By Jane Helpern
Everybody poops. Yes, even your impossibly chic, Comme des Garçons-clad CFO who has never worn the same blouse twice even though each is basically indiscernible from the next in all its starchy-white-glory (I mean, who knew a top could have such an overt air of superiority?). Yes, even she hits her rock-ribbed-yet-stylish mid-century modern couch after a long day of donning judgmental ensembles, and with a pair of Outdoor Voices joggers and a bottle of red, farts gleefully along to the bachelorette before lavishing at least four different serums unto her face before bed.
Sure *logically* we know that evacuating one’s bowels is a normal, healthy, and detoxifying part of the morning routine (and sometimes afternoon and/or night, depending on schedule/green juice intake). And yet, when it comes to doo-doo-ing the deed at the workplace— where so many of us devote 8-12 hours of our day—women are crippled by anxiety and shame, and guilty of holding it to the point of agony, constipation, toot trails (you know, the kind that seep out en route to the toilets), or worse.
“Holding in your poo on the rare occasion is fine, but [shouldn’t be] done all the time,” says Alison Chen, N.D., and author of What Your Poo Says About You. Chen notes that among the unwanted side effects of keeping clenched are constipation, colon damage, and unnecessary strain when the urge inevitably strikes again in a more familiar setting. Furthermore, by burying the urge deep inside you risk missing out on the euphoric sensation gastroenterologist Dr. Anish Sheth refers to as "poo-phoria”— an exultant trifecta of chills, sweating, and lightheadedness triggered by a particularly rewarding bowel movement stimulating the vagus nerve, which Sheth says can cause a feeling of “sublime relaxation.”
Despite chasing the ever-elusive poo-gasm, between unpleasant acoustics, the fear of having your new Gucci's spotted beneath poorly engineered stalls that leave more room for snooping than actual pooping (cue George Costanza’s infamous Seinfeld rant), and the nightmare that is getting stuck at the sink alongside your manager to whom you owe an email (when the only reason you’re even going through the motion of washing your hands in the first place is so she doesn’t think you’re an unsanitary cavewoman), the communal office bathroom can cause even the most open-minded sphincter to snap shut.
To get to the bottom (hehe) of this widespread workplace phobia, we chatted with professional women across several career trajectories to get their poo-cents on office pooping protocol: why it’s sh*tty, how to hack it, and why secret bathrooms are a feminist issue!
Cindy Gallop, Founder and Former chair of the US branch of advertising firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty, and founder of the IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn
Now, I'm actually fortunate in that I work for myself and I work from home, so I don't encounter this issue as much as I used to in corporate life, but as and when I do in a shared female bathroom environment, I have to admit that even I am prone to doing all those things we do as women in this context:
- Putting toilet paper in the bowl first so no 'plopping' sounds are heard
- Flushing the toilet during so no sounds are heard
- If there is someone else in the bathroom or the neighboring stall, waiting in the hope they will leave the bathroom first
- Flushing several times in the course of the operation to reduce odor
I'm assuming men do none of these things (not least because of their proclivity to treat this as a real occasion deserving of lingering, reading, being on their phone, playing games etc - and yes, I mean in the office as much as at home) and I think our behavior is as much us being considerate of other women/people, as embarrassment we feel ourselves.
An editor at a Condé Nast style publication
I have a secret pooping bathroom. That's basically how I handle pooping at work. Obviously not every workplace has this luxury but when you work in a building with 90 floors and have access to pretty much all of them, you find yourself a relatively underutilized/secret, private restroom. I actually discovered mine on my first day — it's on a different floor from my office and reserved for fancy executive board room meetings, which rarely ever happen on this particular floor and these fancier bathrooms have stalls that are way more private, so even if someone does enter the space you're still way more secluded. I personally do not care if someone else is pooping in a public restroom while I'm in it — that's literally what bathrooms are for — but I feel like other people get weirded out and then I get stage fright. So even though traveling to poop is longer, it takes less time overall since it's much more relaxing to go in near complete privacy and comfort.
An IT Senior Associate
You know how in a shared bathroom, sometimes you know who is in there? Or like when people want to talk to you when you’re on the toilet? My manager does that sometimes. And I remember needing to poop and she’s talking to me and I had that moment of ‘“do I drop this or try to hold it in there.” Like, we’re in our stalls. It’s not for talking about work. It’s for personal business. So, I pooped. And it wasn’t quiet. And she stopped talking.
Kejal Macdonald, VPee of Marketing, Icon
At Icon HQ we don't believe in TMI, so nothing is taboo, including poo. While I have no problem talking about my bowel to bowl movements, I do need privacy to actually do the doo. Our shared bathroom is a little too high traffic for my colon, so I retreat to a more private commode two floors up. To avoid sphincter stage fright my ideal setting is a completely empty bathroom and a full Instagram feed.
Arianna Schioldager, Editor-in-Chief, Create Cultivate
After childbirth, nothing is embarrassing. And TBH, I don't have time to play the I'm pretending to throw out a tampon even though I'm not on my period game. Just poop and get over it. You're calling more attention to yourself rustling around in there. Plus, it is a construct of the patriarchy that women don't poop. If you really want to resist, start pooping everywhere.
"It's a construct of the patriarchy that women don't poop. If you really want to resist, start pooping everywhere."
Jane Helpern, Freelance Writer and Editorial Director
Pooping affects my mood, productivity, and energy. Which is why overtime (and after many in-house jobs) I’ve learned that the pros of pooping when you gotta outweigh the cons of being put on blast, while you blast. I used to work for a fashion brand where everyone always wore super distinct, designer shoes. The bathrooms—as nice as they were with their incense diffusers, plants, and artisanal soaps—still had those giant gaps under the stalls and you could identify everyone by their fancy footwear.
For a while, I tried to keep my feet elevated so as to maintain anonymity, but literally my abs would tremble and I couldn’t relax. I’m a big proponent of the courtesy flush to drown out as much noise and odor as possible, and I’ll admit that I’m probably single handedly responsible for the California drought by leaving the sink running to conceal any embarrassing sounds if I’m in a stall that’s precariously located in close proximity to where others are hanging out. I think girls pooping is one of the last remaining taboos, now that we've dealt with bleeding and body hair. It’s okay to be polite—no need to start ripping rancid farts in public—but don’t let the patriarchal expectations of female hygiene come at the expense of your gastrointestinal well-being.
"I’ve learned that the pros of pooping when you gotta outweigh the cons of being put on blast, while you blast."
Jacqueline Frances, Author, Comedian & Stripper
As far as going number two, man, I've never really put much thought into it. I'm one of those lucky ones who can go anywhere (didn't know that was a thing until Broad City). I just try to have some solid reading material with me, and set up a little crown of TP along the seat and go for it. Like most comedians, I'm pretty sure my best jokes were developed on the shitter.
Zarna Surti, Founder, Tonal Magazine
Ahh, the office poo. Here's the deal: I'm actually very regular—the morning is like clockwork for me, so I'm usually able to handle my business before my morning commute. But, like everyone else, I'm only human and sometimes things get a little tricky.
I used to work in an office where I could set up the amazing 'sneaky worky poop.' What does that mean exactly? There was a secret Pepto-Bismol-colored haven that only had 4 stalls, so if I timed it out perfectly, I would end up in a state of solo bliss. But my new workplace? Not so much. We work in an open loft with one bathroom right next to the CEO's office. Needless to say, that shit (sorry, my humor resembles that of a 13-year-old teenage boy) can get really weird, really quickly. Also, the only couch and refrigerator are right outside of the restroom, so any weird smells leave you as the only culprit.
What do we want? Secret bathrooms. When do we want them? NOW, please, for your sake and mine. Also, an assorted magazine rack wouldn't hurt either.
An Associate Creative Director at a New York Agency
Pooping is the first thing I do every morning. I have trained myself to do that, so I don’t really have to go during the day. I’ve always had so much anxiety about going in public stall style bathrooms. I would hold it in and be uncomfortable all day. My friend told me she had a scheduled pooping time in the morning, so one day I tried it and realized you can actually train yourself to do it. Luckily, if I have to go at work, we have single stalls with real doors....so I'm ok to go in those. But I usually won’t go in shared stalls with the walls not to the floor. Unless it’s an airport, I don’t mind there.
Have any tales from the toilet you want to share? Chime in below!
Jane Helpern is a freelance writer, copywriter, and founder of Jane Says Agency. She enjoys helping brands find their voice, writing about fashion and feminism, and walking-at-an-incline-with-wine™