I Think I’m Gross

Is everyone else hiding it?


One incident from my early teen years stands out as an example of my singular grossness. It was the last day of Spanish class before summer break. I had recently come back from a few days spent home sick due to an allergic reaction to jumbo shrimp. My eyes had swollen to the point where I looked like a bee-stung Benedict Cumberbatch, but my mom wasn’t about to let me miss more school, so I had returned before I was completely ready. I was sitting with my crush, Tobin Nadeau, as our Spanish teacher distributed the final test of the year. I remember the light in the room was gently suffused. I could see dust motes floating through the sunbeams of the late spring day (I just read a Donna Tart book, idk). As I gazed down at the paper, one of the motes found its way into my allergy-inflamed nasal passage, triggering an unexpected and thunderous sneeze. It came on so quickly that I didn’t have time to cover my face. Tobin looked at me in surprise, and then slowly his big brown eyes fell to the test paper in front of me, where a large pile of greenish-yellow snot had appeared.

I blacked out from embarrassment for a few seconds. (The mind does what it has to do to protect itself.) When I came to, I was fervently explaining to Tobin that I had recently recovered from a severe allergic reaction to ‘faulty shrimp’ and thus couldn’t be blamed for my gelatinous emission. Going back to school too soon after an allergic reaction was my first mistake, my second mistake was using the phrase ‘faulty shrimp’ and not realizing that it would stick as a nickname for the most important years of my life. Tobin and old Faulty Shrimp Hall never did get together. Weird, right?

Humans are inherently gross. Our orifices leak, weird crusts form, illness and disease cause decay and waste. We go through childbirth, potty training, puberty and old age. Each new month brings a host of issues: seasonal allergies, sunburnt skin which peels off in sheets, ingrown hairs on pant-covered winter legs. But I scarcely see or hear proof of this in public. In movies, women give birth and look like they’ve spent 30 minutes on the elliptical. Ryan Seacrest never hocked a loogie on-air. Is everyone else hiding it?

The sense of adolescent grossness pervades to this day. Every time I shampoo and condition, my hair comes out in huge wet clumps that I stick it to the walls of the shower so it won’t immediately clog the drain, resulting in a bizarre piece of artwork. As hard as I try, a lot of shed hair does make it down the drain, which is why at least quarterly my shower backs up and water spills out onto the floor of the bathroom.

I’m an independent woman and more than capable of cleaning up my own messes, so I recently decided to snake the shower drain myself. I straightened out a wire hanger, got down on my knees, threaded my homemade drain snake down into the black void, and came back up with a stinking incubus, the foulness of which I will never forget for as long as I live. It looked like an octopus in a fur coat had managed to crawl into the drain then got extremely drunk, worked up a sweat and died. I dragged the black, reeking flotsam and miasma out of the depths and knew with blinding certainty that I was destined to be alone for the rest of my life, because I would never ask someone else to share that disgusting burden with me.

Why do I feel so alone in my grossness? Why do I perceive that the flaws of my human body are so much worse than those of the people around me? Surely everyone accidentally shoots snot onto a surface from time to time. Surely everyone loses hair in the shower.

Maybe this anxiety is goes deeper. Maybe it’s not about physical grossness. Maybe I believe that if someone were to unfurl a wire coat hanger and plumb the depths of my soul, they would come up with a stinking black clump of something rotten. It’s probably this fear that has prevented me from ever getting close to anyone in my life.

If I can forgive myself for my “grossness,” maybe I can also open myself up to allowing someone to really know me. Because aren’t we all just walking around sneezing giant balls of emotional snot at each other? Isn’t that what human relationships are all about? And Tobin — seriously, call me. I use antihistamines now.

Illustration by Maria Jia Ling Pitt; follow her on Instagram @heysuperstar.

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  • Alanis

    OMG the “octopus in a fur coat”! I feel so disgusting when this happens! Haha loved this! I thought I was the only one that thought these things! So glad you shared this!

  • Kirsten

    This is 500% me as well.

  • Miss E

    Thank you thank you thank you! The more we talk about what makes us real, the nicer we will (hopefully) be to ourselves and others.

  • Natalalaa

    Haha this reminds me of that one time my sink was clogged and some friends spend the night at my place so we had to brush our teeth at my kitchen sink. The next day my father came to have look at the clogged sink, opend the siphon and took out the hairball with his bare hands while I thought I might have to die because of the smell…

  • You’re not gross! Pipes are gross! You’re a strong-ass lady who isn’t afraid to snake a drain herself! Men like that, right?? Lmk cuz I shed a lot in the shower too.

  • Andrea Raymer

    I am currently so congested that i can no longer eat while still wanting to breathe, so i feel hyper aware of my grossness at the moment.

  • Liz

    Hard same, especially the hair shedding. No matter what I do it’s everywhere and the SHOWER- I’ve lived in an all-girls dorm with communal floor bathrooms so I’ve at least confirmed that every woman is GROSS. Every single one. Especially because I’ve had to remove the communal hair lump from the shower at least 1/2 dozen times this past semester. Gross.

  • dietcokehead

    If you don’t blow your nose in the shower when you have a bad cold (and hey sometimes just because), you’re a liar. And if you really aren’t lying, seriously, try it, you’ll feel better.

    • Moly

      Yes! The best! You know your relationship is solid when you do this and expect (and get) no judgement. It’s just taking care of your nose plumbing.

      • dietcokehead

        tbh my husband introduced me to the beauty of this phenomenon once when I had a bad cold

  • Sonia

    Gross Confessional: I relish the extra moments I have in the bathroom to pick my ingrown hairs and attend to the swarm of blackheads that like to take up residence on my nose.

  • I actually remove our accumulated family grossness from the sink once a month. You might have read about my not showering regularly on MR. And I just took a selfie in the toilet, because I was bored peeing. I also may or may not have spread some cold sore balm on my upper lip before taking the toilet selfie. And I forget whether the word itself is an insult to American ears. Toilet, I mean.
    Better? 🙂

    • Liz Hall

      Much better 🙂

  • tmm16

    “Maybe I believe that if someone were to unfurl a wire coat hanger and plumb the depths of my soul, they would come up with a stinking black clump of something rotten. It’s probably this fear that has prevented me from ever getting close to anyone in my life.” – this really hit close to home. Wow.

    • courtforce

      in the depths of a terrible breakup, me too. this was a great article, thank you liz! you are not alone!

    • Jade


  • oh liz, this spoke to me on such a deep level. a friend spent the night at my place last weekend and i had to remind myself to remove the clumps of collected hair from my shower ledge, an ever-growing monstrous reminder of my own humanity.

    and re the fear of someone plumbing the depths of my own soul? yeah i feel you on that, too.

  • belle

    I think that’s just called cleaning. Yeah, it’s gross, but it would be worse (and irresponsible) not to maintain your follicles, the drain, your skin, etc…

  • LeAndra Schrantz

    I know one of those guys that can handle the grossness (my husband)! He picks my hair off the top of the drain everyday and places it lovingly on the shower seat! Don’t give up, you’ll find one of these good guys too!!

    • Adardame

      Why doesn’t he put it in the trash?

  • cdoctor1990

    I once accidentally spit towards a boy I had a crush on when I was talking to him. His (perfect) response was to intentionally produce a dainty, arc of spit that rained onto my notes. Totally cemented my forever love. we’re all gross, we just need to embrace it honestly.

  • Fezzers

    I remember very viscerally the day when I had horrible allergies and essentially snot pouring from my nose as I desperately tried to hide it from a cute guy sitting behind me in math. Ugh.

  • Gross

    I like this article and I agree with you that everyone has their own grossness. But, girl you should not be losing so much hair and I feel you should see a doctor about it.

    • Jen

      I’ve been losing a largish clump of hair every time I shower for the longest time. I attribute it to only washing my hair every 4-5 days, when the hair hasn’t had a chance to shed normally, it does it all at once.

      • Adardame

        I had a friend with really thick, curly hair, and she washed it once or twice a week or so. Her hair came out in clumps, too.

    • Liz Hall

      Haha I have asked my dr. She says I’m okay but the health care industry is broken soooo yeah

  • Gross

    Oh I just posted a comment but I also wanted to say you can buy a little plastic drain thing that goes over the shower drain to catch your hair. It really works. Just wait until you get older. More weird things happen to our bodies. Men’s ear lobes get bigger and their eyebrows get wiry (like sharp wires) and bushy and their balls sag. Gravity attacks our bodies in ways you cant even imagine now. Fun fun.

  • My life. Merci

  • Jolie

    I feel the exact same way and, eerily enough, even had the exact same thing happen to me at school in fifth grade (minus the faulty shrimp, plus an entire lunch table of witnesses). However, I fully embrace my grossness and let my gross flag fly. I hate that there aren’t more depictions of gross irl, whether in pop culture or in conversations with other friends, so I make it a point to be open about those things, which helps others embrace their gross stuff too.

    When you realize that everyone goes through this kind of stuff, even your most (falsely) perfect friends, it really makes you feel normal. When my bf first moved in with me, I used to do things like wear bras to bed and clean the apartment everyday so he wouldn’t think I was a monster. A few months later, I was plucking my chin hairs, eating Nutella from a jar with my fingers, and forcing him to remove my hairs from the shower wall (yep, we all do it). You’re not alone!

  • Serena

    In the wise words of Taro Gomi, “Everyone Poops”!

  • Jen

    “a stinking incubus, the foulness of which I will never forget for as long as I live. It looked like an octopus in a fur coat.” hahahaha! Next time just use Draino….you won’t have to face the stinking pile of hair.

  • Antillanka

    BWAHAHAHA I do the same snake thing every once in a while. My sisters and I call it “Operación BOA”…
    Don’t worry, everyone is gross, they just keep the details to their own XD

  • Helen Thompson

    Yup! Yup! Yup! Gross. We’re all gross. I wish high-school would get the memo.

  • Sacha D

    I’m a gross person and I absolutely love it. Picking my nose and all sorts of stuff when I’m alone. Absolutely love it.

  • If it makes you feel any better, you could think of the octopus-hair-ball-creature-thing as one of those Fendi monster keychains but wet! Once, I had to run in the pouring rain (not as glamorous/romantic as the movies make it out to be) with a faux fur keychain hanging off of my purse. By the time I found a roof, the fur keychain might as well have been something I pulled out of my own drain!

  • Bogle

    OMG – you made me laugh out loud!! but I laugh in communion with you, because I am certain of my grossness too!

  • Kellianne Benson

    I think it takes until you’re a good 35-40 years old to overcome the feeling of being alone in your grossness. I used to think about how gross I was all the time! Now, 6 years into parenthood and 3 years into owning an old home, I just think about how lucky we are that skin is so washable and snot so blowable!

    Also, you should brush that mane before you get into the shower. It’ll help a bit with the drain problem!

    • Adardame

      Yes, motherhood brings home how gross life really is.

  • Anni

    You are just as gross as the rest of us. Presenting evidence a) I am now married to man who once horrifyingly woke up in the same bed as me (a serial shedder of long, thick black hair) feeling like something was making his ass itchy and then proceeded to mysteriously pull a strand of hair that looked about 2 in long but was actually 10 in long because it has buried itself into his ass. I still shed regularly but thankfully my hair has largely stopped trying to sexually accost him now when it leaves my head.

  • LadyLeo

    I didn’t find this relatable or funny, because I don’t find talking about bodily fluids and emissions in terms used by 10 year old boys to be cute or funny. It is gross and juvenile to me. I do wonder why you’re losing so much hair every time you shampoo though? That’s not a healthy amount of hair loss.

    • Adardame

      I had two boys and so am doomed to a lifetime of hearing about bodily fluids in boy-terms.

      • LadyLeo

        Haha! Farts galore!

  • These things happen. No wories. Get one of these for the shower and save yourself the snaking trouble: https://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/store/product/bathroom-drain-hair-stopper-trade/1013708878?Keyword=hair+stopper

  • Joshua Holmes

    There is a number of faith traditions where new monks – mostly teenage males – are required to meditate on the grossness of the human body. The idea is, in part, that they’re really, really horny, and that if they meditate on how women are really just clumps of piss, shit, snot, and blood, it will lessen their sexual desire. With their sexual desire weakened, they can focus on destroying other impediments to enlightenment.

    So look, either you’re destined to die alone or you’re on the path to becoming a liberated helping spirit. Or both! It’s all in your perspective.

  • Hey, everyone’s gross and hairy! I always lose hair the shower and I have hair growing in embarrassing spots all over my body. The movies can’t be trusted!

  • Adardame

    I put a haircatcher over the drain. And, yes, everything is gross. I have been tempted to write a romance novel with all the gross stuff in it occasionally.

  • kay

    i am also so so disgusting. one time when i had a bad cold i blew my nose and did not realize some gross gross snot clot got stuck on top of my nose. i talked to at least 6 people before some crusty old guy told me i had something on my face, and when i went and looked there it was all shiny and yellow, with an actual hair in it. an actual hair. i am a troll. but thank you so much crusty old guy wherever you are.

  • Michaela Williams

    All humans are really gross when they think no one is looking. Perfect example: public bathrooms.

  • Diana McNeill

    I laughed and fully snotted out a disgusting booger from my MOUTH not my nose and it wound up in my scarf, which was artfully wrapped around my neck and impossible to remove without putting boogers everywhere. And this happened in public. In front of people.