The End of Shame
With talk these days about the decline of privacy, the disappearance of shame deserves attention. People have become less self-conscious—more willing to let the world into their intimate spaces without any sense of embarrassment. Webcams, whose operators actually invite voyeuristic strangers to observe their every move, are just one example.
The past few years have also seen a marked rise in the number of people who believe it is acceptable to take care of personal hygiene and grooming in public. Every morning I ride the subway, professional women in my car are busy applying makeup. I don’t mean making last minute touch-ups—with makeup kits perched on their knees, they’re painting a blank canvas.
I frequently also see otherwise normal looking subway riders filing and trimming their fingernails. I’ve seen eyelashes curled, eyebrows plucked, and nose hairs removed with little tweezers. (Where do these people suppose all their personal droppings end up?)
It’s not just the subway. Recently, on a flight from New York City to Washington, D.C., a man across the aisle from me politely asked the flight attendant for a cup of water, used it to brush his teeth, and then, with no sense of embarrassment, spat out in the air sickness bag, which he handed to the flight attendant on her next round.
In Central Park, I regularly see parents assisting their children urinate on trees. Last month, I witnessed a woman pull her Mercedes to the curb so her child could go to the bathroom in the street before the family headed back to Westchester.
I’ve seen men on the freeway shaving in the rear view mirror. I’ve watched people floss their teeth at the theater and while walking down the street, and comb gunk from their hair at the movies.
Ride Amtrak on a weekday morning and, in addition to the inane cell phone conversations (“I’m on the train. We’re slowing down…”), I guarantee you’ll be subjected to the fumes of nail polish remover. There is also a good chance you’ll encounter people using Q-Tips to clean their ears.
Oral-B recently released a product called Brush-Ups. “Now you don’t have to be at home to get that just-brushed feeling,” the company shamelessly says. “You can have clean teeth and fresh breath anytime, anywhere. No water required.”
No sense of decency either.
Are we really so busy that tasks once performed alone in bedrooms and in powder rooms must now be carried out together in trains, planes and automobiles? Is personal grooming really just like reading a magazine or doing a crossword to pass the time on the way into the office?
Surely, I’m not the only person ashamed by this behavior.