dad’s mother) is embarrassed by them and for them every time there is a family event. She gets on their case about how they are dressed for family functions, then she frets afterward about why they can’t represent themselves better and what people must think. I believe deep down that she wishes they were different, wishes our family were different.

    I had to do a lot of work as a teen/young adult on accepting my family and who my dad is and especially who he is not to me, so it’s easier for me to accept them on their terms and not expect any more or less from them. I don’t think either my or my grandma’s approach is necessarily better that the other, but I don’t miss the angsty teenage years of stressing over how they’ll be dressed and what people would think. Because honestly, nobody outside the family really notices or pays any attention anyway (outside of maybe a fleeting comment, and most people are generous enough not to even do that.)

    It wasn’t until I accepted my dad for who he is that we could have any semblance of a relationship. It’s not the relationship I desperately wanted as a kid, and definitely not the kind of parental relationship I would wish for my own children, but it’s something and it’s beyond my control. LW, you say you wish you were closer. Truly letting your sister be who she is, and letting go of your expectations about who she should be, may be a necessary step in building the kind of relationship you say you want with her.

    Good luck! Your wedding will be beautiful and full of joy, even if your sister walks down the aisle in dirty jeans and a ball cap.

    • anon

      I think it’s tough because all the wedding media – even APW – stresses about how this is a time of family, and if you aren’t close to your family you can easily be led to feel like you’re doing something ‘wrong’ by having a more distant relationship with them.

    • Ashlah

      Our dads sound super similar. During our father daughter dance, he was wearing tennis shoes, cargo shorts, a University of Oregon t-shirt, and an old bandana over his mountain man hair. And he has a big unruly beard. And I loved it. It was so perfectly him. My mom (they’re divorced) had tried to get him to keep his ceremony clothes (old black jeans, a button-up t-shirt, and slicked-back-with-water hair) on for the dance, but I told him I didn’t care. I completely relate to sometimes not fully understanding him, and there have been times over the years that I wished he were different, but I’ve come to really respect that he just doesn’t give a fuck. It’s a fine way to be at times. And I will cherish those father daughter dance pictures forever because of how genuinely Dad they are.

  • Stella

    “My sister is extremely sensitive with regard to any sort of criticism about her appearance or her hygiene habits”. I think most people probably are….

  • julianneclamcake

    I agree with all of this except about basic hygiene. Hygiene is a requirement for living in modern society, and although I recognize gradations and differences in hygiene choices, not having the basics down as an adult is concerning. In the context of the wedding, like the response said, you’re getting her hair done, and probably had her buy a bridesmaid dress, so cool. She’s set for the day. The larger hygiene issue is more important outside of the wedding context, but only she can make those changes.

    • Juliet

      While I agree with the sentiment that basic hygiene is important, I’m not convinced that the sister is exhibiting poor basic hygiene. I think LW and her sister have different beauty and hygiene standards, and since it appears to me that the sister’s hygiene is not negatively affecting her life (she’s employed, etc.) I don’t see a problem here.

      • rg223

        I agree with you, except for the part about it seemingly getting worse as time goes on. That raises a red flag for me. As other posters have said, she still has to change that for herself, but it’s legit to be concerned about her mental well-being if hygiene is steadily going downhill.

        • Violet

          That was the only thing that stood out to me that made me concerned, also. If that’s the level of hygiene she prefers, then she’ll maintain at that level. Cool. But if things are gradually shifting, that doesn’t sound as much to me like she’s in control and happy with her choices.

        • Danielle

          Yeah, that makes me concerned too. Things you don’t take care of in your 20s and 30s can become disastrous in your 50s and 60s. Not taking care of hygiene can be –not always — a symptom of much bigger issues. (Speaking from personal experience related to some of my family members.)

        • Mary Jo TC

          But is it hygiene or beauty standards? because my beauty standards have significantly relaxed over the years, and I don’t think it’s a sign of deteriorating mental well-being. It’s more about changing schedules and priorities and giving up on being ‘hot’ the way that only very young girls can be ‘hot.’ It’s freeing if you can learn to stop caring what other people think as you age.

          • rg223

            Well I’ll agree with what you said above that the dental issues at least cross the line into basic hygiene. To me, since she used to go to the dentist and now doesn’t leans towards some deterioration.I agree with you too though that we don’t know if the rest is just different beauty standards.

          • Sosuli

            My sister has visible plaque build up, bad breath, and never goes to the dentist anymore. But neither does her husband. We’re very close and she has no mental health problems that I am aware of, she’s just lazy about going to the dentist and both of them have got out of the habit of going. Decreasing attention to dental hygiene is not really a reliable indicator of mental health.

          • rg223

            But taken with the bigger picture of what might be an overall lack of hygiene, that’s deteriorating over the years? I’m not saying there are DEFINITELY mental health issues at play, just that there could be.

        • newleafgarden

          I think it’s depressing to read this embarrassed, contemptuous person attempt to cover their disgust with mock concern. “I just want her to look like her best self”. I mean really, when I went through a few years of poor hygiene–teeth, diet, dress–it was because I was struggling with depression and an eating disorder. My sister, who was fashionable, thin and beautiful, never made me feel humiliated for my appearance or outward expression of emotional trouble; she talked about self care as something fun, and tried to treat me instead of push her standards on me. How unfortunate that a person who seems to be struggling (never mind that her standards may not align with yours) is being considered a potential eyesore at your wedding, as opposed to a joyful witness you’re honoring as a bridesmaid.

      • Mary Jo TC

        I agree we don’t have enough evidence from the letter that hygiene and not different beauty standards is the real issue because it’s all coming from the sister’s biased perspective. The red flag for me though is the teeth and dental visits. That’s a legit health issue. But it could be an issue of access and cost, as well as accumulated fear, as another poster mentioned. The fact that the sister focuses on the yellow color of the teeth rather than the potential for tooth decay and loss is telling.

        • Juliet

          The focus on the appearance of her teeth is what makes me think we aren’t getting the full picture here- there are people with yellowed teeth that go to the dentist plenty. I’ve never thought of “wanting whiter teeth” as a reason to go get a basic teeth cleaning, so I saw the complaint more as a desire for her sister to whiten her teeth.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            Yup. I have stained teeth from years of drinking a lot of coffee and don’t feel like going through the pain with teeth sensitivity to whiten them. I’m fine with it.

            The LW doesn’t sound like, even with her comment about the teeth, that she’s coming from a place of concern. She wants her sister’s appearance to comport with whatever she thinks is acceptable appearance-wise. That seems pretty clear to me from the letter.

          • rg223

            Yep, LW doesn’t appear to be coming from a place of concern, regardless of whether she should be or not.

          • I was born with some discoloration on my teeth and used to get made fun of a TON in elementary school for it. As an adult it’s been fixed, largely because one of my front teeth got a crack and the interior was stained so I had the crack filled in and my dentist sort of smoothed out the colour in the front and charged me in a way that I could claim it on my insurance so that I could actually afford it. I was really self conscious about it for years before it got fixed. It had nothing to do with hygiene or me not taking care of my teeth, but you bet I heard a ton about it from people anyways. :/

          • Eenie

            Having a high fever at a certain age will discolor your baby teeth (happened to me). This whole conversation is making me very thankful for both my life circumstances growing up and my parents. I was made fun of a lot for acne and my mom spent I don’t even know how much money taking me to a dermatologist (she has scarring from her childhood acne).

        • batwitbatwit

          Also saying that her sister ONLY goes to a hair stylist once or twice a year, the horror, seems to point to the LW having a very high beauty standard.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        Basic poor hygiene to me is not bathing, not brushing your teeth and wearing dirty underwear. It sounds like the sister has the basics covered.

      • julianneclamcake

        Having badly matted hair that smells weird is poor basic hygiene.

  • Christina McPants

    So, I’m fat. I’ve always been fat and I probably will always be certain variations of fat. Telling me I’m fat and need to lose weight, even in the “I’m concerned for your health” way? All that does is make me want to go cry into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. I’m exaggerating a bit, but studies have shown that shaming someone for their size usually has the opposite of the intended effect – they gain weight, rather than lose.

    It sounds to me like all your sister hears when any family comes to visit is how her appearance is unacceptable to them. Now, as Caitlyn put it, she’s going to be put on public display amongst her family that has never been positive about her appearance. I’d probably be terrified and retreat further into things that comfort me to ignore it. Can you spend some time with your sister without your subtle health/hygiene digs? Because I bet they’re not subtle to her.

    • Chris

      “Because I bet they’re not subtle to her.”

      I second the whole post, but especially the part I quoted.

      • Not subtle

        Totally agree. Trust me, they aren’t subtle. In fact, you probably say things that you don’t even mean to be these subtle hints and your sister hears them as such. There was one terrible Thanksgiving, where after a few years of “subtle” health digs from my extended family, my grandfather straight up called me fat. And later that day, or within a few days my grandmother called me lazy (despite having to work 6 days a week for 2 month to build up the comp time to come visit for Thanksgiving because I didn’t have any PTO). Combined with a few other comments and general treatment from my family that was the trip that I officially decided to sever my emotional relationship with my family. When I went from Christmas I stayed in a hotel, the next Thanksgiving my mom and I flew cross country to have Thanksgiving with a friend from where I grew up. After that people acted a lot nicer, but honestly, I STOPPED being able to care what they thought about me, and as a result, I don’t have the same emotions about them as I once did. I stopped feeling any obligation to see them when I was in town, I still let them know, and I invite them to a central location, but I don’t feel guilt if they can’t/don’t come. They are like people who used to be close friends, who are now acquaintances, it’s nice to see them, but if I can’t or don’t I don’t lose any sleep over it. If the letter writer wants a future relationship with her sister, I suggest getting to a place she can interact with her without judgement.

    • JenC

      So, I had a meeting this morning and after I’d got to the end of the meeting, I was told I was fat, in a concerned for your health way, you have a pretty face way. When I got back to the office, I cried in the bathroom (but not enough to cause alarm amongst anyone else in the office because if big girls don’t want to cry about being fat then they should just lose weight). The downside to this is that I missed breakfast this morning due to running late, I then couldn’t face lunch because I would have cried into my lunch at my desk. When I eat my evening meal tonight, I’ll have had nothing but water – how is that healthy? How is that actually helping me?

      Because people have always called me fat, I have a lot of anxiety around it. So when the woman in my office says that all fat people are lazy; is this directed at me, even though she isn’t speaking to me or is it just a rude and unfair generalisation made in my vicinity and I’m sensitive to it because of my weight? The sister is a teacher, so depending on how old her students are she might be getting hurtful comments from her students, she might be tuning in to the anxiety of those indirect comments I just mentioned. She then gets not so subtle comments from her family and I can understand why she’s upset when anything about her appearance/hygiene is brought up.

      Also, if I make a change to my ‘unhealthy’ lifestyle, I want it to be my decision – not to make the majority of the population leave me alone.

      • Eenie

        People suck. Hugs to you. This whole thread has reminded me how horrible people can be. I hope you have some supportive people in your life.

      • Oh my god, I can’t even believe someone said that to you at work. All the virtual hugs!

      • Christina McPants

        Oh my god, I am so sorry. Those comments are such confidence cripplers. My grandmother did that to me once at 13 (I’m super fucked up because of it, thanks VoVo, RIP).

        Honestly, though, if she keep doing that to you, go to HR.

        • JenC

          Ah external meeting with an older community member. I think I got sidetracked and what I meant to say was… If you want me to be healthier, tell me you’ve got a great new recipe for a spinach, kale and lentil pie that doesn’t taste of feet, doesn’t cost a fortune, doesn’t require loads of specialist ingredients and is easy to make (don’t lie though). Don’t tell me that my Mac and cheese is bad because I’m able to read the nutritional information on the side. However, I can’t think of a more helpful way to say that my hair and teeth need cleaning.

          • Christina McPants

            There are legit health reasons to keep your teeth clean and correlated connections between gum disease and risk for stroke, but I can’t think of a way that I could tell anyone (aside from my wife) to floss more without coming off as a jerk.

          • raccooncity

            I even feel like my dental hygenist is a jerk when she asks me to floss more. *sigh*

          • Eenie

            I honestly used to floss the two weeks leading up to my appointment so I could truthfully answer the flossing question and my gums wouldn’t bleed. Got five stars every time (have more people not discovered this trick?). I’ve actually gotten better at flossing when I started eating a lot of chuck roast because I could feel the stuff in my teeth, and it was really annoying.

          • Christina McPants

            I used to do that trick but as you get older, it stops working.

          • Alison O

            However, for me, as I’ve gotten older, my gums have receded and I actually feel the need to floss more after I eat, especially because I’m a therapist so I’m sitting across from someone talking with them all day–spinach in teeth in that situation is not great. I always remember my mom flossing a lot, and I was like, what is her deal? And now I get stuff stuck in my teeth all the time. Gotta love the aging process.

          • Ashlah

            I used to do that trick, but I always forgot until about two days before my appointment, so it’s didn’t work too well! Ever since I did Invisalign, which requires you to floss after every meal, I finally got set in the habit of flossing every day, and my teeth/gums are SO much healthier. I used to have at least one cavity every 6 months, and now I’ve had one tiny one in over two years. For anyone else struggling, the single flossers with a handle were a game-changer for me (even though I feel enviroguilt for the plastic).

          • AP

            Ha, that’s exactly what I do!

          • Kara E

            That’s what my husband does. I do ask him to floss when there’s gunk in between them and I’m close up. It’s a bit of a turn off.

          • Violet

            I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that unless a patient has specific problems, most regular dental cleanings are probably pretty rote. There isn’t much to say other than brush twice a day, not too hard, and protect your gumlines by using soft bristles and flossing. Maybe they get into a habit of just repeating that over and over, to every patient?

            I floss every day, gums are nice and healthy, and they still tell me to floss, so there’s a good chance it isn’t personal when your hygienist says that.

          • Ashlah

            Eh, you’re probably right that they mention flossing to everyone, but I’ve definitely had good and bad experiences with the way it’s handled. I had a hygienist who was clearly just angry with me for not flossing*, lectured me, and made me watch flossing videos every time I went in. Rather than influence me to floss, it made me not want to visit the dentist. My current hygienist (who I actually just found out specializes in gum disease) has always been super friendly, gentle, and understanding in her suggestions. She herself only flosses a couple times a week.

            *To be fair, I might be angry too if my job required me to put my hands and face in someone’s mouth and they weren’t taking the steps to make it less icky for me.

          • Violet

            Oh true, delivery counts! Sorry if your hygienist is jerky in her delivery, raccooncity. : (

          • Amanda

            My future MIL is a hygienist and the whole family is straight up WEIRD about flossing. Like, they floss as a family together. But there’s this pressure to floss all the time and it’s strange, and suddenly, flossing has become very emotional to me. I rebel by not flossing on nights when I’m pissed off (or pissed drunk). The FIRST TIME I met them, she asked to see my teeth TO JUDGE ME. It’s real. The pressure and emotional impact has definitely negatively impacted my dental hygiene…

          • “The FIRST TIME I met them, she asked to see my teeth TO JUDGE ME.”

            This is horrifying to me. WTH. :(

          • Amanda

            Even worse, she did it ON THE SUBWAY. Like, WHAT?! It took years for me to feel comfortable around her.

          • Violet

            Geez. Please tell me you’re a math teacher and when you met her the first time, asked her to recite the quadratic formula…
            Is this what we do now? Quiz people we’ve just met on our professional interests/knowledge?

          • Liz

            Teeth things are the worst. There’s a whole classism thing that I feel is related to the ways we emphasize attractive teeth. I can’t count how many times shows, movies, etc that I like make someone with bad/missing teeth the butt of a joke. (Personal, for me, as I was born without a tooth in a space prominently toward the front of my mouth and have never been able to afford doing something about it.)

          • YES. Honestly, for a really long time I didn’t go to the dentist regularly. I knew I SHOULD go, but I didn’t have the spare cash and my job didn’t insure dental visits. There was a period of time where I had a cavity and I couldn’t afford to get it filled for like 2 years. Growing up we didn’t spend time on regular dental visits either, for a lot of the same reasons. Now in a job with good dental coverage, I go to the dentist every 6 months and I view it as a privilege.

            Dental hygiene is important but not everyone has the luxury of regular (or even irregular) dental visits. I don’t know if it’s at all related to what’s going on with LW’s sister or not, but I feel like some of the class issues an important part of the tooth conversation.

          • Eenie

            My future extended family in law all have dentures or are holding onto their last couple teeth. It’s very much a class/privilege thing.

          • AP

            Yep. Cleft lip/palate runs in my family and those that have it were quite fortunate to have the resources for surgeries and dental work. We are super aware of how unaffordable it is for many people, especially because milder cases are considered cosmetic and aren’t covered by insurance. But it’s astounding how cleft palate jokes come out of NOWHERE on tv shows, and people with cleft lip/palate are often portrayed in really terrible, classist ways.

          • Kayla

            There’s classism to a lot of this, I think.

            A sampling of things that are expensive: new clothes, haircuts, hair products, makeup, manicures, skin care products, gym memberships, teeth whitening, and of course dental work. Holy crap, so expensive.

            There is a huge financial cost to looking the way women are *supposed* to look. AND a huge time cost as well.

          • Lawyerette510

            Yep and couple those huge costs with pay inequality and the additional work in the home women are often expected to do that their male counterparts aren’t and you’ve got a great recipe for systemic oppression.

          • gonzalesbeach

            my sister is my dental hygienist so it’s actually ok for her to tell me to floss more. but only because she has to work on my face every 6 months and will measure the amount of space her little tool can fit in my gums (millimetres but apparently it should be 2, not 3)

          • My dentist is awesome, I’ve been asked once about flossing and it was more like “hey, so here’s what’s happening to your gums. If you don’t want this to keep happening to your gums, this is what you need to do”. I can get on board with information and consequences. I don’t need a lecture.

          • TeaforTwo

            I think that’s true of most legit health issues. Hassling people about weight, exercise, flossing, smoking, etc. etc. ALL make you sound like a jerk because people’s bodies are their own business.

      • Caitlyn

        Wow. I am floored that this happened at your workplace. I know it doesn’t help, but that person has some SERIOUS issues with professionalism. I second what someone else said about HR – that is harassment. I’m not sure if it helps but if I overheard that sort of exchange at work (well to be honest I would probably butt in because I have a big mouth, but assuming I was incapable of speaking), I would not for one second have been thinking ANY negative thoughts about YOU whatsoever. No part of me would have thought “the speaker is right or maybe that’s helping” – the ONLY thought to cross my mind would be WTF is wrong with the speaker? She/he has some serious issues. I may need to mention this to our supervisor and ask that they speak with her/him about appropriate workplace conversations. And if I saw you crying in the bathroom I would think OMG I am definitely talking to HR. This is a serious issue (no thoughts of ANYONE deserving to cry – EVER). And if I saw you at lunch I would think… well I’d probably be thinking about my own food cause I fucking love lunch. But you get my point right? I understand it feels like this one person is speaking what EVERYONE around you is thinking. I’m sure the pain isn’t just about the incident, but also this feeling that this one person represents your whole office. But she/he doesn’t. They are speaking from their own rotten self. And no one else who is halfway decent is agreeing with them or having these thoughts.

      • WTF that this happened at work? This is straight up workplace bullying.

        The women in your office shouldn’t be saying that stuff in the office regardless of who it’s directed to. I’d be sensitive to those comments too, because that’s super rude to say and totally unprofessional.

      • Liz

        WAIT THIS HAPPENED AT A MEETING?!

        • Liz

          Okay, read further before spewing outrage, Liz, whew, got it.

          • JenC

            I appreciated the outrage :)

        • JenC

          An external meeting with a community member but yeh.

    • Dude the “concerned for your health” stuff is the worst. The letter smacked of the
      anti-fat-acceptance stuff where they pretend they’re concerned for your health and that fat acceptance just makes it so you’ll feel better as you eat yourself to death.
      But skinny is not the same thing as being healthy and is, further, none of your damn business. Even other stuff in here like bathing and teeth cleaning, it’s really not such a huge impact to one’s health that its worth an intervention. Because just like anti-fat-shaming, you pretend like your concern is health but your actual concern is how she will look in your wedding photos.

      • Kayla

        “Your actual concern is how she will look in your wedding photos.”

        This.

        Some of your wedding pictures will have your sister in them, just the way she is. And that is okay. Some of your wedding pictures will have unflattering facial expressions. And that is okay. Some of your wedding pictures will have guests’ armpit sweat. And that is okay. Your wedding pictures won’t all look like a magazine shoot. And that is okay.

      • Larkin

        Yes! Honestly, reading through it, it didn’t even sound THAT bad to me. She only gets a haircut once or twice a year? Hasn’t gone to the dentist for a while? Doesn’t eat healthy food? Wears clothes that don’t fit well?

        Congratulations, you just described a huge percentage of the population! And, quite frankly, it doesn’t sound worthy of the level of horror you expressed unless you’re really downplaying the situation. Hell, I often go six months without cutting my hair and haven’t made it to the dentist for two years, and I’ve yet to be told I’m repulsive. It sounds like your whole family is pretty awful to her if this regularly comes up. If my family constantly told me to brush my hair, lose weight, or dress better, I’d be really upset too.

        • tr

          Seriously, I could kind of understand the letter writer’s concern if we were talking about someone who showered twice a year or something, but the sister is a teacher. I’m pretty sure if things were THAT bad, she wouldn’t have a job.

          As it is, it sounds like sister is just someone who has interests outside of kale and keratin treatments. Being frumpy isn’t a psychiatric disorder or a life threatening condition.

  • Sara

    Honestly, hygiene is such a personal thing. Unless you want to bully her into going to the dentist or a trainer, then I highly doubt you’re going to be able to help her the way you’d like to. She probably already knows that her hair is strange or her teeth are yellow, and has chosen not do to anything. If its a concern for the wedding, maybe take her to the salon the day before for a cut as your treat or a blow out. But other than that, I think you have to work on accepting her as the person she is, and keep inviting her to hiking or cooking her healthier foods. Maybe she’ll come around some day, but you still have to be prepared for her not to.

  • Nell

    I agree with Liz’s advice and everyone else who has commented so far has been spot-on.

    You said yourself that you have a really superficial relationship with her, and wish you were closer. There isn’t a way to get closer to her AND express to her how much you disapprove of her lifestyle. The types of sweeping changes you hope to help her make need to come from a place of trust, love, and understanding.

    What do you stand to gain from pressuring her to change her habits for your wedding? Pictures that you like better? Avoiding an awkward moment here or there? There is no smell-o-vision technology for wedding photos (thank god – I was so sweaty at mine!) — and your wedding is going to have the occasional awkward moment no matter what you do, because a bunch of people who don’t know each other are all going to interact for the first time.

    What you stand to lose by trying to control your sister is far greater: The opportunity to build trust and show that you honor your relationship and your shared history — whatever she’s wearing or however her hair looks.

  • Chris

    The hygiene parts of your post are very similar to my relationship with my brother. He wears worn out, crappy second clothes that don’t fit him, he went through a decade long long-hair phase where he thought that because his hair is long, it doesn’t need to be cut, etc etc. His social skills are also a little bit odd- he’s the smartest guy I know, and can be super condescending to others when he’s on a speech about his current favorite topic.

    He was born two years before me, and as a kid, I always felt like I was in his shadow. He was smarter, faster, a better violinist – typical middle class white america sibling rivalry stuff- plus in Junior high, all _MY_ friends thought he was cute so they’d hang out with me just to see my brother. As adults, it was frustrating to see my older brother struggling through life both looks wise and socially, when it seemed so obvious to me that just a couple of haircuts and buying normal clothes and listening to others a little bit would make his life so much easier. But, telling him what to do (even gentle subtle suggestions) never ever helped him, and it really harmed our relationship, because he picked up on my discomfort with his looks and social mannerisms, and felt judged.

    What did help was when one of my aunts suggested I redefine him (in my own mind, without telling him) as my little brother. Now all of a sudden he’s not _supposed_ to be an older, more responsible big brother, who could help me out if I needed it. He’s my baby brother, who has some fashion quirks and some social quirks, but he’s finding his place in the world, and sometimes he needs me looking out for him!

    This (kinda goofy) mental shift made a really big difference for me. It allowed me to feel comfortable letting my brother be who he is without judgement, and made it easier for me to be kind when he’s breaking social rules that I automatically follow.

    • Amanda

      I second Chris in reframing how you see your sister. My sister is 7 yrs older than I am, but that’s the only way that she’s my big sister. A few years ago, I started thinking of her as my little sister and it has helped our relationship so much because I’m not always worried about being embarrassed, though I still have to be careful about giving her advice because she still sees herself as my big sister.

    • Amanda

      Do we have the same brother?? My brother and I are crazy close in age, and we were often in the same classes in school. But we’re so different that teachers and classmates would say, “oh, interesting, you two have the same last name!” And we would respond, “Because we’re siblings…” And, without deviation, people would knee-jerk say out loud, “No you’re not” or “That’s not possible.” I’m fairly social and outgoing, while my brother has severe social anxiety (that has gotten so much better as we’ve aged). Long, long ago, I’ve shifted to thinking of him as my younger brother, because I always stuck up for him when he would get picked on & bullied. And as we’ve aged, I’ve hit more adult benchmarks in my career, apartment, getting married, etc. So I actually find it’s important to remind him that I’m his litter sister. I do so by lovingly teasing him, being really goofy, making immature jokes, etc. And to make the point that, just because I’m more accomplished on paper, he’s still 10 times smarter than me.

  • MABie

    I would get defensive and upset if my family criticized my appearance every time I saw them, too. I think this is not okay. LW seems to think that the sister owes it to LW and their family to aspire to some social ideal of female beauty, and she just…doesn’t.

    If LW is concerned about the extent to which these behaviors reflect an undiagnosed or untreated mental illness, that’s one thing — but it doesn’t sound like that’s the conversation they’re having. THIS is the conversation they’re having: “I just want her to care about what she looks like. I want her to want to see a dentist, to want to learn how to wash her hair, to want to look like the best version of herself.”

    I guess I just have to ask….why? Why does someone have to look like your subjective idea of the “best” version of themselves? LW, if you ever want to have a relationship with your sister, please, please stop. And please encourage your family members to stop. Your “subtle” hints are probably doing some real damage to your relationship, as are your outright criticisms of her appearance. (Captain Awkward has some great letters about this sort of thing that might help you sort through some of this.)

    And FWIW, I don’t think this will be an issue on your wedding day. Just tell the stylist beforehand that your sister’s hair might have a texture that is difficult to work with. I assume these people are professionals and will know what to do.

    • tr

      ^ So much this. Especially the “‘best’ version of themselves” part.
      Honestly, I consider myself reasonably put together, but I certainly don’t look like the “best” version of myself. The “best” version of me is 15 lbs. thinner with salon perfect hair, professional dermabrasion, and a tailor on call. However, I don’t have the time, money, or willpower for the “best” version of me, so the “good enough” version will just have to do…and I would be pretty darn offended if my family made “subtle” comments indicating that the “good enough” version wasn’t actually good enough!

  • anon

    So I’m going to take a different perspective here with an anecdote. Our best man—an awesome dude, of course—tends to have extremely bad body odor if he doesn’t shower or use deodorant. Like, Pig-Pen-With-Additional-Clouds-of-Cartoon-Toxins-Coming-Off-Him kind of bad. I’d say he showers and cleans himself up about 60% of the time. And while it’s rough to deal with, when we’re in typical circumstances, we don’t say anything because it’s his body and we can make due (and especially in his home, we don’t feel like it’s our place). We know what we’re potentially getting into and we value his friendship over our nasal passages. Other people, though, don’t feel similarly and he’s lost some friends.

    However, the morning of our wedding, he apparently came to the guys’ suite very obviously unshowered. My husband took him aside and very gently asked him if he would please shower or wear deodorant. Otherwise, the entire room would have smelled, it would have been off-putting to guests, and frankly, made it difficult for people at the same dinner table to eat (yes, it’s honestly that bad when he lets it get that way). He’s a bit of a hippie and believes in humans going au naturel as much as possible, but he obliged, especially since my husband handled it delicately and respectfully (but still matter-of-factly)

    Now, if he had stuck to his principles or said he wasn’t comfortable with us policing his body, would we have kicked him out of the wedding? Of course not. He’s one of our best friends and we love him, stinkiness and all. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have asked him to be in the wedding. But since we’re all reasonable people who respect each other and since he’s willing to modify his natural odors on other occasions, it felt like a reasonable request.

    Basically, if the sister’s lack of hygiene is so extreme that it would/could actually affect others, I think it’s fair to have a gentle conversation with her prior. But if it’s not so extreme, then yeah, I agree that letting it go is the best policy.

    • Violet

      Reasonable people with good communications skills who genuinely care about one another. Is there anything they can’t handle!?

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I don’t know if weird smell = body odor associated with not bathing. I agree if that was the case here, then the conversation is a totally different one. I just think LW wants her sister to put some effort into her appearance for the wedding. I have all kinds of feels about it and I don’t think LW is wrong for WANTING it. But like Liz said, sis is in the wedding so LW will be able to have some input.

      • anon

        Right, and I do recognize that conversations like this can be a lot more fraught for women, since men are certainly upheld to societal standards but not nearly at the level women are (big duh there, I know). I think a woman who took our friend’s stance on the body’s natural state would have a thousand times more difficulty with acceptance.

        …Not that I’m saying at all that the sister is making some kind of statement or that you need to be making a statement in order for your choices to be valid. Just the obvious statement that women have it so much rougher when it comes to breaking out of norms, in whatever form they take, and that’s important to remember for this letter too.

  • Violet

    LW, you have two stated desires in this letter:

    One is wanting your sister to change. I’m going to skip over that part. There are plenty of commenters who have done a nice job suggesting it’s not really in your purview to want your sister to change things she’s decided for herself.

    The second is you say you “wish [you] were closer.” That’s the part of you I want to speak to. Not everyone has to have close relationships with family, or all members of their family. And that’s okay, even freeing. But if this IS something you want, AND she wants to be closer too, I suggest finding a way to connect with her. You use the word “different” to describe you compared to your sister twice- in your first two sentences. That really stuck out to me. Maybe you’re having trouble connecting because you feel too different, like you don’t have anything in common. Sure, if you both shared your love of style, or passion for marketing, or big-city livin, you’d have those in common and could connect on that basis. But, you don’t. So instead of focusing more energy on the personal appearance area that is clearly not a shared interest, what DO you two have in common? How can you find some ground where you see who she is as a person, and look for some similarities?

    Continuing to fixate on what you don’t have in common or trying to change her so you do have something in common is guaranteed not going to get a close relationship going. If you do want a closer relationship, Step 1 is cut that out, Step 2 is figure out what you DO connect on. Good luck!

  • NatalieN

    So a little bit of a personal antic-dote here – since getting married and buying a house a lot of the time around the house I’ll wear work out or working clothes. I usually don’t wash my hair on weekends until after I’m done with all the house hold chores, and if I work out in the evening and take a shower after I won’t wash my hair the next morning (unfortunately my hair gets a little weird when I do that, but meh, it’s that or take a bajillion showers). My brother in law, one of the nicest guys ever, hangs out a lot with my husband and me. One day I got home for lunch and he was swinging by the house. He commented, “you look nice, something going on at work?” I realized I was wearing a dress.. the truth was I was wearing one because I was lazy, all my work pants were in the wash and I didn’t want to worry about coordinating an outfit. “No… I’m actually just wearing a dress because I’m lazy” I laughed. He was like “Oh, well your hair looks really good.” I thanked him… and realized that literally all I did to my hair was… wash it. I know he was just being complementary but a part of myself was like ‘holy cow, how bad does my hair look normally if just washing it warrants a compliment?’

    So, even something THIS innocuous, made me a little self conscious about my hygiene. My point being, LW you and your family might feel like you need to tell your sister what you think about her hygiene to get the point across – I can assure you with probably 95% certainty that she already knows. Why she chooses not to do anything is another reason, and may or may not be worth being concerned about it. But she probably knows, and she probably gets so defensive when you say something out loud because she feels silently judged just by being around you. When I was overweight in middle and high school I KNEW my mom thought I should loose weight, and you know she was right, but the way she would tell me about it “You’re so pretty, boys would probably throw themselves at you if you just lost some weight” was NOT helpful.

    My advice would be to both vocally and silently put away your judgement of your sister’s hygiene or lack thereof and figure out what is going on in her life – only then will you be able to begin to understand her decisions, and, if she expresses desire, help her change them.

    • Jessica

      The other day my husband and I were going to a party and saw our neighbors on they way to our car. I had a dress on and had blow-dried my hair (which is a pain in the ass), had on make-up (basically the works). They looked at me like I was a super-model, which was both awesome and a little disconcerting–like how different did I actually look just because I didn’t have red splotches on my face and was wearing my hair down?

    • Caitlyn

      You made me think of another point. My parents also talked about my weight all the time growing up (they have been separated my entire life but are both individually OBSESSED with weight – everyone’s weight). I was chubby. But the level of comments/concern/obsession was pretty ridiculous and it never helped (other than encourage me to continue to make very unhealthy choices that I didn’t overcome for years). As an adult their comments have continued (seriously the sh*t they say sometimes is kind of hard for an outsider to even comprehend – just ask my partner), BUT the biggest difference is now my sisters and I openly discuss it, agree it’s disgusting and are able to recognize that our parent’s issues surrounding weight are theirs. This doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with our self-image, but having two awesome allies to agree with me that our parents are wacko and we love each other just the way we are – game changer. I honestly cannot fathom how things would be different if instead my sisters bought into my parent’s BS and joined forces to criticize me. That breaks my heart a bit.

      • Violet

        My parents were by no means perfect, but I just want to hug them every time I hear how common it is for people to say their parents talked about weight (either their own, or their children’s) while they were growing up. This is such a foreign concept to me- I feel like Cady Heron in Mean Girls asking if Ashton Kutcher is a band.
        I’m really sorry your parents did this, and I’m so glad you found a way to move past that cycle.

    • sahara

      This reminds me that certain people only see us in certain situations. My roommates while I was in my masters program only ever saw me in sweats or pjs writing papers in the mornings and evenings, with unwashed unbrushed hair. Then they would go to work and I would get ready for class or other activities outside the house. They would always look a little surprised when they saw me in ordinary clothes on the weekend – I’m sure their mental image was that I always wore sweatpants because that is what I wore 90% of the times when they encountered me.

      I relish wearing slightly ratty old clothes when I’m at family gatherings – it’s the only time my comfy cherry red sweatshirt from college gets to come out of the closet. I stayed with my relatives while attending a conference last month and they were somewhat surprised that I managed to clean up so well.

  • Amber

    Not going to the dentist doesn’t yellow your teeth. Only getting one or two haircuts a year doesn’t ruin your hair. So what, she eats mac and cheese? I’m sure she’d have a laundry list of what she doesn’t like about you and you’d probably be pretty offended and upset if people tried to bring it up everytime they saw you.

  • Kelsey

    Wow! I had a very similar (reversed) experience with my Mom, and I feel these “hygiene” and “I want her to want to try to look nice” sentiments are extremely subjective. My mom first hinted and then flat out told me that I smell (because I don’t use scented products so after a day of yard work, yes I smell like a person who did yard work) and that I needed to “wash my hair with real shampoo” for our wedding. She even left various products around our house after visiting. Luckily my partner was able to make me feel better about all this, but I could very easily turn this around based on my standards regarding fake nails, dyed hair, and other chemicals that I don’t see as “healthy.” These are not opinions we should ever give on each other.

  • Alexandra

    LW does seem judge-y and unhelpful and afraid of being embarrassed by her sister. And family members totally should be allowed to be who they are and loved and included unconditionally.

    But the way black sheep sister is described here makes her sound like she has some significant mental health problems. I’ve worked with some fabulous, amazing people who looked extremely frumpy every day, and if they had been my sister I would have had them as frumpy bridesmaids and loved the hell out of them. But their extreme frumpiness (clothes with holes at work, terrible hair, mismatched shoes, etc.) still was a signal to me that they were insecure in certain ways. And all of the people I have in mind (women AND men) were very healthy in every other department.

    Maybe I shouldn’t cop to this, but I used to absolutely love the show “What Not to Wear” because it would take people with extreme frumpiness and help them to realize that everybody can be spruced up–EVERYBODY, body issues, hair that isn’t ideal, sadness about what they see in the mirror notwithstanding. As a former frump, that show helped me defeat a lot of insecurity and depression about my own appearance.

    I don’t think LW can do much about her sister besides get over it, have grace for her, and realize that the point of a wedding is love, not having perfect pictures. But I do think the sister needs help. Probably not from LW, since it seems like there’s a lot of baggage there. Maybe Clinton and Stacy?

  • raccooncity

    Ah, Liz. You’re totally nailing these lately. Great, thoughtful advice.

    • Liz

      <3

  • Alexa

    “I just want her to care what she looks like.”

    That comment made me so sad. 95% of the time I actively don’t care what I
    look like. (I only get my hair cut ~2 times a year, prefer to wear
    jeans and t-shirts, and rarely shave/wear make-up, so I suspect the OP
    would also not be okay with how I look.) But I’m honestly proud of it,
    and deeply grateful to my parents for raising me to feel totally okay
    with that. I try to stay healthy (with mixed results) and I meet the
    minimum requirements for professionalism at work (I work at a school, so
    those standards aren’t super high).

    I got my attitude from my mom, and
    I don’t have any biological sisters, but my mother-in-law and
    sisters-in-law are much more concerned about make-up, clothing, style,
    etc. My mother-in-law has actively given me earrings (in the middle of a party) so that I wouldn’t “look like a boy.” *rolls my eyes* In all honesty, there’s a decent chance that my sisters-in-law judge me for it too, but they seem to understand it’d be a waste of their time to say anything. I’m good with who I am and my priorities/choices make sense to me. I save time, money, and energy that I can use instead on writing fanfic, getting kids excited about comics, and learning trapeze and boxing. And I leave them alone to make their own choices.

    I can only hope that the OP’s sister is able to really not
    care about her appearance and isn’t continually beating herself up about her choices internally, because it sounds like her family is making that very difficult
    for her. Maybe in ideal world some of her indifference would rub off on her sister and they could meet somewhere in the middle, or at least just agree to disagree.

    • Emily

      Yes. All this is true for me too–I prefer to put my time and energy other places than appearance.

      I have to wonder if the OP had a brother instead of a sister if this would be an issue.

    • Amy March

      But there’s such a difference between putting on earrings and being clean. I think it’s reasonable to be sad someone doesn’t care enough about themselves, or isn’t able to, to be clean.

      • Alexa

        But the quote is specifically in terms of appearance, which is why I found it so striking and concerning. If the OP had said “I just want her to be healthy” it would be an entirely different thing (though as other people have pointed out, fat-shaming often comes disguised as concern about “health”which can get complicated to tease apart).

        But, honestly, I have enough experiences (both personally and through people I know) with depression and other chronic illnesses to feel comfortable saying that if someone’s struggling right now and needs to use their spoons (http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/) for something other than showering every single day then I trust them to make that decision for themselves. It’s probably a sign that they’re really struggling, and I’d try to reach out to find out if there was any way I could help support them, but I’m not going to step in and say their priorities are wrong and they need to do what I think is most important.

  • LTurtle

    It sounds to me like you are embarrassed by your sister, and while uncomfortable that’s your issue not hers. If you are concerned for her, that’s a whole different ball of wax and needs to be expressed differently. Based on this brief and biased description it sounds to me like your sister may be struggling with depression, which frankly can be hellish. If I’m right, telling her to wash her hair and eat better is likely only going to make her feel worse. Another option would be to express your concern (I love you and I’m worried about you) while offering help (I could help you find a therapist or just listen without judgment when you want to talk) and possibly apologizing for being critical in the past.

    Doesn’t Meg have a saying about how our family doesn’t change who they are for our wedding? This also applies to your sister. She will still be herself on your wedding day. Trying to change that is likely to strain your relationship further.

    • Violet

      Err, I dunno, if some of their last interactions included sister crying and saying she’s the black sheep, I don’t think LW is in the best position to bring up yet another thing she thinks her sister is struggling with. Even voiced kindly, even with an apology, if sister is used to getting unsolicited “advice” from LW, she’s not going to hear that kind of concern all that well. LW can try it, but personally, if I found myself in LW’s predicament, I would probably back off of making any kind of judgments/observations about my sister’s life to her, for a loooooong time.

    • raccooncity

      Apologizing should never be part of an ulterior plan. I think apologizing is a great idea and would help heal the relationship IF it was sincere. All people have some level of bullshit detection for this sort of thing. Going in like “if I apologise, my requests will be taken better”….those motives are obvious to most people – ESPECIALLY those who’ve known you since childhood.

  • Amanda

    Somewhat different scenario, but I could use some advice. My partner and his sister aren’t close, yet he is having major guilt over his brother being his best man but not including his sister in the wedding party. I told him that he shouldn’t think of it as a siblings thing, because my brother is not in the wedding party either, but if he feels strongly, we’ll just include both. The thing is, she’s painfully insecure, which I have a lot of empathy for. She has a terrible body image and dresses very, very inappropriately (like, I’ve seen her exposed private parts at a family funeral because her dress was too short & she wasn’t wearing panties–then she showed up to the wake in an ity bitty bikini…even though there was no where to swim). While I could go either way with including her (there are a lot of good reasons on both sides), but she a difficult personality. I’m at peace with her just showing up as her self, porn-makeup and very revealing clothing and all, but if she’s going to be an attendant…I care more about how she presents herself. I want her to feel comfortable, but how do I make a point about how she should look? Or do I just have to let it go after picking out her dress? Is it appropriate to ask her to pay for her hair and makeup (I was going to pay for my MOH as a gift, but I can’t afford both). How do you go about this for someone who is obsessed with how she looks, but doesn’t really jive with my vibe? Do I just let it go?

    • Liz

      Yep, let it go.

      • Amanda

        sometimes you just need someone to reaffirm what you know is the right thing to do. ;)

        • Liz

          That’s what the internet is for! Other than cat vids.

  • This made me wonder if I am washing my hair wrong?

    “she doesn’t really understand how to wash or care for her hair, it is
    matted down with months’ worth of shampoo. This causes it to look really
    grey and gunky, not to mention smell sort of weird.”

  • Emily

    I think there is a big difference between not being coiffed to within an inch of your life (I am certainly not) and looking so disheveled that you present in a manner that suggests something might be seriously worryingly wrong in your life. I have struggled with depression in the past, and one of the ways it manifested for me was decreased concern with appearance. I wish someone had cared enough to really say “hey – it seems like you’re struggling – is there a way I can invite you for dinner, set up a workout schedule for you etc”

    This being said, there are consequences to not observing basic comforts of other people. In my own life – my MIL is a very pleasant person but a serious hoarder (serious like she has a 3000 square foot home in which there are no seats available other than the master bed and nowhere to eat a meal) hubs has tried to get her help (hired gardener, hired housekeeper, tried to get her to see a therapist to discuss anxiety) but she refuses, yet her feelings are deeply hurt that we won’t come visit and stay with her (when we go we stay in a hotel, and it’s less often given the expense of a hotel in NorCal). You could argue that she shouldn’t be forced to conform to societal standards of cleanliness, but there is a point of not caring at which it becomes an imposition on other people’s comfort

  • BDubs

    Hi there, LW. If it helps, my now father-in-law came to our wedding much as he comes to every other event in life: unkempt hair and beard, stinking of BO and cigarette smoke, with a stained shirt and a ratty tweed jacket over it for “the occasion”.
    And nobody gave a damn. Nobody shamed me or my husband.
    Families have those oddballs who don’t get “social conventions” and it didn’t make any difference, or ruin anything.
    So even if she does nothing at all different, it doesn’t matter and nobody cares. Other guests and bridal party members will behave themselves if she is odoriferous and move away when they’ve had their fill. Do your best not to think of it and not to fret over it.
    I know this is cold comfort, but finding the zen when there is nothing you can do or really need to do is what it really boils down to during wedding-planning.

    • StevenPortland

      Bravo for this response!

  • JC

    Thank you, Liz, for giving LW such great advice. Your words just helped me realize that my younger sister, too, is embarrassed by me, for a multitude of reasons. It’s a pretty terrible feeling, and one I don’t wish on anyone.

    I’m also pretty perturbed by some commenters here discussing swapping “older sibling” for “younger sibling.” I recognize that this is a personal, mental habit, and I hope it helped those people gain stronger relationships with their siblings as young people. But at some point, when you’re both adults, the narratives about who is supposed to have achieved what by their particular age become false and hurtful.

    My (younger) sister is my equal. We are walking different paths, each taking advantage of our own strengths. Just because she is getting married first doesn’t make her the “older” sibling, even in someone’s mind. Because she has certain interests or skills doesn’t make her older. Her job doesn’t make her older. She is an adult, and I am an adult, and we adult differently. My version of adulting doesn’t necessitate some kind of pity, indulgence, or forbearance. I am not less mature or less successful. And that someone would think that, particularly my own sibling, is deeply distressing.

    • Not Sarah

      This: “She is an adult, and I am an adult, and we adult differently.”

      A friend phrased it that I don’t need to be close to my sister – I just need to accept her for who she is. And that made a huge difference for me.

    • Chris

      In my case, it’s not about who got married first or who ‘adults’ better, its reframing the expectations I have about what my relationship with my brother is ‘supposed’ to be.

      I suppose I internalized the cultural story that ‘older brothers are supposed to look out for their little sisters’. Thats not who my brother is, and it’s never gonna be who he is. If I went to visit him, he’d have me sleep on a floor with a blanket and no pillow, and never consider that it might be uncomfortable for me. If I complained, I’d get a lecture about social inequality. When I started mentally reframing the relationship as one where I’m ‘supposed to be looking out for my little brother’ I was able to be kinder and more accepting of his social quirks, which meant that our relationship has less conflict and is easier on everyone. He now says that our relationship is better than the relationship he’s got with our (even older) brother or our parents. So, for me this strategy worked – not because I’m ‘winning the race’ towards marriage-kids-work-retire-die, but because it allowed me to think about our relationship in a form that is freer from social constructs that tell me he should be taking care of me, and that his sartorial choices reflect on me.

      • JC

        I can definitely understand that, and I am so glad that you and your brother have a stronger relationship now. I think if my sister were to reframe our relationship in this way, it would be to compound the ways I was “failing” as an older sibling with the ways of somehow being “less than” as a younger sibling.

  • I don’t think getting your hair cut just twice a year is cause for concern, and there are PLENTY of reasons people put off going to the dentist, but sometimes a lack of hygiene habits can be a sign of depression. It’s impossible to know from the letter if something like that is going on. But if the sister IS depressed, just addressing the symptoms isn’t ultimately going to help with that. So you get her to shower more, but like…that’s not going to make her less depressed. Telling her you’re concerned about her shitty diet isn’t either. If you’re concerned that these things are signs of a bigger problem (and again, it’s so hard to know if they are signs of that based on what we know as readers) then like…that’s something to address, but that conversation probably doesn’t involve telling her to take a shower. But if these complaints are just overall lifestyle differences, then there’s probably not much to be done beyond hair and makeup the day of, as Liz said.

  • Caroline Sjööh

    Spot on by Liz, but also: I can’t understand how someone could not wash their hair “the right way”. I didn’t know there’s more ways than one to do it. You get your hair wet, you shampoo it if you feel the need, you rinse, you maybe use conditioner, you’re done? Have I missed something? Is there some secret hair washing magic that no one told me about?

  • Martha Fleischman


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  • Lily

    I must admit, I’m worried about the use of the word ‘hygiene’ here. I could be reading too much into this, but it seems like hygiene is being conflated with things that are more personal grooming standards than health issues.

    Let’s take the teeth thing as an example:
    Teeth are not naturally white, and staining is not in and of itself unhygienic.
    I brush my teeth twice a day, and they are healthier than average, but they are definitely the teeth of a tea-drinker. I’m willing to accept that that doesn’t meet everyone’s aesthetic standards. But I would be very offended if anyone implied that my teeth are yellow because my ‘hygiene habits’ are inadequate.

    I kind of feel that it falls under the same camp as presuming that a person is unclean because they don’t shave body hair: yes, they are not spending time/money on a specific cosmetic procedure; no, it doesn’t follow that they don’t know the basics of personal hygiene.

  • laddibugg

    I think there is a huge difference between ‘not caring about appearance’ and having bad hygiene. My friends run the gamut–some are ‘throw on any clean (key word) tshirt and go’, others must make sure everything down to their drawers match. It sounds like the sister is neither–smelling bad and not taking care of your body to an extent that it literally breaks down are causes for concern, especially if she had not always been like that.

    My main issue with the letter is that this is suddenly a big deal because of the wedding. I’m not saying the LW didn’t express concern before, but if I were the sister, it would annoy me that you are voicing your loudest complaints now that I am going to ‘represent’ you.

    I’m definitely all for people expressing themselves–I don’t care about tats, hair color, your size or anything. But if it was my wedding, sorry, I’m going to need you to wash your hair, brush your teeth, and take a shower.

  • peasandcarrots

    I disagree. I have a cousin exactly like this, but she had a huge health scare last year and has taken a big interest in her health and has actively spruced herself up since then. She was around 150 lbs overweight, stringy hair, no makeup, and had calcified tartar from not having seen a dentist in probably two decades. She admitted that once she started taking care of herself and her appearance, she was ashamed and saddened that she hadn’t done so earlier. Unfortunately, the damage to her teeth was extensive and has been very costly to repair. She says now that she was depressed and didn’t think she was worth caring for (she was very caring and giving toward others), and then her appearance got so bad that she didn’t know how to fix it anymore. I’m not a mental health professional, but I am told that giving up on your appearance is often a sign of depression. This sister in the letter sounds as if she might be depressed or have some kind of other issue. Not looking stunning every day is one thing, but totally neglecting yourself is, in my opinion, a sign that something is not right.

  • Melissa Shorter


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  • peridot456

    The hygiene aspect is really concerning for me, as not showering or having clean clothes is a big sign of mental illness. Or, it could be a sign of poverty; the haircut and dentist thing could definitely be related to not having much money. You said she’s a teacher, after all, and they don’t make much. Are there ways you can help your sister feel more comfortable at your wedding? And beyond that, can you check in with her and make sure she’s doing okay?

  • Maureen Walker


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  • Jess

    Every time I read one of these and I agree completely, the author is Liz Moorhead. Nailed it again, Liz.

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