“Women in the big city are beautiful. But they are ugly sometimes,” Japanese actress Sawa Nimura sings as she dances aggressively at a pair of women applying makeup on a train. “Why can’t you just do it at home?”
This is a description of a 30-second scene from a commercial advertisement produced by Tokyo’s largest railway operator, the Tokyu Corporation. The ad is the first in a series of commercials meant to discourage improper train etiquette. The ad ends with the message, “Please refrain from putting on makeup on the train.”
The issue of women applying makeup on the go has never been a universal grievance but more like a pet peeve for those who believe it’s a matter of hygiene. However, Tokyu Corp. explicitly points to the problem in its ad, and it’s not about hygiene.
Their problem seems to be with the women applying makeup in front of others.
The Japan Times reported on the backlash the commercial received via Twitter, where one post in particular gained over 5,800 retweets.
The tweet read, “I can understand it if Tokyo’s ad asks me to stop putting makeup on because makeup powder might spill over, or its smell bothers others, wrote Twitter user @ryudokaoruko, who went on to say, “But a railway company has no right to tell me whether I look beautiful or ugly.”
However, Tokyu Corp. responded that the commercial has so far received more positive feedback than negative, and they don’t plan to withdraw the ad.
Shaming women for applying makeup on the train is like shaming women for being productive members of society. A woman rushing means that she probably has somewhere important to be, and sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the morning to apply makeup.
Adversely, women who choose to go natural are not as highly esteemed in the workplace as women who wear makeup, according to a study done by Harvard, Boston University and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researchers. It’s a double-edged sword; the working woman simply cannot win.
The phrase, “Why can’t you just do it at home?” is incredibly intrusive as well. Some women have children that they need to take to school, some women have a longer commute than others, and some women don’t want to wake up an hour earlier just to apply their makeup at home so as not to offend others.
Applying makeup is a ritual for most women, one that they would probably rather perform at home than on a moving train.
But life is not predictable, and women should not feel like they don’t have the right to apply some lipstick or mascara during their daily commute.
The Tokyu Corp. makeup ad is actually hurting the Japanese government’s movement to break down gender bias and encourage more women into the workplace. Japan is regressing in terms of global rankings. The most recent Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum placed Japan at 111th of 144 countries.
Advertisements have a lot of influence on society and culture, and if any more commercials continue to criticize women on every little detail of their performance within society, the wage gap in places like Japan will widen rather than close.