Forty minutes before I’m slated to arrive at the CBS studios of Live from the Couch in NYC, I get an email message from the segment producer: Would I consider skipping makeup for the live broadcast this morning? It would be a powerful message.
Half-dressed, toothbrush hanging out of my mouth, I quickly reply “sure” and tell her I’ll forgo the mascara I’d planned on using, but won’t give up my chapstick because it’s 10 degrees outside. It’s not a huge deal, partly because I am on the fence about the mascara anyway, it does give focus to my eyes since I have blonde eyelashes, but I’m an eye-rubber, so it invariably ends up smudged.
This decision seems fairly insignificant to me, the ordinary person, as I finish getting dressed and head over to the studio, but it quickly becomes magnified in what is resolutely a show-business world of television. The security man, the production assistant, the camera-men and producer herself all look, more or less, like me: people who have groomed themselves for work outside the home. Everyone is wearing clean, seasonally appropriate clothes, and shoes made for walking around in. Some wear a small marker of individuality: a long-sleeve Giants T-shirt, waist-length hair in a braid, a bright patchwork scarf atop an all black cocoon meant to keep out the frigid cold.
But those on camera look different. They look like actors, wearing costumes, with facial features artificially enhanced for better visibility under bright lights. I know what backstage actors look like because I was a theater nerd in high school, and I know that people in the last row of the theater need to connect with actors not only through the emotions in a voice, but by watching the emotions on a face they can see.
So what is it am I being asked to do by going on stage without stage makeup? And what are the female hosts of The View, and Katie Couric and all those celebrities who tweet pictures of their un-made-up faces doing when they go on camera thwarting this theatrical convention–one that applies to men and women alike, although not to the same degree? Part of me believes it is an aggressive act of facial ownership–”if the show must go on then it shall include the unadorned me as well as the prettiest I can be me.” I like this message, am happy to support it, and have in most of my TV apperances.
The other, smaller part of me suspects I am (or have) participated in a giant hoax– the one in which we all are meant to believe that what we see on screen is reality and not a vetted, market-researched, highly-scripted, advertiser-approved show-biz kind of show. This is the same hoax that would have us believe that stories of real life are the same as lives in the moment of being lived, and that the beauty of art and artifice is not a labored-after human expression, but something some of us simply exude effortlessly. On this count I cry bullshit.
Because this issue is not so simple, I’ve come up with a few responses.
1. Agree to skip the makeup, because it’s not hard for me to do and saves time so I can think about my clothes (can’t skip) and my answers (important)!
2. Ask to be make up like a male host.
3. Ask to wear the makeup I’d ordinarily wear for an important event in the public eye: my own clean, green, mascara and lipstick.
Esteemed readers, what would you do?