“No, What Are You REALLY Doing in There?”

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at BHS Girls Bathroom Culture


Jane Dunbar

The hidden culture of girls bathroom at BHS is nuanced and deep.

Every student who uses the girls bathroom at Boulder High School has undoubtedly lived the troubling experience of getting hit in the face with the smell of cotton candy vape clouds and Pink’s “Fresh and Clean” while in a stall, masking the normally horrendous smell of a public school bathroom. The “bathroom girls” have a slightly infamous reputation around the school. People complain about having to wait for them to finish chatting (usually in the largest stall at the end of the second-floor LA bathroom), or shoving through a crowd of people straightening their hair or retouching their makeup. People around the school would refer to them as “a nuisance”, make bold claims like “They’re all totally in there just to do drugs.” or ask questions like “Don’t they have anywhere else to hang out? Like why the bathroom?” My goal was to answer this question exactly.

When I set out to interview these notorious bathroom girlies, I thought that I was going to find that these assumptions were correct – that the girls were just using the bathroom stalls as a climate-controlled shield from the eyes of administrators and teachers – if I would be able to get the truth out of them at all. I thought they would be hostile and reluctant to answer my questions. However, within my first few interviews (which were conducted on the basis of anonymity), my assumption was flipped on its head. Every girl I interviewed was undeniably sweet and more than willing to explain their side of the story that’s so often ignored. First and foremost, I asked them what they were actually doing in the stalls. When the first few girls told me that the stalls, or at least the big stall, were mainly for socializing, I was surprised. I always assumed that they were just afraid of being caught vaping by staff, but during my interview time people would partake out in the open. I was told that actually the majority of nicotine consumption wasn’t hidden, and only a small minority made any attempt to hide it, much less using the bathrooms. This lined up pretty well with what some non-bathroom girls told me, that they had witnessed girls doting on their elf-bars on the reg. A lot of the hate comes from the assumption that these girls don’t own their rule-breaking, and hide in stalls that people need to use in order to avoid disciplinary action. A few girls I interviewed told me about people who would actually vape while admin and teachers were in the bathroom with them. If that story is true, then these assumptions are baseless.
Through interviewing these girls, I found out that the truth of what transpires behind these plastic doors is pretty wholesome compared to my expectations. They’re (for the most part) not talking and doing drugs, they’re just talking and spending time with their friends. Not only that, but every bathroom girl I spoke to also told me that the bathroom girls as a group had a strong sense of community, and this time socializing was a large part of many friendships that they had forged. The breakdown across grades is heavily skewed towards freshmen, the vast majority of girls who I interviewed being freshmen, and sophomores, juniors, and seniors making up around half of the freshmen when combined. When I asked them, “Why the bathrooms? Why do you spend your time here of all places?” A few girls said that it was just “a funny place to hang out,” and that they “philosophize,” or discuss some pretty heavy subject matters. They said that being in a funny place like a bathroom made some difficult conversations easier to swallow, the sounds of toilets flushing alleviating any existing tension. Others said that they had learned the practice from some older friends who have since graduated, many of them being underclassmen who didn’t have cars to hang out in. Another large reason for spending time in the bathrooms was the fact that it was a better place to be than the creek.

The bathroom girls aren’t in anyone’s way on purpose, in fact, quite the opposite. When I asked, “do you care if someone is waiting for the stall?” eight out of ten girls said yes, and if they weren’t with too many people they would leave the stall and wait. However, all of the bathroom girls I spoke to showed a desire to not get in the way, and an understanding that people were waiting. I was told that the bathroom girls as a group try to congregate on the far side of the bathroom, and actually use the large stall to get out of the way. When I asked for elaboration, they told me just how many girls they’d seen crammed into a stall at once. The highest number I heard was an astounding 19 girls, but the girl who told me this said it could be a few more, and that she “never got a count.”

Through my interviewing, I found that the bathroom girls have some fun lore as a community. Many girls told me that when hanging out with friends in the bathroom, someone would occasionally show up with food or drinks. At first, I was lowkey disgusted. A lot of bathroom girls said that they didn’t eat or drink anything in the bathroom due to hygienic concerns. I was told that only 30% of the community would participate in any form of feasting. In addition, the majority of consumption would be drinks, not food. However, I did meet one bathroom girl who admitted to eating food in the bathroom on the reg. She said: “I don’t think it’s that bad as long as I’m not in a stall. Like – I’d guess that this area around the sinks (she gestures towards the sinks) is just as clean or dirty as the rest of the school, you know?” This statement I can’t argue with, as bathrooms are probably cleaned more regularly than a classroom or hallway area.

Every person who uses the bathroom has their own opinion, but it seems there’s much more to this community than what can be gathered at a glance. I interviewed many of the surface population of the school to try to understand the other side a little bit better. When interviewing “regular” female students, the girls say, “The bathroom is for going to the bathroom, and I don’t want to have to wait just because these girls are having a fun conversation or lung cancering themselves,” and “They’re entitled, like what they’re doing is completely acceptable for the bathroom. There’s a specific set of things that you do in the bathroom. Chatting, hanging out and eating are not those things.” There was also a common theme in my responses that there has been a recent explosion in the bathroom girl population. The most common theory surrounding this claim was that the majority of these girls are incoming freshmen who used to do this in middle school.

I’ve found that people are quite critical of these bathroom girls. They’re treated as a large inconvenience, doing nothing but crowding the school’s restrooms. However, many people I talked to claimed that during passing periods it was regular students just using the bathroom who they’d wait for. The average Boulder High School student will spend at most 15 minutes a day in the bathroom, concentrated during passing periods or lunch periods. I interviewed many bathroom girls, and some of them estimated that they spend up to 4 hours a day in the bathroom, however, the majority of this time is during class periods. In the ‘real’ world, this amount of time would warrant adverse possession of the bathrooms. In addition, the bathroom girls are rarely hostile to the average passerby. Even before I learned the behind-the-scenes truth of this community, I never thought of them as mean. The only time bathroom girls would talk to me before, they would be complimenting me, and it’d brighten my day.
Just one month ago, I couldn’t agree more with the judgmental theories and generalizations. I connected the immense discomfort of holding it to the cultivation of these underclassmen’s nicotine addictions. I, like many others, was someone who thought the main reason these girls spent time in the bathrooms was to hit the vapes they couldn’t get away with anywhere else in the school and didn’t want to brave the dropping Colorado temperatures.

After interviewing the bathroom girls, I learned that what many people assumed was a nicotine-addicted circle of class ditchers, there was instead a family of genuine, kind girls who lean on each other for support. A lot of these girls have nowhere else to turn but their friends, nowhere else to be but the bathrooms. Through my interviews I learned that the bathrooms are an important meeting place for this community, similar to the cafeteria or library for the average student at Boulder High.