When I was in high school, my friends and I convinced a group of guys at our school that we didn't poop.
C'mon, stop blushing. We're all adults here.
It wasn't hard for them to believe. At that age we were so made-up, perfumed and powdered that, biology aside, it seemed plausible that nothing foul could ever come from our bodies.
While the deception was a victory for an insecure 16-year-old, it was a loss for the feminist I would grow into.
So it's with heavy bowels that I now watch the near ubiquitous ad on YouTube in which a foul-mouthed woman tells me to use a product that will cover up the smell, and ideally the existence, of my number twos.
You know the one. The redhead with a British accent wearing a Tiffany-blue cocktail dress who swings open a bathroom stall door and says: "You won't believe the motherload I just dropped. And that's how I like to keep it."
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She then appears in various settings sitting on a toilet: a work party, a cow field, but most importantly, her boyfriend's house. While he obliviously munches away on popcorn, she holds up a can of spray charmingly named Poo~Pourri (you can't make this up), "proven to trap those embarrassing odours at the source, and save relationships." Because what could be worse than knowing your girlfriend has a functioning digestive system?
The ad quickly went viral and has racked up more than 16 million views since it debuted in September. The company has sold more than four million bottles since its 2007 launch.
Let me be blunt: poop stinks. I'm not opposed to a product that covers up an unpleasant smell. But I do take issue with the reason this spray is marketed to, and bought by, women: we are expected to hide a biological reality men are allowed to embrace. (Poo~Pourri does sell products for men with equally charming names such as Trap-a-Crap, but they are less popular and still mostly purchased by ladies).
Women have always been held to unrealistic beauty standards, from Jonathan Swift's 18th-century poem decrying the dirty state of a lady's dressing room ("But swears how damnably the men lie/ In calling Celia sweet and cleanly ... Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!") to Palmolive ads from the 20s with the tag line "Would your husband marry you again?"
While women face pressure to have shinier hair, curlier lashes, and better-smelling poop, men are celebrated in ads as beer-guzzling, burping, sweat-pant wearing slobs.
We can and should fault a patriarchal society for inventing these delusions, but in 2013, it's a woman's duty to reject them. Instead, too many of us feel ashamed of our healthy bodily functions, a mentality that is wreaking havoc on our personal and professional lives.
According to a national survey, 71 per cent of women go "to great lengths to avoid defecating -- especially in a public washroom." What does this mean in the workplace? A recent Daily Beast article described how one woman walks 10 minutes to another office building when she needs to go while another lifts her feet up while on the toilet so no one recognizes her shoes. All these antics add up to wasted time and energy we could better spend on proving, you know, that a woman's brain should be given more attention than her body. But until we believe that ourselves, societal beliefs aren't going to change.
On the website "Is it Normal?" 64 per cent of readers voted that the question "I don't want my boyfriend to know I'm pooping. What can I do?" was a regular way to feel. In Japan, women use a device known in English as a "Sound Princess" which simulates a flushing sound to distract from that other sound. And our discomfort isn't limited to the digestive system. There's foot odour. Sweat. Bacne. Facial hair. All of which have preoccupied us enough to result in a troubling stat: The number of women unhappy with their bodies in the 21st century -- 40 per cent -- has barely changed since Glamour magazine conducted the same survey in 1984.
And while it's easy to blame only men, a lot of the time, women are the ones holding the beauty gun to their own behinds. Remember when Carrie farts in front of her new-ish boyfriend Mr. Big, in a memorable scene from the first season of Sex and the City? He laughs, while she frantically wraps herself in sheets like a maniac, jumps out of bed and bangs into the door while screaming "Shutup! Shutup!" Carrie then becomes paranoid that she and Big haven't had sex for three days because she let one slip.
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If it seems like I think women are entirely responsible for perpetuating unnatural beauty standards, you're wrong. I know there are many men who prefer the fairy tale that women expel nothing but rose-scented sparkles from every orifice. But it's our job to flush that dream down the toilet. Instead, we buy into it.
Nicole Story, marketing director at Poo~Pourri, told me most women hear about and are given the product by other women. Nothing like the gift of bathroom anxiety to advance women's rights!
There are signs of progress outside of the bathroom. Slowly, in mainstream media, the stringent definition of women's beauty is changing: Liz Lemon brought us brains, Bridesmaids brought us brashness and Lena Dunham brought us her butt-naked body. But if we really want the public attitude toward women to change, we need to stop enforcing stupid stereotypes on our own personal lives.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I think you know what I'm off to do.
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This column previously appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.