I do my make-up on the tube. Yes, I am one of those people who have boundless self esteem and are happy to brave their naked face to fellow commuters…of course in actual fact I am one of those people with an elastic concept of time, and an inability to forgo breakfast just to support a social facade for the benefit of commuters I don’t know. Toast in one hand, compact in the other, juggling a mascara wand – life slackers such as I can be found on any morning service, nationwide wide.
I have found myself watching other women don their cosmetic armoury for the day and wondered at the transformation. ‘You’ll never meet a husband doing that!’ but then again, he’s already seen you at your worst, that guy, sitting opposite you, reading the ad banner above your head, glancing down when your eye is in your pocket mirror, and judging you. He may well be judging you as very time frugal. Why waste time sitting still at home when you are currently multi tasking, on the move and on the up in the look stakes. The girl doing the same two carriages along might give you a reassuring we’re-in-this-together smile, but she’s not here. As I paint from the pallet on the back of my hand I’d be quite right to judge myself for going along with this pointless social peacocking but what can I do?, even my own moral compass is off on this one. Whenever I’ve had to commute with a boyfriend, I always managed to find the time to put my face on before heading out the door. Something in me would have hated for him to realise that other people too, have seen my pillow creased morning face.
I blame literature: from Ira Levin, author of The Stepford Wives to a broad sweep of authors of Victorian literature, we’ve been lead to believe that the fairer sex should look our best at all times, or for your partner at least. But even those trickster authors – the Brontes and the Austins of each era – while creating stereotypes for us all to fit into, had it just as hard. Generally women writing as men in order to be recognised, their stories are as much a reflection of their challenges as ours are of our own. Unfortunately in real life the story is a little less perfect than literature would have us believe. Your partner sees you after 8+ hours of exasperated make-up testing face rubbing in the office or scrubbed clean with your hair wet and slicked back out of the shower. Living with friends, it’s nice to be able to come home and wipe it all off at the end of the day and be off duty without judgement (I think). In the reverse, in the morning my housemates and I have perfected a merry dance which involves minimal morning interaction so I don’t even have peer pressure to drive me to get it together before leaving the house. A picture being worth a thousand words; thousands and thousands of words later, we’re all still painting ourselves away under masks of preconceived notions, in a very literal way.
“When your sense of self is off duty, you are vulnerable”
Much like the Oscar Wildes and Gatsbys of the world, boys are also victims of society’s expectations. Metrosexual is has long since ceased to be a derogatory term, but extends further than moisturising and a bit of brylcreme. Much like being caught without your face on, even for a boy a bad hair day can extend to a bad everything day. When your sense of self is off duty, you are vulnerable.
Every brushstroke on the tube allows me to shape that first impression of me a little, to colour it a little bit closer to how I view me, facilitating the external to reflect the internal ideal. Pre make up I am scatty, I doing my make up in public for god sake! Each pat of concealer under an eye hides the fact that I am a night owl and, nearing the end of the week, the circles are bigger. Each encouraging waggle of a mascara wand indicates that I have not yet bought a new mascara, although I’ve been attempting to do so for a month. Just to be sure, I’ll embark on a series of less than covert pocket pats to check the familiar locations of my oyster card and phone which could not possibly have migrated. Once made up I’m still a patchwork of all those flaws, but I feel braver, more confident and therefore less vulnerable. We’re all looking to represent some version of Ideal You. Ideal You interviews well and is great with new people! Ideal You says witty things; says just enough; is everything you are not, yet. Like anyone, I’m probably more genuinely represented than I am all day when I’m getting into character. Ultimately the only people who actually see you at your best are those acquaintances who know the carefully selected public face you decide to present to them via to your heavily edited social media accounts.
We become the stories we tell of ourselves so gradually the world blends from fiction to fact. Opinions form, self awareness seeds, tall tales grow up which we come to believe and anything is true if you tell it enough times, right? The story we tell the world, with how we dress, where we are from, the interactions we choose to have, the face we choose to present are all potentially at odds with some other aspect of you when you’re not on duty. Our stories impact the way we behave because they are who we want to be so perhaps we are all a little one thing and seeking to be another. Perhaps we are all a little Earnest in the town, Jack in the country.