Tuesday, 4 May 2010

In which I wonder if I should just loosen the f**k up

As I was leaving work one day last week, I stopped off at the ladies'. There, in front of the communal mirror, a woman in a sleeveless dress was shaving her armpits with a Bic razor.

And what's wrong with that?

That's not a rhetorical question.

I do feel there's something wrong with that but a) I'm not sure what and b) does anyone else?

And what about this: In the crazy-hot summer of 2006 (as the digital memory-stick versions of ourselves will refer to it in the millennia to come), I similarly stopped off at the ladies' at the end of the day, and when I came out of the cubicle I was confronted by a woman stripped down to her bra (fully clothed from the waist down, I should stress) having a very thorough top-half wash over the basin.

(Perhaps the bottom half followed – I didn't linger to see).

She was a slightly older lady. You are right, this is of no relevance whatsoever, except there was a certain mighty, matronly bulk to her bra, and the considerable load it was bearing, that made me scared to reach across her towards the soap for fear of an accidental harassment charge.

When I saw her there, I emitted an inadvertent and high-pitched 'Oop!', my generic call of surprise/clumsiness/exertion (it is somewhere between 'Ooh!' and 'Oops!' and helpfully serves as either) at the unexpected MIDDLE-AGED BOSOM SEMI-REVEAL! that confronted me.

She, meanwhile, was entirely at ease. In fact, I would say she was revelling in the situation, positively daring me to blanche at her lack of inhibition.

'Don't mind me!' she beamed.

I did a bit.

If you want the truth, I'm always slightly intimidated by a very public groomer, a mirror moth – even if it's not depilation or partial nudity, but just a fairly normal amount of make-up. While it's likely that the opposite is true, I always divine a terrifying confidence about them. And – as in this case – they seem to feed off my timidity and slightly apologetic lack of grooming in order to become bolder and prouder.

I am 36, and I think I am so independent, so on top of it, with my work-life balance and my mortgage for one. But still. Seeing another woman in the throes of an elaborate make-up routine still makes me feel about seven.

It is an everyday anxiety that I will go the toilet at the end of the working day (I am a creature of habit, this much is clear) and there will be a group of advertising types in full preen, colonising the basin area like cockatoos spread out along a branch. You can usually sense this before you walk in, from the exotic scents that have seeped out under the door and into the corridor. For at least one reason, I take a deep breath before I go in.

Then I'll push open the door, and dive into a cubicle and, when I emerge, I have to insinuate myself – with my bare face and scuffed-up student-wardrobe jeans – among them, to perform something as mundane and totally square as washing my hands. 'Sorry... can I just... oop!... get some soap... thanks... sorry....' They will grudgingly slouch to one side slightly, to permit my path to dull old hygiene. There will most likely be some high-budget handbag cast down on the flat space between the sinks, its open mouth leering at me, showing off a threatening set of hair straighteners, cans and compacts inside. This means I have to rinse in the smallest, carefulest way possible, for fear of shaking water onto the uber-bag and provoking some screech of 'WATCH IT, SPLASHY! THIS IS MIU MIU!'

It's worse if I am forced to carry out some token making up myself. While in all likelihood they couldn't care less and are consumed thoroughly by the serious business of bronzer, I am crippled by performance anxiety as I put in my contact lenses, and feel scrutinised as I attempt to fake some colour in my cheeks. I blush (that, right there, is an inadvertent pun) to phantom sneers of: 'Oh! You're using that? On there? And you think that looks OK, do you?'

If there was hair to be removed, I would be undertaking that task in the murky depths of a closed-door cubicle, risking bloodshed and a crick in the neck, rather than publicly hoisting my armpit heavenwards for anyone to interject with 'You've missed a bit... there... down your arm.'

I'm not sure what the corresponding situation would be, were I a man. Perhaps a highly ostentatious changing-room towelling-down, post-shower. More likely, an elaborate hair-product ritual. I'm not sure a straight-forward Remington in front of the mirror of the gents' is the same. Although, if I were a bloke, doubtless I would still find a way to be intimidated by that, projecting a monologue out of the suave mouth of Mr Shaving that was principally: 'Can you guys believe I am having to do this AGAIN? God, it is a nightmare being so hirsute and so fecund and so incredibly made of undiluted MALENESS.'

What is the message here? I don't know. And that's a problem, because I'd quite like to go to bed. But let me refer you to the title of this post.

Loosen up, Jones, won't you?


ktuk said...

Make-up at work I can cope with. The thing that gives me the chills is women doing their make-up on the train. Full, professional-sized make up bags hauled with them everywhere they go, the unnervingly steady hand, the swish of face powder that you just know has also gone on your jumper... Bad. Very bad.

Anonymous said...

From a male perspective (albeit my similarly uptight and repressed male-perspective), ANY form of conversation in a public urinal beyond a mumbled "'scuse me" or the well-worn nod/smirk of recognition, IS ENTIRELY UNACCEPTABLE.

I remember the first time I ever encountered someone using a hands-free mobile phone attachment was in the very late 90s in a gents urinal at Radio Times. To come across (ahem) someone mid-flow of an animated conversation with what seemed to be thin air, while mid-flow of something more immediately physical, seemed to me (and I do not exaggerate for effect) to be a sure sign of the forthcoming apocalypse. (This was the very late 90s, this sort of thing was on our minds a lot back then. Millennium bug and all that.)

Anyway, upshot of all this is, I have never used a hands free phone attachment, and NEVER so much as speak in a public urinal.

Mr T

mlh79 said...

This very thing happened to me today! While I was in the cubicle, I heard the unmistakable click of lipstick caps and compacts and I knew they'd be out there for a while. I couldn't hide. So I went to the sink to wash my hands, never once making eye contact. All I saw was that the woman had a brightly coloured t-shirt on, and for that reason alone I got it into my head that she was actually applying some kind of 'clown' make-up, which was all the more reason not to actually look at her. Strange...

legend in his own lunchtime said...

I suggest a a 6 month sojourn in France or Germany to help you rid yourself of said phobia. Public displays of grooming, bladder emptying, nose picking and hetero/homosexual affection are commonplace. I still have nightmares about one such incident while taking a group of 12 year old children canoeing down the Ardeche. We had stopped for lunch on a sandbank when a very large and naked (except for the canoe sprayskirt) German lady started dragging her boat backwards out of the water towards us. As she bent down to grasp the toggle, the canoe skirt popped up framing her immense private parts like a horses collar. The sight of eight traumatized kids stabbing the sides of their heads with mars bars still haunts me.

Simon said...

I like to stand in front of the mirrors in public urinals, wait for someone to come in, and then slowly chant "Candyman" five times.