When I give interviews in Nigeria, I often get asked if I face any challenges being a white artist. I reply that I have been received with open arms and hearts and that people don’t seem to see my colour. And I stand by that. However, after a really silly disagreement with a makeup artist, I realize that I do face one minor, but nonetheless annoying challenge being a white artist in a black music industry.
It’s got to do with makeup. A very common phrase among my friends back in Norway and the UK is
“You did look amazing in that photo shoot/video. But can’t they give you a better foundation? You look paler than normal.”
Though a minor thing, I do find it frustrating when I learn that more often than not, I have been given a lighter skin tone than I give myself when I apply my own makeup.
I have come to understand that the makeup artists, who style me, don’t do this out of malice. More than anything, it has to do with unfamiliarity with skin colour. Unless you are a real pro with lots of experience making up different people, choosing foundation and powder for someone who has a different skin colour to yourself is a challenge. That goes both ways. I think it’s hard for a white person to find a perfectly matching foundation for a black person and vise versa.
We all have skin overtones and undertones. And the two don’t always match. The overtones in your skin is what people can see with the naked eye, while the undertones may not really reveal itself until we’re talking about cosmetics.
A black person can have dark overtones, but light undertones, while a white person can have fair overtones and dark undertones. Two people with the same looking skin may need completely different makeup because of the undertones.
I have a friend who, at a glance looks as if she has the same skin colour and makeup needs as me. So, we went out to buy makeup one day, and she gave me the same bronzer she used. Only I used up mine in six weeks whereas hers lasted a year. It wasn’t a cheap bronzer and I was frustrated at the crazy amount I had to dump on my face for it to even show. So we pondered over this for a while until she came to the conclusion that I needed to go two shades darker as well as a slightly different colour. Her undertones are blue. Mine are yellowy brown.
So I went and got a quite brown bronzer which is still going strong after almost daily use for a year and nine months. And it looks natural on me.
But it was this brown bronzer that got me discussing with a Nigerian makeup artist.
This was a very unprofessional girl to start with. She knew she was going to work with a white girl, but had seemingly made no preparations for it, so asked if I had bronzer. I am getting used to this situation, so luckily I had brought it with me. I also wanted to make sure I got the right colour skin this time. However, she thought it was way too dark and complained that I didn’t have anything lighter., to which I replied that if my daily bronzer was too dark for her, I found it strange and that I wouldn’t use anything lighter.
I think the reason for this misunderstanding was her unfamiliarity with me as much as her preconceived idea of what white skin is. I know I was the first white person she ever made up, so perhaps she had ideas of white powders and pink colours. She’s not the first and she won’t be the last.
Likewise, the average white person has preconceptions of what black skin is and thus what makeup black people should wear.
But it’s not all bad news. As I said previously, true professionals have no issues with colour. I have had two amazing black stylists. And one of them hadn’t even met me before making me up. And they got it right. The fact that one was Canadian African and one African American may have helped since they were used to seeing and working with a greater variety of skin colours.
It’s not as if the Nigerian ones got it all wrong though. Lipstick, eye shadows etc. is not that colour bound. And if I don’t get light strawberry pink on my face, I usually look okay. It’s just the foundation that tends to go wrong.
Funnily enough, once when they did get it right, someone in Nigeria commented on one of the music blogs and said they hoped I wasn’t trying for a coloured gimmick. A la Rachel Doleza.l Hilarious!
Solution: When in doubt, ask. I may not be the makeup stylist. But I know my skin enough to know what works as the base. And with that, I hope for no more foundation and bronzer mishaps again.
And as long as that’s my greatest challenge as a white artist in Nigeria, I really can’t complain. Because my fans, you are lovely and I love you!