COMMENT & ANALYSIS: I didn’t attend a stand-up workshop last year to gather food for thought on cycling culture. Instead, it was meant to be training to give better presentations, with a bonus of taking my mind off my studies a few hours a week. It seems, though, that cycling is so married to my mind that I’ll find it, or it will find me, even when we try to avoid each other.
In the course of the workshop, our teacher led us through a process of digging in our own experience to find material for our developing routines. Thus it was that a fellow comedian-in-training who had just moved from Amsterdam to Dublin got up one night for his turn to try out his work in progress and said: “What’s up with Irish women wearing so. much. makeup?”
When our Dutch friend finished, I said: “Considering the fact that women are criticised if they wear too much make-up and if they wear too little make-up and if they don’t wear make-up and if they do wear make-up and if they go cheap on make-up and if they spend too much on make-up, I think you’ll lose every female in your audience with the make-up joke. Being criticised no matter what you do is too close to painful everyday reality to be funny.” The other women in attendance agreed, and our friend dropped this specific line from his act.
Yet it stuck in my mind that to someone from a cycling-friendly city the amount of make-up worn by Irish women seemed excessive. Put another way, someone from a cycling-friendly community was used to seeing less make-up. Is there a connection?
While we can cycle chic, the reality is that cycling does not provide the same sealed environment in which to travel that driving does. We can paint our faces and sculpt our hair to perfection, and be sure that this masterpiece will remain intact on our journey if we drive. A woman who wants to present herself to the same standard of perfection will have to take her make-up and hairstyling equipment with her, and style herself at her destination. This is often not possible, and may be embarrassing: what if someone sees her make-up-less before she reaches the bathroom?*
Is it therefore women’s vanity that stands in the way of them taking up cycling? No. Firstly, reasons for choosing not to cycle are complex and varied, it’s almost never just one thing. Secondly, how we dress and groom is primarily influenced by how we believe society expects us to present ourselves. If Irish women wear too much make-up, it is society that should repent of creating an expectation of perfection. We all contribute to this expectation, both informally and formally. How many employers have grooming or dress codes, or even uniforms, which are not cycling-friendly?
The more I learn, the more I see how car culture shapes every aspect of how we live our lives, in sometimes surprising ways. The good news is that as we realise each small way in which driving is encouraged, we realise each subtle way in which we can encourage cycling instead. Biking brings toned muscles, a healthy glow, and more smiles due to less stress. It’s the perfect look for us all.
*This is not meant as a joke. Considering the volume and cruelty of comments on women’s appearance, make-up can be like armour, and to be seen without it can be a horrible experience.