The Sh*t I Believe In
By Katie Ambrose '20
It all started one morning in ninth-grade physics. Before class, I was chatting with a friend about the irregularity of my bowel movements. Soon, others got curious, and before I knew what was happening, the matter in my toilet bowl had become the centerpiece of class-wide discussion. About two minutes later, my physics teacher emerged from a corner of the classroom. He had been there the entire time. I stood there stunned while the whole classroom erupted in laughter. “Katie, you might have IBS,” he said.
“Irritable Bowel Syndrome.”
By November of my first year at a new high school, I had established myself as Poop Girl. You know Poop Girl: the one who, upon first meeting you, tells you about the sushi that gave them food poisoning the night before. You’re left there straddling a strange space between comfort and discomfort. That was a bit odd, but at least she feels comfortable around me. Why did she tell me that? But then suddenly you have the urge to tell them something personal too. Exchange a secret. Take your mask off. Indulge in the rare delicacy of unabridged conversation, everyone’s guilty pleasure.
While I’d been Poop Girl my entire life, the ease with which I inhabited my high school niche was impressive. Concerning. It's not that I'm particularly vile or cruder than anyone else; it's just that I tend to (over)share those details with others. I don’t get embarrassed easily.
It’s easy to assume that being Poop Girl would make you a pariah. In my experience however, the effect has been the opposite. People like me for the same reasons that make me Poop Girl; my relatability, honesty, authenticity, and occasional controversy. I am the president of my class, founder of a revered school meme page, and well-respected in my community. Being weird is precisely why I’m popular.
The fact is, people feel more comfortable looking up to those in whom they see reflections of themselves. There is a shared humanity within every poop joke, public mental breakdown, audible fart and the sheepish “sorry that was me” that occasionally follows.
I believe vulnerability is fundamental to leadership. Poop girls—quite literally—run shit. Nancy Pelosi, Betty Friedan, Tina Fey, just to name a few. Not all these women talk about their feces (the “poop” in Poop Girl serves a metaphorical purpose), but each of them has talked about the thing no one wants to talk about. Poop Girls get the conversation started. They lead. In fact, “Poop Girl” is a term I learned from a former student government president and one of my closest friends. Peyton was the first person who made me feel comfortable relating leadership and vulnerability. Within our first student government meeting she made a poop joke. Something about Hot Cheetos (we had them for snack that day) and instantly everyone opened up. Peyton taught me that effective leadership comes from a place of honesty and vulnerability. Doing that requires an equal amount of humility and pride.
The final line of my supplemental essay to my top-choice college was a poop joke: a play on our philosophical “duty,” which is, in my words, just a “prolonged ideological constipation.” This was a calculated risk. I never showed it to my college counselor because I was afraid she would tell me to delete it. In a world where presentation is everything, stale was not the best way to market myself. Despite knowing this, I felt this unexplainable urge to keep it in. And so, I did.
I got in. Furthermore, I think the poop joke was why I got in. It stuck out among a sea of stodgy, stale, safe essays that all impressed the same air of prudence. A poop joke at the end of a college essay communicates something that words cannot: confidence, quirk, candor? Yes, but also leadership. Most of all, leadership.
I believe in Poop Girl. I believe in poop jokes. I believe in a bowel movement. But most of all, I believe in the duty we owe to each other.