What Bathroom Graffiti Tells Us About Ourselves
The closest thing in existence to a looking glass into the human soul what we write when we poop.
All photos and art provided by Scott Kelly.
Ahh, toilet graffiti, the great saviour for all of us who let our phones die and still need to drop one off in a public washroom.
If there was ever a portal to give us a glimpse into the dark chasm that is the human soul, it’s what we write in secret when we’re pooping (or peeing). With this in mind, it’s no surprise that somebody rose to the challenge and decided to study these historical artifacts.
That person is Scott Kelly, a designer and advertiser in London, who decided to wade deep into the turbulent waters of washroom art. Kelly said that he was struck by the fact that he had never seen what women write on walls and that bathrooms are rather interesting public forum, one similar to the internet.
“You can be completely anonymous and be as destructive or racist as you want,” said Kelly. "I kinda realized that actually while it's a pretty weird and strange topic, it's actually a pretty unique way of looking at how the genders behave in a private way."
Kelly enlisted the help of a female friend to photograph the women's bathroom and they went to work documenting the messages left in 100 bathroom stalls. Kelly said that, as one can imagine, it wasn’t the most fun way of gathering data—it was a method that garnered him many a weird look.
"It was gross, it really was," Kelly said with a laugh. “There were times I would go in there and somebody was using the bathroom and I would just kinda linger until they finished up their business and then I would take the photos."
After photographing all these messages Kelly and his team had more than a 1,000 shit posts to work from. In what he described as a “labour intensive” process, Kelly started pulling data points from his collection of bathroom photos—what is mentioned, if it was aggressive, if there was an illustration, if they mentioned a name, and so on.
Kelly then went about comparing his findings. By doing so he found some interesting tidbits—one found that out of the 40 times the term “love” was invoked men only used it once—women tended to use it to express “affection for people, ideas and even pop culture idols.” Men used it… uh, differently.
“Alex loves pussy,” reads the one time the word appeared in a men’s washroom. VICE could not confirm if it was indeed Alex who wrote this message or just a person familiar with his pussy-loving ways.
Oddly, the study found that the spelling and grammar of the bathroom Picasso's was rather good. There were only 13 spelling mistakes (10 by men) and almost all of them were corrected by some good public washroom Samaritans.
The team of bathroom sleuths also investigated what art was drawn on the walls of washrooms and they found that surprise, surprise, dicks were drawn the most (they were followed by drawings of hearts.) Women also drew dicks, in fact, they drew them more than their own genitalia—using a ball-to-shaft ratio, Kelly actually found female-penned dicks were actually larger than the male drawings. Dicks weren’t number one for women though, that would be drawings of hearts.
That wasn’t the only difference—men referenced politics far more than women and were also more likely to mention religion (in a shitty manner). Men used violent language at a far higher degree than woman (four times) and there were even two death threats. In terms of love notes—something like “I <3 Jordan”—women wrote 37 where men wrote none. In fact, almost everything between men and women was different.
"I found that a little surprising actually, the only time there was statistical similarity is how often humour was used which was used equally by men and women,” said Kelly. “However when it came to things about the commentary about sex or tone the genders were far apart."
At the end of the day though, maybe we shouldn't focus on the scientific aspect of toilet scrawlings but instead on their artistic merit. When asked if there was one particular shit post that stuck with him after all his research, Kelly—who is assuredly the world’s greatest living expert on toilet graffiti—chuckled and said yes.
"There was one drawing of a penis that kind of had wings and it was playing the trumpet. I thought that was quite novel."
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