The Mascara-Wielding Women of First Capital Connect

Every day I board the early-morning overland commuter train to get to work.  It’s an understatement to say that mornings and I are never going to be best friends, yet somehow I have managed to apply the little makeup I do wear before leaving my home.

It’s a jolt into my auto-pilot semi-conscious state whenever I observe that for a small but (empirical studies have demonstrated*) increasing number of women, this ritual is performed in public seated in close proximity to a sizeable quantity of strangers.  Let’s dwell for a moment upon the possible reasons behind this, and why it bothers me so much.

It could be that the women in question don’t have time to pay much attention to their make-up in the blistering frantic of their morning.  Maybe they’ve got three kids refusing to get up and go to school, and the maternal services are more urgently required to yank pillows from ‘neath recalcitrant heads, switch on lights with no warning, and issue forth parental dictat.

Possibly this ‘not having time’ reason is partly owing to the fact that for some women, apparently, the application of make-up is a 25-minute highly-transformative chore.  I have sat opposite women who extract product after product from their capacious bag and apply it, meticulously, for at least five times as long as I can bear to watch.  My own routine consists of three things: tinted moisturiser, powder, mascara.  That takes me around four minutes.  If I overslept, I can get it done in two.   If my make-up routine took 25 minutes I wouldn’t get up early to fit it in either.

But my own solution would be to wear no make-up, rather than to prompt the barely-disguised fascination of other passengers.  Or I would wait until I arrived at the office and take five minutes in the bathroom.

It is so hard not to stare.  Maybe that’s why they do it: a kind of ‘look at me, I care about my appearance and I want you to know it, you crack-faced old hag whose weekly make-up spend can’t be more than a couple of pence.  You look like you’ve been dragged through a hedge forwards.  I care enough to have make-up in my bag worth more than the collective assets of three Eastern European nations. Because I’m worth it!’.

For to really appreciate the effort made, the appreciator must witness the before.  Otherwise who can tell whether the appreciatee’s cheeks are rosy because they’re naturally luminescent, or whether they’ve spent the time and money to apply the luminescing slap, unless they open that little door into their world.

It’s difficult to look away.  It feels intimate.  I don’t want to be intimate with you, stranger on the train, yet my eyes are glued while my brain attempts to estimate the length of time you’re likely to persist, the amount of money all those Mac products are worth, and the added weight to the bag you carry with you.  And I wonder why, oh why, do you turn me into a reluctant voyeur?  Why do I care?

This is not your dressing room.  I do not wish to be covered in your powder-residue.  You’re going to work (I presume), not an episode of Come Dancing.

And yes, I am thinking that you look better without your disguise.  I am thinking that it would be the highlight of my morning if the train swayed just a little too much at an unanticipated moment, and your mascara wand smeared a great black splodge across your cheek.

*See also studies observing similar behaviour in cars (slightly more private but nonetheless disconcerting), and the bone-crunching Victoria Line (a feat of make-up application surely warranting an award for dexterity).

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9 Responses to “The Mascara-Wielding Women of First Capital Connect”


  1. 1 trash September 7, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    It is a weird phenomenon indeed although I must confess to having done it once.

  2. 2 Jenn @ Juggling Life September 7, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    I am a woman with a definite morning routine that includes hair care and full makeup. From shower to out the door takes me 35 minutes–and the only makeup I would ever apply in public is lipstick.

  3. 3 Jen on the Edge September 7, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    I used to see the same thing when I rode the subway to work. It wasn’t as bad as when someone would clip his (and it was always a man) nails on the train, but I still don’t approve. It’s too personal, plus who would want to have their makeup out on train, which is rarely ever terribly clean? Can you imagine if you dropped your mascara on the floor? *shudder*

  4. 4 cardinal September 8, 2010 at 5:57 am

    I’m with Jenn. Lipstick is it for me in public. (I even have this weird leftover hang-up from childhood where it wasn’t polite to brush your hair in public. I wish my mom were still alive so I could see where that one originated.)

    @Jen: the idea of someone clipping nails on the train is grotesque. I may have to find some brain-bleach for that one.

    • 5 nic September 8, 2010 at 9:27 am

      @Jenn: 35 minutes is fast for a morning routine! My current one takes 45, partially owing to my semi-functional bathroom and the need to have a meeting every morning with the tradesman. Once he’s gone and I can shower rather than bath in the morning, I reckon it will go back down to half an hour. But then I do leave the house looking pretty bad. I just don’t care!

      @Jen: clipping nails in public! My uncle does that and it is so gross. In May, we were at the top of the Grouse Grind in Vancouver, in the cafeteria. A group of about ten of us were there and some were eating, and out come his fucking nail-clippers. My cousin (his daughter) shouted at him (apparently he does this all the time) but his response was “why don’t you shut the fuck up?” and a big grin. You have to know my family to understand that’s not as rude a response as it looks written down, but the point is that he just rejected the fact that he might be putting other people off their food. Flying nail clippings! Great.

      @cardinal: I have that idea about brushing hair in public too, although I have no idea where it comes from. I will ask my mum this afternoon when I see her.

      @trash: Come on, spill. Why were you applying make-up on a train?

  5. 6 Mrs. G. September 8, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I can’t imagine spending more than four minutes on my face. I wash my hair the night before to avoid any type extensive hair routine. I moisturize and put on some kind of lip gloss that’s it. When I do wear mascara for special events, I feel odd. I guess I’ve gotten used to my face over the years.

  6. 7 Bella Rum September 11, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    What’s next? Flossing in public?

  7. 8 bramble September 14, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Bella, not next..already! I was in the car dropping off Shaggy Haired Boy and he started hitting me and trying not to laugh. There next to us waiting for the light to change was a very unkempt man flossing his teeth while behind the wheel. Just eeeeeeeeewwwwwwwww, there really can be nothing else said! Other than, if he felt the need to be so fastidious, what was up with the rest of his slept on the park bench, crazy hair and messy clothes?
    My Mom always said you should never brush your hair at the table(makes sense, no one wants hair in their food) excuse yourself to blow your nose or reapply makeup. She took no prisoners w/ manners and I still excuse myself to the ladies for any and all of those things. I flinch when others do not!
    Put what little makeup I wear on pretty quick and hair is wash and go. Special occasions gets the hot rollers and full “girl treatment” but for everyday? Egads, life is too short! Though I do miss when I was small and everyone was dressed up on Sundays and people cared about how they looked. Wonder if this change in American culture has also led to the lack of self esteem and worth so many people seem to suffer from? Or maybe we are all just too damn busy trying to survive that we don’t have time to care about the seemingly superficial? Hmmmm….

  8. 9 Jonathan September 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    I used to sit opposite a woman on the train that spent half the journey applying makeup like a JCB digger. She would spend the other half of the journey fishing around in her gigantic handbag, or kicking me without apologising.


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