Radhika Sanghani is often asked to do last-minute live TV - but make-up artists aren’t always able to cater to her skin tone. Here’s how she’s dealt with those situations and helped implemented positive change.
I put my glasses on to look at myself in the mirror. I’d only been in the hair and make-up chair for about 10 minutes - enough time for the make-up artist to quickly put some powder onto my shiny face, top up my eyeliner and brush my hair - all before I went on to discuss gender equality in Westminster live on TV. I didn’t expect to look particularly different, but as I took a proper look at myself, I realised with horror that I did. I was orange.
There wasn’t time for the artist to re-do my face because I was meant to be debating live in less than two minutes. I ran to the toilet to try and rub some of the foundation and blusher off my face, hoping I’d got rid of the worst. But when I sat down and saw myself on the TV screen, I realised I still looked like a female Donald Trump. It turned out viewers also agreed.
When I came off air, my phone was full of messages from friends: ‘Erm, Rad, why are you so orange?’ and trolls: ‘Lol look at her face. Stupid bitch.’
This happened a few years ago on a TV news show where I’m still a regular guest. It wasn’t the first time that a make-up artist had been unprepared for my brown skin, and unfortunately it wasn’t the last.
In my capacity as a journalist and author, I frequently go on TV shows to offer my opinion on trending news topics. Often, they are last-minute slots that I’m called to do with little notice. It means that the make-up artists rarely know I’m coming on - and when I do, they don’t always have the right skin make-up for me.
I’m not the only person to experience this. Presenter London Hughes made headlines last year when she told of a CBBC make-up artist who resorted to putting hot chocolate powder on her face back in 2012. “She didn’t realise I was black [in advance] so she panicked,” explained Hughes. “She had Waitrose organic hot chocolate. She didn’t tell me that she was putting it on my face, I found it in her makeup kit. I asked my producer to ask her what she put on my face and she confessed that it was hot chocolate.”
This is an extreme example - but it’s not an isolated one. When I first began my TV appearances in 2013, I often found that make-up artists didn’t have the right shade for my skin. It meant I’d either end up orange, deathly pale, or I’d forego all their offers of foundation and end up just looking embarrassingly shiny.
Over the years, I learnt to try and carry my own make-up with me, or if it was a spontaneous appearance, to opt for make-up-free shiny skin rather than ending up on the Caspar-to-Trump spectrum.
In some ways, it’s not surprising. According to a survey carried out by City University London, the UK’s journalism industry is 94% male and 55% white, with almost all ethnic groups significantly underrepresented. While you just have to turn on the TV to see how many experts called on to news shows are both of those things: white and male.
The problem is wide-ranging, and it’s one that will really only be solved by the media making a conscious effort to improve their representation, especially when it comes to colour.
It’s for this reason that I never blamed the individual make-up artists, who are typically responsible for buying all their own products. But after several consecutive mishaps, I decided not to stay silent in shame anymore. I started opening up about my experiences - and the subsequent humiliation I felt - to any make-up artists I met.
“The reason I’d prefer to go without foundation is because I find it’s often the wrong shade for my skin colour,” I’d say - even if they hadn’t asked. “Do you have make-up for people of all skin colours?” The goal was to spark a conversation about race and make-up, to tell them how I felt, and to hear their own experiences in return.
Often, it worked. I felt better being able to explain to artists just how important it was for me to be given the right shade of foundation - it made me feel like I belonged in that seat, and I wasn’t an intruder. I felt empowered when artists would take on my suggestions to buy a certain brand of make-up - and when one used a Charlotte Tilbury concealer on me that actually worked, I went straight out to buy it the next day.
In turn, I also heard their stories. About the long shifts they worked, and how they have to cater to the majority of their clients and how most are white, so they do normally - out of practicality - just have more options in those shades. I realised that most of them tried to do the best they could on their budgets, and that often, the problem was the products rather than their lack of effort. Each conversation resulted in more shared understanding, and over the years, the need to have them has slowly lessened.
As the mainstream beauty world has started to take more notice of darker shades of skin, this has been reflected in the world of make-up artists. While we used to lament the lack of decent make-up products, we now talk about Fenty Beauty, and how important it was for YSL to expand its iconic Touche Eclat to include more shades.
Most make-up artists I now encounter are so much more prepared than they used to be. But things aren’t perfect yet, and nothing will change until we continue raising awareness and talking about the importance of representation. It’s why I haven’t stopped initiating these conversations every time I go on air. I want to make sure that people aren’t embarrassed to discuss race, and more importantly, I want to ensure that no-one, and absolutely no-one, ends up on TV looking as orange as Trump again.
Main image: Courtesy of Radhika Sanghani