"It's time to stop ridiculing women who apply makeup on public transport."

Rosa Mundi was sitting in a Tube carriage in London on New Year’s Eve when a fellow passenger pried open an age-old debate.

A man was overheard telling the woman he was with to stop applying her makeup, and to add to the public humiliation, described the act as “vulgar”.

Then, in a show of Hollywood-standard-solidarity, every woman in the carriage began applying their own.

Mundi’s tweet was liked more than 1000 times and shared more than 4000.

Commenters shared their own experiences of being reprimanded by fellow passengers for fixing their makeup on public transport.


The suggestions rolled in, with one user adding; “Imagine if all the women started to come at him with open tubes of lipstick, ‘you would look so much prettier…'”

This cultural snapshot offers a discussion point that emerges once every few months: is it ‘appropriate’ for women to apply their makeup on public transport?

Last May, ran the article “Applying your makeup on the train just isn’t right”.

Writer Kelly Baker argued, “My feeling is that with a slight rejigging of your schedule, which I’ve no doubt is ridiculously hectic, I mean whose isn’t these days, that you could find the five to 10 minutes you need to apply truly flattering, perfectly pretty makeup. And I wish you would.

“In my book, makeup (think a light foundation that gives a dewy finish, blush that provides a flattering, ‘I just strolled through the countryside’ vibe and a lovely rosy lip), is about boosting your mood.

“It’s about performing a ritual of sorts, one that sees you treating yourself with a little love and kindness. It’s about taking one last look and admiring what you see, allowing yourself to feel good about who you are and your place in the world.”


Hang on a moment – are we talking about applying makeup or having a goddamn orgasm?

Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and I discuss the politics of makeup on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below. 

After 10 years of applying make up, I don’t think I’ve ever come close to achieving a ‘I just strolled through the countryside’ vibe – and I certainly don’t step back afterwards, take a deep breath and say to myself with a soft smile, “I admire myself… and now feel good about myself AND my place in this big crazy world.”

She adds, in a comment that absolutely proves Baker and I are in no way made of the same stuff, “I fear that you’re missing the point. And that is that makeup is a joy…”


Oh dear god no.

Nothing prior to 8am is a joy. Nothing. 

Well, perhaps for some women it is. Perhaps some women take tremendous pleasure in penciling in their brows, and applying their foundation. Perhaps they skip out of their house in a state of absolute ecstasy, smiling from ear to ear, ready to take on the day ahead of them.

But lets not pretend for a moment that’s what make up is all about.

Image via iStock.
Make up isn't just about 'joy'. Image via iStock.

'Joy' is just a way of justifying something we've been doing for centuries.

For most of us, it's war paint. It's a duty we've internalised. It's a feature of the 'patriarchal dividend' - meaning we know there's a social payoff for applying it. That foundation and blush and mascara afford us a certain privilege. It's a way of winning the game we never even signed up for.

Femininity - by its very definition - must appear effortless.

It's a performance which mandates that any sign of imperfection or aging is hidden. It must appear as though we were born without body hair, pimples or dark circles under our eyes.

Ah, yes. The enjoy of methodically erasing features of your face, like dark circles. Image via iStock.

Femininity is strictly not about the construction before the performance. The construction is to take place in private.

Applying makeup in public is an act of transgression. In doing so, we're shattering a very carefully crafted illusion that femininity is a performance that requires constant work.

Only last year in Japan, an entire campaign was dedicated to discouraging commuters from applying their makeup on the train.

Image via Tokyu Corp.

An accompanying video released in September began with, "Women in the city are all beautiful. But they are ugly to see, at times".

This ultimately begs the question: Who do women's faces belong to? And who are we to tell women what to do with them?

Like anything to do with women's bodies, how and where they apply their makeup is the choice of the individual. If an individual wants to prioritise breakfast, or a 15 minute sleep-in, over blush, then so be it.

The only valid strand of the argument regards the application of nail polish (which has a strong scent) and cutting nails/plucking eyebrows (which isn't hygienic). I can understand if the behaviour is directly affecting fellow commuters, but makeup simply isn't.

Baker adds, while demanding we enjoy the sacred process that is applying your makeup, "Don’t get nasty if we stare at you while you work. You’re putting on a show and we’re your audience. If you don’t like that you know what to do. Yep, keep it at home."

How awfully depressing to imagine that every time a woman steps foot in public, we are putting on a show for an audience to critique.

But, hopefully, that audience is changing.

As for the woman who was criticised by a man for applying her makeup on the London Tube, just like all the women on the carriage, we're with you.