The debate about whether it’s OK to put on make-up on public transport has reared its head once more. For diehard bus-beautifier Moya Crockett, the subject shouldn’t even be up for discussion.
I’d like to think that I am, generally speaking, a polite and conscientious person. I say please and thank you and thank you again when purchasing a flatbread at Pret. I give up my seat for old people and pregnant women on the Tube, and I always offer to help parents with buggies down stairs. Once, after leaving a restaurant where a friend of mine had got drunk and been bad-tempered with a waitress, I pretended to forget my coat so I could run back and apologise. I have never thought of myself as rude.
But apparently, I’ve been inadvertently being terribly uncouth for years – because I regularly put on make-up in public. The BBC recently ran an article about this hot-button issue, featuring insights from several middle-aged men who claimed to be poleaxed by the sight of women putting on lipstick on the train.
“Grooming is just not a suitable activity for a train, any more than leaky earphones, or bodily noises… make-up just falls into the same category of behaviour,” said 61-year-old Simon Dessain. Got that, ladies? Whip out your Boy Brow on the Northern Line, and you may as well be making everyone in your carriage listen to death metal. And farting.
Michael, 59, told the BBC that he had previously tried to stop women from doing their make-up on public transport by staring at them until they felt embarrassed. The technique didn’t work (although it may have made them think Michael was a bit of a creep).
“It’s something for someone’s private space – their bedroom or bathroom,” he said. “So to find myself sitting on a train and then suddenly inside someone’s bathroom is very unwelcome.”
The most striking comment came from 60-year-old Gerard, who drew a heretofore unrecognised connection between public beautifying and women’s lib.
“Why can they not get up 10 minutes earlier and do [their make-up] at home?” he demanded. “There seems to be something so totally ‘in your face’ about females who insist on their dubious ‘rights’ in this matter.”
Gerard might sound like the absolute last person you’d want to get stuck talking to at a party, but I’m grateful to him. Thanks to his insight, I now know that the act of covering up my dark circles on the bus to work isn’t something totally mundane and unremarkable; it is actually A Feminist Act.
How great is that? I might not check my emails on my phone before I get to my desk, but at least I can say I’ve been busy fighting the patriarchy on the 171 to Holborn, one swipe of Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer at a time.
Truth be told, I’m amazed that this is still a topic of discussion. Stylist ran a major feature on the subject of women doing their make-up in public way back in February 2016, in which former beauty director Joanna McGarry defended her commitment to putting her face on while riding the East London Line at 8.06am.
“People are utterly affronted that I would groom myself in their presence. It’s like I’ve just walked into their bathroom and run myself a bath,” she wrote, eerily predicting the exact argument Michael would make two-and-a-half years later.
“Except the Tube isn’t their house, nor is it mine. It is a benign, neutral space, in which we can do as we please (so long as we don’t deliberately make physical contact or inhale a steaming pile of bacon or pungent crisps right under their noses.)”
Jo was right in 2016, and she’s right now. Public transport is a neutral space, and I find it astonishing that there are still people in the world who are truly appalled by women doing their make-up there. Of course, some people are inconsiderate about how they apply beauty products, and if that’s a source of discontent, I sympathise. I don’t want to be jabbed in the face by someone’s elbow as they wield a foundation brush, either – and applying nail polish or spritzing perfume on public transport is downright obnoxious.
However, I’m not sure that’s what men like Gerard, Simon and Michael are upset about. (If it is, they didn’t mention it.) Instead, their complaints seem to be based on vague, outdated ideas about female modesty and decorum. Perhaps they’d prefer to live in an era when respectable women only ever left the house in heels and hairspray – or maybe they don’t care whether a woman wears make-up or not, so long as they don’t have to witness the demystifying process of it being applied.
Either way, they’re fighting a losing battle. A quick poll of the Stylist office revealed that the vast majority of my female colleagues also apply make-up on public transport, with only a tiny handful saying they never do it.
Here’s the thing: there are lots of reasons why a woman might do her make-up in public. She might be a parent who doesn’t have a spare second to put slap on before she leaves the house. She might have overslept because she stayed out late having fun the night before, or because she forgot to set her alarm. Or she might just prefer to lie in a little longer in the morning, and treat her commute as a pocket of extra time: a half-hour of peace before the day begins, which she may as well use to perk up her face.
Whatever her reasons, it’s really none of anyone else’s business. And given that some women feel they don’t have a choice but to wear make-up to work, it seems only fair they get to put it on wherever they like.
There are so many things to get genuinely annoyed about on public transport, from manspreaders to people who take up a seat with their shopping to the aforementioned tinny headphones. Women putting on make-up isn’t one of them. I fully intend to keep doing it – especially now I know that men like Gerard consider it a feminist statement.
Images: Getty Images / Sarah Brimley