Applying Make-Up In Public May Lead To Your Photo Being Taken, Becoming The Face Of Questionable Etiquette

Time savvy or dangerous?

Today in the New York Times Magazine there’s a series of photographs by Jeff Mermelstein of women applying make-up while they’re on the subway. Mermelstein admitted that snapping the photo of someone doing such a thing was likley to get him into some trouble he didn’t want. But when he started he realized these women, no matter what they were applying, were far too focused on perfecting their look to even notice that their photograph was being taken.

I had always been taught that make-up is something you apply in the bathroom. You shouldn’t do it when you drive, because you’re liable to drive off the road. You should never do it at the dinner table, because it’s just simply uncouth. And as far as the subway goes, it also seems like a strange place to line your eyes or lips with color, then whip out the eyeshadow, too. If you wouldn’t floss on a subway, why apply a full face of make-up?

While one of Mermelstein’s subjects admitted that she was self-conscious in applying her make-up on the subway, another said: ‘‘You look better when you first arrive, because your makeup’s nice and fresh.’’ True; but can’t you just hit up a bathroom before your make your appearance at wherever you’re headed? Wouldn’t that make it even fresher?

There’s also the fact that applying your make-up on any form of moving transportation could lead to mascara in your eyeball instead of on your eyelashes and lipstick that finds its way on your cheeks as opposed to your pucker. So while you’re going for “fresh,” you actually may come out looking like a clown, and unless you’re a member of the circus, this is probably not the look for which you’re going.

Do you apply make-up in public? And I’m not just talking about lip gloss; I mean everything, the works. Have you ever noticed someone staring or even taking your photo?

It seems you can’t go anywhere anymore without someone taking someone’s photo while they’re doing something that the person behind the camera thinks is weird/interesting/great/awe-inspiring. Would you tell that person to fuck off, or smile and pose? You might as well do the latter because you never know if the one with the camera is from the Times, and you’re about to have your 15 minutes.


Photo: SurvivalFirstAid

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    • Samantha_Escobar

      I’ve totally applied full-face makeup on public transportation. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable doing it elsewhere in public (like the mall or a restaurant or something), but I’ve always felt fine doing it on a train as long as there weren’t many people on it. But if there’s anybody sitting next to me, I won’t because I’m afraid I’ll get powder or blush on them or something haha.

      I’d like to think I’d be fine with somebody taking my picture if it were for an article, buuuut if some stranger were snapping photos and told me he was a reporter, I’d probably just assume he was lying and being creepy.

    • Lo

      Yup, if I get a seat block to myself (not on the subway). Fuck getting up ten minutes early.

      If someone did try to take my photo, I wouldn’t notice at first. I’d be concentrating too hard on not ripping my eyelashes out with the curler. The rest of the photos, though, would show me chasing the photographer with a pointy mascara wand.

    • Breezy

      I have perfected the art of applying full-face makeup when I drive. People always protest until they actually witness it, and then they are mostly like “Okay, fine, you’ve really got this down.” I’m terribly cautious about it.

      My mom used to give me so much shit about it and then one day my grandma said, “Don’t let her fool you– she used to separate her eyelashes with a needle in the car on the way to church.” A NEEDLE. In her eye, in the car. Jesus, Mom.

    • Dilemma

      I work during the day, and have classes at night, so I usually do a touch up on the bus on the way to class. Just lipstick, pressed powder and occasionally fix my smudgy eyeliner. I’ve gotten pretty good at it, no disasters so far. I don’t do it if there’s someone in the seat next to me though.

    • Jennnn

      I think it was a lot ruder to take the pictures of these people unknowingly (even if he asked their permission afterwards) than to apply make up in public. Make up is not like other grooming (like flossing) because it isn’t used to make the user cleaner, it’s used to make the user prettier. Since most men don’t use make up on a regular basis I think it’s unfair that women have to spend extra time (and money) on it and get up early, so they have every right to apply it in public to save time.

      Also, I do apply make up in public, but I now usually do so in a public bathroom on my commute rather than the train because I have noticed it makes some people uncomfortable (at least based on the stares from strangers). Sorry to ruin the illusion but no, I don’t wake up with black, curled eyelashes and bronzed cheeks.

    • RM

      I don’t think it’s rude to apply make-up in public. However, have some self-respect. A little sense of decorum wouldn’t hurt the majority of America.

    • amy teill

      I think something small like reapplying lipstick is reasonable, but I find it super obnoxious when women do a full face of makeup on the subway. I can’t place my finger on it, maybe the vanity or self importance of it? or the fact that you know just do it at home, it seems ridiculous that people do it because it’s “easier” it must be way easier to do at home and it’s not a huge freakin timesaver anyways! So unnecessary. I especially don’t like it when I get elbowed by one of these girls or they are so focused on applying makeup they don’t notice someone elderly or pregnant that would love to sit down.

    • Jo

      I don’t think it’s rude at all. It’s more rude to take someone else’s picture without permission and then publish it without permission! Men can just wake up in the morning and head out. It’s unfair for women to have to wake up 20 minutes early to do our make up because you think it’s rude to do something that does not affect anyone else in public. Where do you get such anti-woman views?

    • E

      When I had a job that tacitly expected makeup, you’re dang right I put that shit on on the subway. Hell if I’m getting up any earlier to do it. And I can’t read in moving vehicles, so I didn’t have much else to do with that time. (not that I don’t wear makeup now, but not nearly as much or as often)

      Comparing it to flossing is dumb, though. With floss, there could be gross food particles flying around, there will be spit, there could be blood. That’s gross. And a potential public health hazard. Putting colored powders on your face is not at all in the same category.

      People get all upset about women doing their makeup in public because all of our beauty maintenance is supposed to be invisible. We’re supposed to maintain this illusion that we actually look like that all the time. We don’t. Get over it. Dudes, sorry for denting your fantasy that women exist in a continual state that you will find appealing to look at. Ladies, sorry I’m not helping maintain the fiction. I just really can’t be bothered to.

    • Amy

      This photographer sounds like such a dick. There’s nothing offensive about doing your makeup in public. Why didn’t he take photos of all the men constantly rearranging their genitals on the subway? That’s more offensive than makeup application. I suppose women shouldn’t go outside unless they’re already spent 30 mins putting on a full face of makeup and are fit for viewing? It’s just another bullshit piece of commentary designed to shame women who don’t hold up the establishment line that women’s beauty must be constant and it’s maintenance invisible. Taking photos and publishing them for everyone is like holding up pictures and saying – “Here, look at these terrible examples of womanhood – caught doing something they shouldn’t” Otherwise what was the point of doing it?
      I once had a friend who wouldn’t let anyone see her without makeup – she wore it to bed and got up early to reapply it before her boyfriend woke up. When she had a shower she’d lock the door and only unlock it once she’d reapplied her makeup right after getting out of the shower. She was so terrified he’d see her natural face and not love her, and she couldn’t let him see her putting it on. If someone had taken a photo of her doing it in public she would have just died I think. This man is an a-hole and also, just creepy.

    • Ninargh

      Yeah I’m totally cool with applying my make-up on the bus or train. I’d much rather have the extra ten minutes in bed. If someone was taking a photo of me, I’d likely be a little embarrassed and a little pissed – mascara faces in particular are pretty unattractive, and it’s quite the invasion of personal space. I may be doing it in public, but it’s general etiquette not to take photographs of strangers without their permission. I’d probably swear at him, but not much else.