Written by Claire Goodwin


Poo shaming: You never know who you’re shitting next to

We all know what toilets are for, and for Claire Goodwin they’re an essential part of going out. But that doesn’t mean she’s immune to cruel comments from the buttock-clenching brigade.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

“Urrgggh. It stinks in here. Who does a poo on a night out? Dirty cow.”

I could have forgiven her if she were 19, in the grips of social convention and conformity, still at the stage in her life where she wouldn’t dream of farting in front of her friends let alone her boyfriend; still floating around at a time in her life where being gorgeous is quite a priority.

But she wasn’t.

She was probably mid-30s, with a husband (I’d seen some drunken dancing) and on a table of what appeared to be friends at the charity event we were both at.

And the loud, condemning statement – the uncompromising, judgemental, and downright rude statement, which was aimed at the entire toilet block in the posh hotel – stunk.

But not as much as my shit.

Now, I don’t relish dumping my guts in public. When I was in my teens and early 20s, I wouldn’t have dreamt of shitting in a public convenience. I would have clenched, retained, secretly farted and pained my way through any situation so that I could remain a pretty, delicate, socially acceptable flower.

As I neared my late 20s, and met my husband (oh, the things that man has witnessed), my bowels decided to betray me. Constant, crippling, draining, explosive diarrhoea.

I went for tests. Cameras up my arse, down my throat; breath tests for lactose intolerance, biopsies and blood tests for coeliac disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s. Poo samples galore… have you ever tried to capture a sample of stool when it appears to be exiting at Mach 5 and is liquid? Pretty it is not.

There were more tests for infections and parasites, including a particularly undignified procedure involving collecting my shit sample at its freshest. I had to go to the hospital, clenching and sweating and seeping – and poo in a sample pot in the public toilet next to the pathology lab before handing it in. (Those IVF dads who have to crack off to some well-thumbed issues of Razzle have it EASY.)

And the results? IBS, probably associated with anxiety. Or ‘no one knows what is wrong with you’, which I think is more clinically accurate.

“Shitting through the eye of a needle while retching at an environment that would make Irvine Welsh shudder is humbling and terrifying in equal measure.”

At its worst, I can go to the toilet up to 20 times a day. I honestly don’t know where some of it comes from. Food can be entirely undigested; sometimes it would just be water; sometimes it would be thick and black and other times it would be bright yellow. I regularly have a bleeding and sore bottom resulting from all the, ahem, traffic.

And I have continued to gain weight. I just can’t catch a break. At least if I could shop in Topshop I’d have some kind of small victory, like it isn’t all for nothing. But, no. Not even a hint of a thigh gap. Not even a hint of a fucking knee gap. Jeez.

As you can probably imagine, I have grown used to using public toilets. It’s not pleasant, but if I don’t use them, I don’t go out. And I have used some foul toilets. Shitting through the eye of a needle while retching at an environment that would make Irvine Welsh shudder is humbling and terrifying in equal measure.

By far the most wretched part of the sad and sorry story is other women.

Before the aforementioned charity event, I’d prepped myself. I took four Imodium before I left the house with more in my purse*. I wasn’t drinking, so if things exploded we could whip home quickly. Two hours in, my stomach started to gurgle. I felt a bit dizzy and sweat beaded on my top lip. It was toilet time.

“Now, I don’t relish dumping my guts in public. When I was in my teens and early 20s, I wouldn’t have dreamt of shitting in a public convenience.”

When I walked in, it was thankfully empty and I went to the furthest toilet and stuffed paper down it to avoid ploppage. I can only describe the resultant evacuation as akin to toxic slime. And it just kept coming. Then, the entry door swung.

Fuck no. Fuck no. Fuck no.

Fear spread through my body. I clenched and sweated and hung onto my shame until they had gone; relief washing over me as my bowel convulsed, expelling the foulness. I finished and flushed a few times and went out to wash my hands, smugly thinking I had gotten away with it.

But I hadn’t. There she was. That woman. Wrinkling her nose. Condemning my lack of social etiquette. Heaping shame. To my horror, she was accompanied by her friends. I very nearly broke into racking sobs.

I wept on my husband who thought it was hilarious. He then broke into a story about three men, including himself, in toilet cubicles at work, doing poos. They were all laughing individually at every fart, splodge, plop and groan. They didn’t know each other. They didn’t have a judgemental comment to make about each other’s need to indulge their normal bodily functions. They just laughed at the poo noises.

I wish that happened to me.

*Please don’t follow my lead, read the packet. I am very much a desperate woman.


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Written by Claire Goodwin

Claire is a speech therapist, baker, cake decorator, sometime radio guest and writer. She writes about food, being fat and living with mental health problems @bake_therapist; www.baketherapy.co.uk; www.facebook.com/CakeChemistryUK