Updated: Jul 16
From time to time, I book a modeling gig. I used to be a child-model in the 90’s, but not too many gigs after the age of 4. However, it is a skill I cite and try to keep up.
This was an unpaid gig for a fundraiser fashion show, but I was happy to do it, as my friend worked for a bridal boutique and referenced me to the owners as a possible candidate. She was also modeling in the show with me
This was in Grand Forks, ND. A population of 50,000 people, the first place where I found people looking at me and my husband sideways. We realized that there were very few black people/people of color in that town. I am Black/Hispanic/Native, my husband is Filipino. Apparently, we were quite a sight to see together….like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster shopping together at Walmart.
I asked the owners what type of look they wanted for hair and makeup. They seemed enamoured with my natural curly hair and asked me to pick it out into an afro. They said there would be no need to do my own makeup, as they had hired a professional makeup artist (MUA) for this event. I would just have to show up, maybe just do my foundation, do my hair, get dressed and wait to have the rest of my face done.
Some of the Black girls reading this know exactly where this is going…
I showed up to the boutique on the day of the fashion show. This was North Dakota, I was used to being the only Black girl in many spaces, so it didn’t surprise me that I was the only Black model, or just non-white model, period.
Everyone’s makeup looked wonderful: defined colored lips, filled brows, blushed and bronzed, powdered….I was honestly excited to see what the MUA would do with my look…
I checked in with the boutique owners, applied my foundation, put on my dress, did my hair, and waited to be called for makeup. I was not the last girl to arrive, so I assumed we would be seen in the order we arrived. However, I saw other girls that arrived after me, being called in. I thought it was strange, but didn’t overthink it too much…
I was the very last girl to be seen…
I went in to the MUA, and she started praising me on my “beautiful cheekbones” and skin color and remarked that I was so beautiful that I “barely need any makeup at all!”
Now…I’ve been in the entertainment industry for a while now. As much as I have grown to love my makeupless face, makeup is extremely necessary for events like plays, photoshoots, fashion shows, events in which makeup is needed to accentuate your features to be seen by many people, from many different angles, and from afar.
I halfway took the MUA’s remark as compliment, but I also sensed some worry and uncertainty in her voice, as if the compliment was a cover-up for the real issues: she actually had no clue how to do my makeup.
This is the extent of what she did: she did NOT fill in my brows, she did NOT apply any liner or mascara to my eyes. She did NOT apply any lip color. She frantically tinkered with some highlighter and dabbed some on my “lovely cheekbones,” some on my eyelids, along with a little bit of actual eyeshadow, and she did NOT powder my face at all. No concealer under my eyes to brighten my face. I looked sweaty, tired, droopy and messy. When she said she was “done,” I was in shock…but I didn’t say anything. She had spent much less time on my face that she had for the other girls. I slowly came to the conclusion that she was procrasting "having to do" my face. It seemed that she may have taken the other models in because she knew how to do their makeup. It seemed she intended to leave my makeup for last because of her hesistation. Because of that, she rushed my face, on top of obviously not knowing what to do with it. I stepped out in the main area and the boutique owners saw me. I still didn’t say anything.
There’s a certain pressure as a Black woman to not “make a scene” or “raise a fuss,” even when you know you’re right, because you want to avoid being the “angry black girl.” And when you are often the only Black girl in mostly white spaces, you unfortunately become less of an individual and more of a representative of your race, whether you want to or not.
I convinced myself that maybe I was overreacting, that maybe my makeup looked fine and that I was just looking for a reason to complain. I gaslighted my own self. I’ve been a performer for years. I know what good makeup looks like. I am not a professional MUA, but I have done all my friends’ makeup in one sitting, ranging from the palest white girl to the darkest black girl, handling each face with the same amount of care and precision as the last. I know what good makeup looks like, and I knew something was wrong.
I waited until it was too late. I waited until we were lining up for the runway and I ran into my friend, a white girl, who, just like all the other models, had beautiful, matte, neat makeup. I asked her opinion on my look, and she confirmed my fears: it did NOT look good. I was appalled. I should have said something, I thought the boutique owners might say something, but they didn’t. I should have trusted my own expertise, but I didn’t.
I walked in the show, after used a paper towel to try and dab off the sweat that collected on my face since the MUA did not use any powder. I smiled the best I could as I walked down the runway, still trying to be professional. It was very hard, knowing that I looked like a mess, and that I would not be able to get a good shot for my portfolio (which is usually something you’re able to get for an unpaid modeling gig, at the very least).
After the runway show, we all returned to the boutique to undress and collect our things. I pulled the boutique owners aside and expressed my disdain. They apologized and admitted that the makeup did look bad, and they had noticed ever since I came out of the makeup room. I then asked why THEY didn’t say anything, because I would think that they would be concerned that a model representing their brand did not have acceptable makeup on. I was met with shoulder-shrugs.
I took off my dress and put on my own clothes. Then, I sat in front of the full-length mirror and did my own makeup as the other girls left. I was going to dinner with my husband and some friends, and the makeup the MUA had applied to my face was not even suitable for an evening dinner at a pizza joint. As I walked out, the boutique owners noticed my makeup and how well it was done. I remarked that I could have done my own makeup from the start instead of trusting this “professional” makeup artist.
I always travel with my own makeup, but now I insist on doing my own makeup for any event or gig.