The Vagenda

How Not to be a Lady (and Why I Went Nearly a Month Without Taking a Dump)


There’s been a lot of talk about the confidence gap recently, and how women should just get out there, take some space, raise their hands and make themselves heard. True: being louder and making demands, if they are justified, can indeed increase confidence and possibly result in better opportunities professionally. But how does one begin to take space in some areas of life, while not in others? How are we to be louder and bigger while still fitting into a size 8 and never farting? (See? Farting is a Feminist Issue! I told you we handled the big issues – Ed.)

Having been brought told that we need to behave as little princesses, I wonder if a lot of us still feel the pressure of having to pretend, that just like princesses, we do not really have to go to the toilet, or fart, or harbour any other bodily functions whatsoever. This may be largely unconscious, but somewhere deep within, this princess ideal still lives and controls our basic instincts of relieving ourselves when nature calls. And God forbid that there be anyone close enough within hearing distance to be able to tell that whatever is happening behind that closed door definitely isn’t just powdering noses. How else do you explain eight women essentially going without pooping for a month on a yoga retreat, just because they shared one toilet that also happened to be adjacent to the sleeping dormitory? We could have won the world record in constipation.

You see, I was one of the eight women. And yes, I went without a number two for nearly a month. There was always somebody in the room, and often on the telephone (which was most unfortunately placed just by the toilet door.) I could not relax. Just couldn’t do it. Not without risking that the others might hear embarrassing sounds, or worse still, need to visit the toilet straight afterwards. I don’t know why this was such an issue. I know that I am not a princess. Nor would I ever want to be, and yet, I just couldn’t understand how the others managed do their business without me ever hearing anything. Was I somehow less of a lady, somehow defective as a female? It wasn’t until I had private conversations with some of the others, and somehow we ended up talking about constipation, that I found out that everyone had the same problem.  All of us were so embarrassed about the natural functioning of our bodies and the sounds and smells that come with them that we simply stopped shitting.

It might not be a surprise that this was a problem for me. As an ex-dancer, I still struggle with controlling my body to keep it in check and somehow contained, almost sealed. There can be no excess, no seepage. I was trained to strive towards having a silenced, ideal body. The mute body of a dancer becomes almost immaterial in its ability to evoke the illusion of weightlessness: a picture perfect body in motion, in virtuosic feat. In the end my failure to meet the ideal made me ill. Suddenly the body became its own obstacle. It had demands. It would no longer be silenced.

I am learning to take space. I don’t deny myself food anymore, or force myself to exercise excessively in order to reduce my already petite size further. As a result, I am bigger, which is great when queuing – I don’t get stepped over as much, for instance. Professionally I try to go for things and put myself outside of my comfort zone: I am making myself heard. And if I am in an exercise class and need a break, I take one. Or I leave and ask no one for permission. Because this is my life, my body and my time, and therefore I make the decisions.

And still, I struggle with the silencing of my body in everyday situations. Since I can see that I am not alone in this, the silencing becomes political, somehow symptomatic of a culture where women are expected to be pleasing, pretty and clean at all times. Or worse still, weightless and invisible. The pressure to be a lady still holds, whatever gains we make in other fields. I may ask for more and be louder professionally, but visiting a public toilet still leaves me uncomfortable even about the sound of peeing, not to mention sounds related to any more strenuous business. Occasionally coughing up phlegm in the morning leaves me feeling very unladylike. As disgusting as it sounds, I can assure you that it is way more disgusting to keep the cursed thing just sitting in the throat.

Here’s the thing: living as a body is noisy business. There is no point in fighting the futile battle of suppressing, silencing and minimising the body. A normal human body will pass gas 15 times a day, and have up to two bowel movements a day. Do you really want to be the exception that does not? Think about it: isn’t it better to get that stuff out than keep it all in? It is so much healthier to live with well functioning bowels. Besides, there are no such things as fairy princesses – they are just an illusion created by humans with real bodies that sweat and fart, just like you and me.

- LL

13 thoughts on “How Not to be a Lady (and Why I Went Nearly a Month Without Taking a Dump)

  1. I got over this problem by singing in my head ‘Everybody poos soometiiimes’ to the tube of ‘Everybody hurts’ when I encounter shy bowel syndrome in public. It still makes me giggle. When you are laughing instead of feeling disgust, embarrassed or shame – it gets much easier.
    Even hearing other people’s noises makes me smile now – I feel supportive of their freedom.
    Plop away!

    Lady Jo

  2. One odd thing I noticed: I sail, and when you are living on a sailing boat you are sleeping, eating, washing and excreting in often male and female company in a small space, and although there are is a proper loo compartment it is tiny and not very well sound-proofed. You can’t hold back otherwise you can’t function and any seasickness can affect the other end too, so you have to let rip. (I feel a pun on the word motion coming on, but won’t go there). So you just get on with it. Perhaps it’s because you are in a world where any notions of conventional decorative femininity or decorum are jettisoned because somehow they seem in conflict with the work to be done in operating the boat: everything is sacrificed to function. When I first stepped into a boat, my (female) instructor said to the “girl crew”: if you care about how your hands and nails look, give up now.

    Get back on dry land, though, even in a marina toilet, and the old inhibitions come back. I deal with it by putting my fingers in my ears – if I can’t hear me. nor can others.

  3. I used to not be able to pee in public toilets, as in, literally couldn’t relax myself enough for pee to come out. Then I went to live for a year in China where public toilets can be awful and I just had to get over it. Spending time in the countryside where facilities were literally holes in the floor with planks over them…. motorway services that had 30 squatty potties in a line with no cubicles, just completely open, no privacy. I just had to surrender my dignity at the door and get on with it like everyone else! After experiencing that the noises just didn’t seem like that much of a big deal any more!

  4. Thank you so much for the article!
    I’ve been struggling with that for years, and it’s gotten even worse since I’ve been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease. I wish I could just break free from those unfair expectations to be lady-like all the time, but I’m too ashamed of talking about it, even to friends or family.
    A few weeks ago, I spent the night with a guy and left his appartment in the morning, just so I could rush home and go to the bathroom!! I felt silly, because we were having a great time and I really wanted to enjoy breakfast and the rest of the day with him!

  5. Doesn’t everyone know about the loo roll trick? You just put some down before you get down to business et voila! – No sound effects ;)

  6. One time I shared a hotel room with 3 other girls and one small bathroom. We weren’t that close, but we broke down the barriers by making a point of discussing poo – by the end of the week we were happily discussing and checking in on each other’s bowel movements. It’s funny how easy and relaxed it once you get it out in the open – noises, smells, galore.

    Good article though – it’s ridiculous how weird and unfeminine it is considered to have normal body functions. A couple of months ago my male housemate (jokingly?) said to me ‘girls don’t poo’ – I’m still reeling from it!

  7. This is just ridiculous. I can’t understand how you did not take a shit for a fucking month! If nature calls then just go. Why think that being a ‘lady’ means you don’t take a shit. Who cares if you fart and shit at the same time?

  8. I really believe that struggling with this is at the root of so many bowel diseases and problems! And this is precisely what I mean here, with this being a larger issue that limits our general freedom and well-being in the world. Suppressing the body’s physiological need to eliminate waste products because of conditioned and largely unconscious belief that it is unfeminine and disgusting, is very damaging for the health! I still struggle with this myself, but I try to remind myself that my health comes first. It is more important than what others think about me. Because frankly, gut problems can be very debilitating and hard to live with, so I am dedicated to healing mine. For the sake of having a good life!

    Good luck with healing (or managing) your inflammatory bowel disease. Don’t let it get in the way of enjoying life! Next time you want to enjoy breakfast with someone, stay with them. Put the radio on to mask any sounds that may come from your toilet visit, if that is what makes you feel awkward. If you have to say something about it, deal with it with openness or humour. (Humour can sometimes help). Besides, ,most people are very understanding (this kind of business is after all very personal, and very human – we all have to do it!). I know it is difficult, but it is so important for your own well-being. Good luck!

  9. I’m all for smashing the patriarchy but you didn’t poo for a month just cos some of your girlfriends might hear? On a trip to Paris this time last year my best girlfriend and I blocked the toilet in the flat we were borrowing from a friend who studies there. There was literally poo everywhere, we had to negotiate an emergency plumber in French after several failed DIY attempts involving what later became known as the Coat-hanger Of Despair and I have never laughed so hard in my life. My boyfriend also makes ridiculous (fake) fart sounds whenever he goes in the toilet in my tiny flat and often laugh so hard at this I can’t stand up. I dunno, maybe I have a very childish sense of humour or no boundaries of whatever but for me this is firmly in the just-get-over-it category.

  10. But what if the flush is a bit naff? You need to check that at some point before poo-ing to make sure you don’t block it with paper and poop. Or even so you don’t have to double flush, because then everybody knows….
    I just say I want a shower, poo really fast while the shower runs and have a fast shower.
    Unless it’s family or my boyfriend, then I might just close the door. Sexy.

  11. I loved this article. I know we shouldn’t give a sh*t (pardon the pun) about these sort of things but the reality is so many of my girlfriends will never admit to farting or pooing in public (the admitting bit’s public, not the pooing).

    My boyfriend would happily trump away like a particularly enthusiastic (and nostril singeing) brass section, yet chastised me for the tiniest of parps.

    Now that I’ve explained to him that considering we eat more or less the same meals every day, and being of the same species our bodies deal with that food, in more or less the same way, the end result for both will be more or less equally stinky.

    We now feel blessed to have found each other as I’m not sure anybody else could put up with the combined, pungent aroma we create with astonishing degrees of pitch, ferocity and Rythm!

  12. OMG I SING THAT TOO!!! We have a collective conciousness that stops nothing short of musical genius.