This morning on the subway, I overheard two men cattily complaining that it grosses them out when women put their makeup on in public. As someone who recently became one of those women, it made me want to whip out an eyelash curler and inflict some acute torture on them both.
Why does this bother people so much? Slate's Dear Prudence is against public nose-powdering: "you are engaged in private activities they'd rather not be witness to." A Japanese subway system once campaigned against it: "Please do it at home."
Or, as the men on my train put it, "I don't wanna see that shit." But what "shit," exactly, are we talking about? Is the acting of applying makeup really so gross? Is it impolite to destroy the fantasy that all women wake up with dark black lashes, rosy-cheeked complexions, no red veins around our noses, and perfectly arched brows?
I suspect that for most women, putting on makeup while commuting would not be their first choice of circumstances. Usually when I find myself holding a powder compact up in front of strangers, it's because several other real-lifey things (kids, laundry, parking, work) have conspired to keep me from getting ready on time. I'll admit I worry about the sanitary aspects, or that I will end up on the way to the ER instead of work when I accidentally poke my eye with eyeliner. Sure, there's probably a line to be drawn at anything that involves actual hygiene (nose-picking, nail-clipping, flossing), but simply making yourself prettier? That seems tolerable, and every woman I know has done it at some point. Is this actually something worth apologizing for? In the world of subway etiquette offenses, I'd say this is at least three rungs below the guys who take up two seats because they can't bear to close their legs.
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