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The Hair and Make-up Artist: ‘It all changed with HD’

Read Wednesday, 18 Dec 2019

Zara* has worked in hair and make-up departments in the TV industry for more than 25 years. She spoke with Sophie Quick about beauty standards, flaky-skinned politicians and high-definition horrors.

Animated montage of TV hair and make-up artists
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How did you get started in TV?

I worked in a hairdressing salon when I was young and we did a lot of photo shoots. One time on a shoot, I met a make-up artist who was working on A Country Practice. We spent a lot of time chatting about her job and I went back home to my mum that night and I was just like, ‘Mum, I really want to do this.’ … Back in 1995, the [professional hair and make-up] course was $10,000 and it was full-time. I packed shelves in the morning at Franklins, got the train to college, did the training from 9–5 and then worked at the [hairdressing] salon until 9pm. I did that every day for a year to pay for it. 

I was really proud of myself for doing that. And I was super lucky. One of our teachers was a head of department at Channel Seven. And towards the end of my job, she asked if I’d like to do a job there. They had a night news presenter with really unruly hair and they needed someone with strong hairdressing skills, so that’s what got me the job I think. I’ve never looked back! 

‘Mostly they just want a pretty controlled look, but each network has a slightly different look.’

What are the hair directives in most newsrooms? 

Mostly they just want a pretty controlled look, but each network has a slightly different look. They may have an older demographic, so they may want the look to be quite conservative. Or they may have a younger base, so it can be a bit less structured. The thing you get told most – at all the networks – is the hair and the look must never distract from the news stories. You don’t want to see fly-away hairs and it can’t flop in front of their eyes when they move.

What happens if a newsreader wants to change their hairstyle?

You really notice it’s a man’s world when you’re in television. When I first started I was pretty surprised. The men could change and chop their hair and nobody seemed to give a damn but if the women did it – they almost had to get approval from the big people: the CEOs and news directors. And those people didn’t really like changes. Some of the battles we were up against! Sometimes I’d just think, ‘Are you kidding me? You’re acting like we’re coming in here asking to chop off her actual head!’ I couldn’t believe these newsreaders don’t have the right to [make decisions about] their own bodies – but in some ways they don’t.

How long does it take to prepare a man to appear on air and how much time does it take to prepare a woman? 

For the guys, it’s about 15 minutes … actually more like 10. For the women – they often need to have their hair washed and there will often be hair extensions, too, plus make-up. They’re in the chair for roughly an hour. 

Women on TV often face a lot of scrutiny and criticism over their looks. How did it affect the women you worked with? And did the scrutiny affect you too? 

Back in the day, before there was social media, people would actually phone in to the network and say, ‘What was wrong with her hair and mak-up tonight? It was terrible.’ I mean, don’t worry that she was trying to cover 9/11. Let’s just focus on the hair and make-up. Seriously! Mostly, people would just have a laugh about it. I don’t know if they’d go home and feel upset or not. It would upset me though, because I’d feel like it was something I had done. 

It’s hard now with social media and people writing stuff online. The thing that people don’t understand is that if you’re doing an early morning show, you have to be there at 3.30 in the morning. These people are not supermodels! They are mums and they have little kids and ordinary lives like the rest of us. Sometimes their kids are up all night, throwing up or teething or whatever. They come to work the next day – established journalists, intelligent women – and they look tired because they are human. We do our best to make them look beautiful, but they’re tired! And you see the comments sometimes and you think – the person you’re talking about, she’s just like you – a mum like you! The male presenters are also fathers, but they don’t get that ridicule and I think it’s quite sad. 

‘They could get away with going to every single premiere, coming in really hungover … But it all changed with HD.’

What did the transition from analogue to high-definition TV mean for hair and make-up artists?

I was working on Home and Away at the time. I remember how devastated some of the actors were. Back in the old days, the more [make-up] you put on, the better they looked! They could get away with going to every single premiere, coming in really hungover and we could still make them look amazing. But it all changed with HD. We had a specialist expert come over from the US to train us in introducing better skincare for [the actors]. Basically, it wasn’t about what we could do for them, it was more about how they had to look after themselves at home, with health and wellness. [The actors] were like ‘What?? We have to sleep and exfoliate?’ 

It meant the lighting people really had to step up and get off their arses. I do remember the women feeling a little bit more vulnerable, definitely. The older guys – they didn’t even care – they probably liked it because they hated being in the make-up chair and now they spent even less time with it. But yeah, with some of the women we had to do a lot to reassure them. Make-up artists and hairdressers are also counsellors and life coaches!

Animated montage of TV hair and make-up artists

Is there anything about working up close with people that’s really confronting and gross?

Sometimes. There’s been a few times when I’ve dealt with politicians who’ve kind of needed to blow their nose. And they’re kind of … Prime Minister. What are you going to say in a situation like that? 

Flaky skin is a problem too – obviously politicians really don’t know how to cleanse or exfoliate or anything. And it’s just like … um, your skin is flaking off in my hands.

How has the TV industry changed more broadly over the course of your career?

Particular networks didn’t used to punish bad behaviour [from their major stars]. Sometimes they even fed the monsters and trod all over the worker bees. There are still a few cases like that in some networks, but generally there’s more respect.

It’s an affectionate industry, especially in drama. People tend to be physical in a way that people wouldn’t be in an office. That has changed a lot. It’s a lot less like that now. Set banter, telly banter, is very different. You used to get sexist jokes and it never really bothered me, it just depends on your personality, but it was the kind of thing where, if it happened in an office, people would be like ‘You right?’ and HR would be booked out all day. 

There’s a much more watchful eye over children now, too, which is great.

Have you ever been screamed at by talent?

I’ve been screamed at and I’ve left my job in tears many times. 

Once, when I started at a new job, I started powdering down this presenter’s neck, so that the colour of his neck matched his face. He said to me, ‘Fuck off, if you fucking ruin my shirt, you can fucking pay for that.’ This person is recognised as an amazing person in the industry, but I just think: you’re an arsehole. You have to be able to let it go and have a thick skin, though. 

There have been a few nightmares, but overall it’s been a rewarding career for me. I’ve worked with lots of honest, hard-working lovely people – both male and female, presenters and actors and other make-up artists – who are lifelong friends.

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