More concealer. And a little more (I’ve been under the weather this week, and it shows under my eyes).
More powder, including on the neck.
Lipgloss. Blot. Done.
That’s a light morning in the makeup chair, one that includes little attention to the eyebrows and lips. And once I’m done with makeup, it’s over to hair — for mousse, serum, and two different styling devices.
It took seventeen minutes in the hair and makeup room of MSNBC to get me camera-ready this morning. Before showing up, I’d spent already spent fifteen or twenty minutes blowdrying my hair, and perhaps another five applying tinted moisturizer and mascara. So, at the very least, that’s thirty-seven minutes of prep time. The man who sat next to me on camera this morning required three. I timed him. He sat down at 9:37am and he left the makeup room three minutes later, just as the hairstylist was beginning to curl the ends of my hair with a wand.
It’s hardly news that everyone on television wears makeup, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that, just as women wear more makeup than men do in everyday life, they wear more on television. In the last two years, I’ve done a fair amount of TV — say, fifteen appearances, on three networks in two countries — and the routine is pretty much the same no matter where you go: you show up having done your own best impression of camera ready, then spend another twenty to thirty minutes in hair and makeup at the studio. Of course, you’ll find more makeup on some channels than on others. That said, as Liza Mundy noted in The Atlantic last year, “every channel or network has its own aesthetic: C-SPAN has no makeup room at all, just a collection of powder compacts that guests can use if they are so inclined,” she observes. “At MSNBC, Rachel Maddow is known to prefer minimal makeup, while other anchors want more… Bloomberg TV tends toward the corporate aesthetic; CNN favors a professional style that makes women and men look crisp, as if they have been ironed.” And then, of course, there’s FOX, with its “pageant queen” look — false eyelashes and all.
I usually urge the makeup artists to go light on me, and I could, of course, refuse any makeup at all. Some guests do, though from what I’ve been told, they’re urged not to eschew makeup altogether, and are warned by makeup artists and producers that they’ll look like something out of The Walking Dead if they don’t wear at least a little base under the TV lights. Mundy writes that, at FOX (where I’ve never appeared) “If network executives don’t like what they see on a guest, the phone rings promptly.” I don’t refuse makeup on TV, just like I don’t refuse it in real life (I checked the 2013 handbook of the International Committee on Behaving Like a Good and Proper Feminist, and it says I’m cool as long as I say ten Hail Glorias every night before bed). I understand that TV is a visual medium. If you want people to listen to what’s coming out of your mouth, they can’t be distracted by the fact that you look like you haven’t slept in a week. For me, TV makeup is a means to an end: it allows me to get on screen and talk about the stuff I care about, and time that viewers don’t spend wondering why I look half dead is time they might spend listening to the point I’m making about, say, American football and violent masculinity. The makeup artists who make me up most often are lovely and obliging, and they listen to me when I ask them to please leave my eyebrows alone (always say please when you’re talking to the makeup lady. Be polite to the makeup lady. Do not piss off the makeup lady). So I sit still and let them paint my face, my arms at my sides under the gown they put over your clothes to keep them clean.
The thing is, while that’s happening, you can’t really move. You can’t talk, or read, or take notes. You can’t prepare for the business of being on television.
This morning, I spent thirty-four extra minutes getting camera ready, time that I could have spent reading up more on the topics at hand, or practicing my talking points, or sleeping so I’d be a little sharper and more ready to do verbal battle on camera, or networking with the other guests in the green room. The guy sitting next to me didn’t have to spend those thirty-four minutes ensuring that his face and hair were arranged in a way that would make it easy for people to listen to the words coming out of his mouth. He needed three. I don’t know how he spent those additional thirty-four, but I know how I could have spent them. And I have long, straight-ish, white person hair that stylists know how to handle, and a skin tone that matches easily to most foundations and powders. Women who don’t have that advantage will spend even longer in hair and makeup.
I don’t agree with much of what Naomi Wolf has to say these days, but in her 1991 book The Beauty Myth she mourned the lost time, energy, money, and political potential that women instead spend ensuring that they look the way they’re expected to look. If you add up all the time that women spend in the hair and makeup room in all the TV studios in America, for a month, or a week, or even just a day, you have to ask yourself: what else could we be doing with this time?
This doesn’t only apply to women on television, of course. The fact is that all around us, women are earning less than men, and are spending a sizeable chunk of what they do earn on products that men aren’t compelled to buy. We spend time shopping for it, and applying it, and taking it off before bed at night. We spend energy worrying about it, and worrying about worrying about it. And for the most part the men around us, our peers, spend that money and time and energy elsewhere.
And you might feel enraged by that, and want to get on television and tell people all about it. But unless you’re properly made up, they’re probably not going to listen to you.