Teenagers learn confidence that comes from cleanliness: Bad breath and spots are a big worry for the young. Esther Oxford reports

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The Independent Online
'NOBODY tells me I smell,' said Michelle Carn, 14, a GCSE student at Guthlaxton community college in Leicester. 'They don't get a chance. I carry a bottle of deodorant in my bag wherever I go.'

Michelle was one of a group of 13 teenagers selected by Graham Norris, headteacher at the college, to discuss John Balding's study.

Health and hygiene are taught to the 1,384 students as part of the national curriculum. When the children reach 14 or 15 they are shown Some of Your Bits Ain't Nice - a video about the importance of hygiene. The film follows a girl and a boy meeting at a disco, dancing, talking, kissing, then suddenly taking a closer look at each other. One has greasy hair, the other has smelly feet.

'We use the film to teach students 'sociable' standards of hygiene and to bring health issues into the open. Most of the children already realise about the importance of hygiene but there is always the odd one who has a problem but chooses not to take any notice,' Martin Dare, head of physical education, said.

'The children are usually referred to the sports teachers. We take them aside and say something to the effect of, 'Do you know why people are avoiding you?' They are usually quite embarrassed and do their best to do something about it. But there have been a couple of cases where we were given no choice but to shower the child, give them new clothes and take the soiled garments for a wash.'

Asked how often they showered, everyone in the group said one shower a day was enough - twice if you were feeling particularly conscientious. Hair was washed every day - mousse, spray and gel were popular and hair got sticky if the residue was left in for too long.

Having to shower at school aroused the greatest number of complaints. For the first year or two, showers are compulsory after sport. But as the children get older, it is left up to them.

Bad breath and spots were the biggest worries. Ben, 14, said: 'I suck Polos all the time to make my breath fresh. Everyone in school has pointed my breath out to me. I use mouthwashes but mostly it is just Polos. I hate my spots too. Mr brother gave me some Oxy 10 for Christmas. It tends to work for a little while then it stops. And it dries my skin up. My feet are another worry. People make jokes about their smell all the time. Sometimes their comments reduce me to tears.'

Four out of the seven girls in the group were on diets. One had started smoking as a substitute for meals. 'I am always on a diet,' she said. 'I just don't eat much'.

Wanting to have friends and to attract the opposite sex were cited as the main reasons for the concentration on hygiene. All agreed that 'it gives you more confidence knowing that you are clean'.