Finding Solidarity on Bathroom Walls
While there were countless messages about beauty, love and encouragement for moments in the future, there were also conversations. People were responding, despite not knowing if the original writer would see. That didn’t matter.
This year, I decided I would really try to seek out the beauty that exists in the world. Even if it’s hidden. Even if I’ve had the worst day and I don’t feel like it. This is the challenge that I set that challenge for myself. I can’t say I’ve succeeded every day, but it’s the trying that matters.
I know this isn’t an original idea. Films, plays, poems and novels have proclaimed this ‘pursuit of happiness’ mentality for generations. Stories of people and characters living in spite of pain and tragedy are popular for a reason. They resonate with people. Part of us needs them.
People want to see the joy in the world. That’s why our generation has constructed this meta-trend of ‘hope core’; aesthetic, cinematic reels of beautiful moments, places and people from movies, the news and people’s private lives. That’s why Sean Penn’s line from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has flooded my fyp as of late. “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” These messages resonate with people. Part of us needs them.
Beauty exists and lives in the places we least expect. For me, two weeks ago, this beauty existed on the back of a stall in the John Woolley girls bathroom.
It was there that I found, in all different languages and fonts, words of encouragement and affirmations sprawled across the back of the stall doors. People before me had taken the time to stop and write these messages. Others had taken the time to respond. For me, and for whoever next visited the stall. And perhaps what made them so beautiful and special was that they were hidden. They were private and anonymous, which meant they were equally free to be open and personal. There was a beauty in the rawness of it and the solidarity behind it.
Some of the messages spoke to what it means to be perceived and the weight that is so often assigned to appearance.
“Tu eres bonita (you’re pretty)”
This was written on the back of the door, not knowing or seeing who walked in. It was for everyone. It was declared like one declares a universal truth. I don’t know — and can’t know — exactly what they meant when they wrote this. Perhaps it was as simple as encouraging whoever walked in to see themselves as pretty, no matter the expectations of others. Perhaps it was a message to themselves. However, either way, the act of writing this message speaks to so much more. The person who wrote it hadn’t seen me. They couldn’t control who saw the message and who didn’t, and they wrote it anyway. They wrote it knowing that. They were recognising a beauty that is inherent. A beauty that is all the more powerful when acknowledged and lifted up by others.
Solidarity thrives on dialogue. Without interaction and agreement, how can unity exist? These writings in the bathroom were a testament to this. While there were countless messages about beauty, love and encouragement for moments in the future, there were also conversations. People were responding, despite not knowing if the original writer would see. That didn’t matter. They were acknowledging these messages and what they meant for them. They were recognising the power that solidarity can have.
“Hey! Don’t feel like you need to apologise all the time”
As a serial people pleaser, this was a personal favourite of mine. While I’ve been told this countless times by friends and family, there’s something about hearing it from a stranger that makes it more powerful. Seeing it written down, and acknowledged by a person unknown to me proved that I’m not an outlier. ‘Others feel this way too.’
This next conversation took it one step further.
“You can do it!”
“No I can’t”
“Yes u can <3”
I’ll admit, it was sad to read, but it was also brave. It showed just how supportive people can be. In a moment of raw honesty and hopelessness, strangers had taken the time to lift someone up. Someone they didn’t know and would possibly never meet. Except it didn’t matter. This first message of encouragement from a stranger prompted someone to be open. This could have been the first or thousandth time this person had spoken up but they did it nonetheless.
This type of solidarity has existed for generations, particularly for minority groups where people have been so dependent on community to feel safe and secure. Art, film, literature and the news have acknowledged this common experience of existence, both subtly and explicitly, across time and perspectives. A notion still produced, parodied and recontextualised today.
Maybe you would classify these words in a bathroom as art. Maybe you just see it as a form of therapy; an achievement of catharsis through anonymous revelations. Perhaps you see it as poetry, a political act, or a postmodern stream of consciousness seeking permanency… whatever suits you best. Ultimately, you have the freedom to decide. That’s kind of the whole point. They were created for us to stumble upon and savour. So savour it, if you like, or don’t. Rest easy in the knowledge that there is still beauty and solidarity in the world, however bold or hidden.
“Have a good day…no one is judging you…the revolution is love…good luck.”