Subway etiquette: applying makeup on the 1 train
I’m a huge fan of public transportation, mostly subways. I used the New York City subway system on average three times a day, especially now that I’m not working. And I like to observe people on the subway, and the sometimes strange etiquette that you see there.
Specifically, I am interested in how people break what I call the two cardinal rules of public transportation:
- No eye contact or conversations with people you didn’t get on the subway with. Exceptions when, as described here, somebody incredibly smelly or incredibly sick leaves, or the subway gets irretrievably stuck in the tunnel.
- No doing anything weird, even by yourself, to attract undue attention. Things like reading, playing games on your phone, and pretending to sleep are OK, things like eating smelly food or humming or whistling: not okay.
Most people who break these rules I get – they are trying to get you to give them money, or they’re slightly to totally insane, or both. Fair enough, that’s part of the fabric of life in a big city.
But there’s one category of people I just don’t get, namely the women who put outlandish amounts of makeup on while sitting on the subway.
I’m not talking about a dab of lipstick, which seems fine and comparable to chapstick or something. I’m talking about the women who come with a complete set of foundation, eyeliners, mascara, the works. They sit there peering intensely into their tiny mirrors, creating a new persona, utterly absorbed in their transformation, and completely oblivious to the mesmerizing effect that it has on everyone.
Or maybe not, maybe it’s performance art – sometimes I think so. Or perhaps they are actually insane in a small way.
Because otherwise it seems like a contradiction in terms to me. From my perspective, wearing that much makeup usually indicates a willingness to conform at the highest level (these are usually young women, so the idea that they are actually in need of makeup to cover sun spots or wrinkles does not apply), but then the willingness to break the second cardinal rule of subway riding seems to be in direct conflict with that religion of conformism.
For example, whenever I see one of these 25-year-old foundation appliers, I’m wondering, who are you becoming? From whom are you hiding your real face? If it’s your coworkers, what if one of them is on this train right now? Then they’d see the real you in the before shot, at the beginning of your ride. Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of the makeup? Isn’t that too large a risk to take for you?
Since I don’t wear makeup myself, I’m also wondering if I’m just not understanding the goal of that much makeup. Maybe if I understood more deeply why women wear these masks, I’d also understand why they’re willing to apply them in front of a crowd of strangers.