Two days before “SWUGLIFE: A Colloquium,” a commenter on the Facebook event page asked, “IS THIS REAL LIFE.” It was. (For those I’ve lost already, the vaguely unfortunate acronym stands for “Senior Washed-Up Girl.”) Wednesday evening, a few dozen seniors and a handful of Communication and Consent Educators gathered at Viva’s. Over mediocre nachos and truly questionable quesadillas, they hashed out the realities of SWUG life: the good, the bad and the SWUGly. I watched from a safe distance — as a sophomore, I’m at least two years away from potential SWUGdom myself.
The colloquium was more than a chance to eat fried food on Yale’s dime. In conversation, the tell-tale signs of being a SWUG were bantered about: they hang out at Viva’s and Box; they’re equally likely to drink a bottle of wine or a bottle of gin; they’re big fans of Yorkside’s mozzarella sticks and S’wings’ “sassy wings.” They “dontgiveashit,” in the words of one attendee. The event was a chance to talk about some very real, very common feelings and experiences that are a natural consequence of spending three years at Yale under constant academic and social pressure. This sustained state of frantic self-discovery is — if we’re honest — exhausting. We learn the unwritten rules, established by no one in particular — where to party, what to wear, whom to hook up with — and spend three years trying to follow them. SWUGs break them.
The event Wednesday had a few men in attendance and two on the panel, but the majority of the audience was female. It’s worth asking why there’s no such thing as a “SWUD:” a Senior Washed Up Dude. After all, plenty of senior guys “dontgiveashit” either, but there’s no trendy acronym for them. One reason may be that the rules of acceptable behavior are, in many ways, stricter for women. Pressure from our peers, the media and society at large can be relentless. Men face their own sets of expectations, but, in many ways, women are taught to be more aware of — and more ashamed of — our transgressions.
In the back room of Viva’s, it became clear that SWUGs are a diverse group, but they all share a certain “no apologies” attitude. They’re making their own social, personal and sexual decisions: to go all-out at Toad’s or stay in with Netflix; to hook up with a freshman or finally give up on the twelve college challenge. They might forgo going out to, instead, work on their senior essays. Faced with the prospect of leaving their friends after graduation, they spend more time having real conversations, although not necessarily sober ones. They articulate their sexual desires and boundaries and don’t worry that it seems less sexy. They chill out.
There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s actually a pretty healthy way to live. But we seem to know, although we don’t quite know why, that there’s simultaneously something wrong with it. It threatens the status quo; it doesn’t fit with the way we think we “should” behave. So we turn it into a pejorative. We pathologize it. Girls call themselves SWUGs with a shrug and a laugh, with more than a hint of self-deprecation. Are you supposed to be ashamed of being a SWUG? It’s unclear. The Urban Dictionary entry is tagged with both “desperate” and “badass.”
“Washed-up” seems to suggest failure, that someone has peaked and then fallen — hard. That she has, in this case, lived that caricatured college lifestyle and then failed to keep it up. There are younger girls or hotter girls to take her place, and she’s resigned to her fate. But most self-identified SWUGs seem to know that’s not the whole story.
“It’s so fucking refreshing,” declared Chloe Drimal ’13, author of the Monday opinion column in the News that ignited the campus debate around SWUG. Other panelists agreed, and heads nodded throughout the room. “We love SWUG.” “We made it up, so we can define it.” And, so, what sounds like a Mean Girls-style insult actually becomes an opportunity for empowerment. It’s also a semi-humorous way to deal with a semi-scary thing; SWUG is, in a way, shorthand for all of the angst, anxiety and burnout that comes along with being a senior. One attendee said it helped her to know that other girls felt this way; she’d experienced the SWUG phenomenon, but she hadn’t told anyone, she said, because she felt bad about it.
Events like the SWUGLIFE colloquium and columns like Drimal’s are part satire, part consciousness-raising. Why do we still feel bad about doing the things we want to do, providing they’re safe and don’t harm other people? We don’t need to wait for the SWUG title to give us permission. It’s okay to admit that we’re not the same people we were a year or two ago. SWUG is not an excuse to do truly reckless or hurtful things, but it is a license to listen to yourself a little more and other people a little less, to define yourself rather than waiting to be defined. I wish we didn’t need this “permission,” but if SWUG starts the conversation, so be it. SWUGs are over things that don’t matter, and we’d all do well to follow their example.
After the panel ended, attendees finished up the nachos — why, I still don’t understand — and headed out. Maybe some of them ended up at Toad’s later. Maybe they didn’t. And that’s okay.