Women Applying Makeup on the Train Are ‘Ugly to See,’ Says Controversial PSA

·Senior Editor
Should women do their makeup while commuting on public transit? A Tokyo PSA says no. (Photo: Getty Images)
Should women do their makeup while commuting on public transit? A Tokyo PSA says no. (Photo: Getty Images)

A new video campaign in Tokyo is discouraging women from applying their makeup while commuting on public transportation, calling the practice “ugly to see,” and sparking offense and indignation across social media.

The 30-second Japanese-language music video, released in September by rail company Tokyu, starts with the phrase, “Women in the city are all beautiful. But they are ugly to see, at times.” Those women are then seen applying makeup on a commuter train while an actress does a scolding song and dance about their behavior. It’s followed by the statement, “Please refrain from putting on makeup on the train.”

It’s followed by the statement, “Please refrain from putting on makeup on the train.”

Those who have objected to the ad say it simply goes too far, crossing over into shaming territory.

“I can understand it if Tokyu’s ad asks me to stop putting makeup on because makeup powder might spill over or its smell bothers others,” tweeted @ryudokaoruko (in top tweet above), according to a translation by Japan Times. “But a railway company has no right to tell me whether I look beautiful or ugly.” Her post was retweeted more than 5,700 times and set off a range of responses, including, “If the firm wants to clamp down on people who make others uncomfortable, it should create a commercial targeting people with body odors, or people who smell of alcohol or vomit.”

The long-running argument over whether or not it’s acceptable for women to apply full faces of makeup on public transit is one that tends to stoke passionate opinions on both sides. Reddit, for example, is packed with threads on the topic, with takes ranging from strong defense of the practice to outright disgust.

“It crosses the line into overly intimate personal grooming for a lot of people. Same as curling one’s hair, shaving, nail clipping or polishing, etc. I think there’s also the concern that product is going to get on clothes or other possessions,” offered one Reddit commenter in reply to a call for opinions on the topic posted about a year ago.

Another noted, “I think the kind of stigma around applying makeup publicly is outdated. It’s not an issue of hygiene, it’s rooted in sexism and deemed ‘unladylike’ as it shatters the illusion of having woken up perfectly made up and needing no enhancement whatsoever. For the record, I touch up every time my train is delayed and have never noticed an annoyed look.”

A similar Reddit post prompted one person to say they never saw it as gross. “Maybe a bit dangerous since sudden stops or turns could result in poking your eye or something, but she compared it to clipping your nails in public and I can’t see it like that at all. Nail clipping is part of personal hygiene and produces nail clippings, which are definitely a bit gross. Applying makeup doesn’t leave behind gross little bits or really affect anybody in the general vicinity.”

Finally, posited one astute commenter, “I’m guessing the reason some people think it’s gross is because it’s violating public vs. private space norms. Makeup application is generally a thing that’s done at home, and when someone sees it out in a public space, it weirds them out because it’s unexpected — a public space has suddenly become invaded by a private action. That weird feeling is translated as being ‘gross,’ which might be backed up by feeling that makeup is in the same category as personal hygiene habits like brushing your teeth or clipping your nails.”

A New York magazine essay, “I Love When People Do Their Makeup on the Subway,” got downright poetic and philosophical about the situation. “I wasn’t in a sorority. I don’t have sisters,” wrote Liz Krieger. “The end result: I’ve never spent much time with other women while they get on their game faces. Sure, I see the finished product everywhere, but rarely do I have the chance to go behind the curtain, to see how the sausage is made. To know what those crazy-long lashes looked like before the five crazy-aggressive flicks of the wand; to see the eyelids before the cat-eye gave its first purr. … And I wonder: Is this an everyday thing or a running-late exception? On days when I don’t have time to do any makeup, I just go without — or maybe swipe on more lipstick. Honestly, I’m impressed by the commitment to beauty that’s demonstrated by women who whip out their bag full of tricks on the Q train.”

Still, messages of etiquette tend to stand firmly against applying a full face of makeup in public — including a recent poster campaign from the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which operates the New York City subway system, and has included “primping” among its list of no-no’s (along with the clipping of one’s nails, blocking the doors, and eating).

Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, founder of the Etiquette School of New York, concurs with that opinion. “No grooming should be done in a public space, including in open offices,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “It’s a personal thing, and it should be done in private. It should be done in a restroom. The only exception is sneaking a little lipstick.”

The Tokyu campaign, in fact, was apparently based on a public survey of on-train nuisances — and the applying of was makeup ranked No. 8, after other issues, which included being noisy and having bad sitting behavior.

“We have actually received more positive feedback [about the makeup ad] than negative,” Tokyu spokesman Masayuki Yanagisawa told the Japan Times, adding that the railway has no plans to withdraw the ad. The video is the first of an eight-part series regarding train etiquette, with upcoming segments dealing with using smartphones while walking and shoving big bags at other passengers during crowded commutes.

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