Maintaining the Lady Mystery: Is Make-Up on the Bus A Feminist Issue?

One person kind of not liking another person putting something on their face in public is -- in the grand scheme of things -- not a big deal. But it’s evidence of an underlying structure, one that makes me feel icky icky icky.
Publish date:
July 11, 2012
makeup, beauty

The Maybelline chicks are right, I was born with it. Born with a lazy-ass beauty ‘tude that means every morning I do my make-up on the bus.

Not such a big deal right? Wrong.

You know when you overhear a conversation at work you’ve lived so many times you phase it out? Last week I was drifting out of what I took to be the usual boring commute-related interchange, until my ears pricked at a dialogue I’d never heard before.

The big agenda was girls doing their make-up on the tube. In the office kitchen, two people way too animated for 9 am were discussing it: Why do some girls do that? It’s so weird. WHY CAN’T they just, like, do it at home? The sentence "I don’t want to see that on my way to work" was used.

Now, forgive me, but what the actual fuck? At first I took this disdain to be a simple case of commuter pet peeves -- a little moan about anti-social behaviour, we all like a bit. (Tinny music is a personal bugbear -- get some proper earphones dude; I don’t need to hear Drake before 8 am.)

But a girl quietly applying make-up? I’m missing something -- why is umbrage being taken with this activity?

My beloved bus to work. This was taken last week. Yes, this is London in July.

Finding out not all of us are completely indifferent to a girl bothering no one with a frankly awesome timesaving routine that puts toast first has been a revelation, of sorts. I feel silly! There was me thinking fellow commuters were eying me in admiration for the ease at which I manoeuvre eyeliner while negotiating Islington’s most vicious speed bumps. Or at least because they’d forgotten their book.

After the kitchen eavesdrop, I decided to ask around to find out more -- was I, unbeknownst to me, friends with people who hate this? Turns out, I am.

Hate is too strong a word. It’s nothing vicious, just a general balk -- an overall sense of ‘"mnehhh" no one can define. Except me. And my suspicion was confirmed by the friend who said: “It kinda ruins the mystery.”

Oh yes! I FORGOT. A woman is meant to keep that shit under wraps.

One person kind of not liking another person putting something on their face in public is -- in the grand scheme of things -- not a big deal. But it’s evidence of an underlying structure, one that makes me feel icky icky icky.

"The Female Eunuch" questions why we, ladies what menstruate, take our whole bags into the loo instead of the individual tampon we need. Germaine Greer isn’t everyone’s cuppa, but she raises a valid point, and this make-up thing is part of it. Why is it not cool to be open about routines-women-have? Why do we frown on what everyone knows goes on, even if we’re not sure why exactly we disapprove?

It’s because we’re uncomfortable exposing the mechanics behind The Lady Mystery. TLM says ladies are the gentler sex. We smell nice, never fart and wake up looking flawless bar a sweet puffiness from eight hours sleep. The adverts say it, the magazines say it and an objection to anything suggesting otherwise says it. DON’T DO ANYTHING TO RUIN IT.

Habits helping maintain TLM are meant to be behind closed doors -- feel a bit squirmy watching a big old sanitary towel advert in mixed company? That’s what it is.

Saying that, there are exceptions. A slick of lipstick wouldn’t have offended the folks in my work kitchen. That’s a certified, media-approved sexy look; a quick check in the compact and a smear of red? Phwoar! The whole shebang however, is just not LADYlike.

So much of how society views women and interprets their actions can be understood by these seemingly-innocuous responses.

Although I won’t stretch to Germaine’s suggestion (I nearly always want to utilise other bag items on a loo trip), I stand my ground on bus cosmetics. Using some of my hour on a double decker commute to apply blusher pre-Kindle should not pose a problem with anyone.

If it wasn’t for the friend who, awesomely, said he not only doesn’t care but gets transfixed by the "special production techniques, like stopping between traffic lights and stuff," I would completely despair.

I don’t necessarily want to be the girl who does her make-up on the bus, but I’m quite bloody clear about my right to be her, without judgement.