Things I've looked like after getting my makeup done by "professional makeup artists":
- A black woman in blackface.
- A dead woman.
- Dry and/or dusty or a crusty combo of the two.
Lemme explain. Although I am a fat actress and I dread costume fittings, the most stressful thing about being on set is having my makeup done. I'm very used to not having clothing fit and/or the wardrobe department not even having clothing in my size (which is a shitty thing to get used to). I could write for days about how fucked costuming and wardrobe is for fat women. But that's not what this is about. This is about how makeup artists on set FUCK UP my beautiful black face.
I remember my first job where I was getting paid in more than thank-yous and snacks. It was a truly wild ice-cream commercial shot in Romania (please YouTube it: "Nestle Fairy Nicole Byer"). I remember getting my makeup done and looking in the mirror and having to resist clutching my pearls and screaming. The woman had somehow covered my face in a grayish-brown color and given me bright-blue eye shadow that looked as if it she were trying to bring the sky inside and put it on my face. In short, I looked truly insane.
When we showed the director, he was confused as to why I didn't look like I did on my audition tape. I then had to walk the sweet makeup artists through how I do my makeup, using my own products that I had brought with me (thank God I had them). On the shoot days, I did the base, and she would do the extras … glitter, blush, and lashes. At this job, I didn't mind that the artist was working with an incomplete kit, because (A) It was my first job, and (B) I saw one black person in Romania, and he was at the airport, leaving. So I get why there was a lack of knowledge. But I was very naïve, because I quickly learned that this is basically the standard in America, too.
Things that have happened to me with American "makeup artists":
- Had a shade of pink put on my lips that made my face lips look like pussy lips.
- Watched one artist mix six different shades of beige foundation for a full ten minutes. I assume she was praying that they would somehow get darker (I finally offered her my personal makeup, which she accepted).
- Realized when I got home after working that my neck didn't match my face even a little bit.
- Was dusted with translucent powder and nothing else because I had "good skin."*
*I knew this was a lie because I have lots of acne scarring, and I never saw a color darker than tan on this artist's workstation.
I haven't worked that much … but if you're curious about my résumé, I was on a show on MTV called Girl Code. I had my own show you never saw because it was so poorly promoted called Loosely Exactly Nicole — RIP (I'm still salty). And I perform all over the country … mostly in LA. I've totally worked enough that it's mind-boggling that I've met only a small handful of makeup artists who had a full working understanding of how to do black makeup, and surprise fucking surprise, they were mostly people of color.
Not to make it about privilege, but having makeup for your own skin color IS A PRIVILEGE. Now if you're a nice white actor friend and you're reading this and you disagree, just imagine having to bring your own makeup to set for every job you book. Waking up at 4 a.m. so you can do your own makeup before you get to set for a 6 a.m. call time so you don't insult the makeup artist by doing your makeup yourself in their allotted time. Spending countless hours on YouTube watching makeup tutorials. Not for fun (sometimes for fun) but to keep up with the ever-changing makeup trends, so you don't make yourself look dated. Plus, you have to learn different looks for different kinds of scenes. Is it a "no makeup look" or is it a "party look"? Now, my nice white actor friend, imagine you go to work not having done any of the above, and there's an all-black makeup and hair department. Not one of them knows how to do your makeup. They also have only one shade marked "pale," and they don't feel bad about it, because you're an "other" and it doesn't matter.
For my white non-actor friends reading this, it is a privilege to go to ANY makeup counter and/or drugstore you want and be able to find your shade. Over the years, it has gotten better for people of color, but it's not enough. It's incredible that EVERY SINGLE makeup line on the market has a million shades for white people, from ivory to light sand and everything in between, whereas some lines have one or two or ZERO shades for people of color. It's fucking gross and rude. It's also just something I've become used to.