It’s very difficult to go a day without seeing the president’s face. Unless you’re making a real effort to go off the grid, you’re likely to see his leathery Seville orange skin on the homepage of the New York Times, retweeted on Twitter timelines, repurposed in bad Facebook memes, and glowing on cable news at the airport. And he always looks the same: a not quite believable orange-pinkness that spreads from his neck to his shock of yellow hair, disrupted only by the too-light circles around both eyes.
But Trump isn’t the only Republican man struggling to get his face right. Though he’s been keeping a low profile in recent weeks, I am still haunted by a September interview with Mitch McConnell, in which the Senate Majority Leader looked more like the layer of film that grows on an expired tub of non-fat plain yogurt than a human man with a three-dimensional face:
So why do these men look like such shit on television and other public appearances when, presumably, they have access to the tools and people who could make them look less like shit? Mary Czech, a New York City-based makeup artist and wig designer, told Jezebel via e-mail that makeup professionals on set aren’t necessarily to blame. “The truth is, as a professional I can never do what I actually want to do,” Czech wrote. “It’s what the client or department head wants.”
Czech would know better than to make President Trump look like a melted chunk of candy corn, and certainly some clients defer completely to makeup experts. The very act of sitting in the makeup chair jumpstarts a negotiation between what a client wants and what the hired expert suggests. But the feast or famine life of a makeup artist allows little room for control. “If you accepted the job with Trump, you have to do orange skin with white eyes if that’s what he wants,” Czech wrote.
Mollie Gloss, a makeup artist whose work has been featured in Nike ad campaigns, publications like Teen Vogue, and whose clients include artists like Meghan Thee Stallion, said that while she usually works with more savory characters, she has intimate knowledge of just what goes into getting politicians prepped for lights and cameras. And she doesn’t like what she sees.
“It’s almost like they’re doing bad drag of what a healthy young businessman looks like,” Gloss told Jezebel in a phone interview. “It’s very much like, Let’s do this foundation two shades darker to make him look alive and less ghostly.”
But is it possible for these men to look less like shit? As a start, I sent the aforementioned clip of a milky Mitch McConnell to Gloss for her take.
“He literally looks, like, dead,” she observed. “He has a corpse-like quality to his skin. There’s no color. His face damn near matches his hair color... but at the same time, does he have contour on? I don’t know!”
And where McConnell is deplete of color, President Trump has the opposite problem—his almost radiant orange complexion is, by now, a played out joke. But it wasn’t Trump’s coral hue that most alarmed Gloss when I sent her a clip of Trump in a sit-down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos from June.
“His skin is making me uncomfortable, I’ve never seen it so flaky like that,” Gloss said.
The function of makeup in televised interviews is to minimize distractions—it’s not about looking glamorous (no one cares whether you got the new Pat McGrath palette). What matters is what’s coming out of your mouth, and anything that calls attention away from that—a zit, a shiny patch, a particularly flushed forehead—must be concealed. It’s why Gloss says the most important part of a makeup artist’s arsenal is powder—the more matte the better.
But “texture is texture,” Gloss said of Trump’s skin. “There’s not much you can do about it if someone has a lot of texture in their skin, especially from a dryness standpoint. The makeup just won’t want to play well with that. So I don’t know if like someone tried to do something or if he just like wasn’t wearing makeup that day, but exfoliating is key. You’ve got to get all the layers of dead skin off their face.”
Gloss noted that while color corrector would also be Trump’s best friend (along with some eye drops to help get rid of his bloodshot eyes), she’s baffled as to why the area around Trump’s eyes continues to be so much lighter than the rest of his face. “Somebody needs to blend the two together,” she said, adding that a good concealer would do wonders to even out his skin tone.” (Stephanopoulos, who is also a little orange in that clip, is pretty well-blended.)
And what of Trump’s favorite henchman, Stephen Miller, who was infamously made to look less bald during a cable news hit using what can only be described as Wooly Willy magnet material?
According to Gloss, Miller is one of the few Republican ghouls who seems to fair rather well in the makeup chair. And he’s definitely getting a full beat.
“It’s very obvious that they’re doing makeup on that dome,” Gloss said. “They’re bringing it all the way up and powdering the shit out of it so he doesn’t have a shiny head. And actually, I hate this, but it’s actually really well done.”
Some moments later, Gloss added, “You know how some people just look like animals personified?” Catching on, I asked, “What animal does Stephen Miller look like?”
“He gives me sloth,” Gloss said, very seriously.
So it is possible to not look like shit, and yet.
There’s also a fair chance these conservative men might see makeup and beauty products as a threat to the tender bonds of their masculinity entirely, Gloss said. “It’s almost like you have to take your time to ease them into it and really soothe them. It’s not going to look like makeup. I’m just grooming you. I’m trying to make you look like the best version of you,” Gloss explained. “When I was doing headshots of guys that were trying to be actors but weren’t really like used to makeup yet, they’d say things like, ‘Don’t make me look too good!’ It’s always the same kind of throwaway jokes. They were so insecure about it.”
Men usually aren’t encouraged to explore makeup, and there’s no amount of powder to make them less monstrous as human beings. But, still, perhaps they can still get color-matched at the beauty counter? Maybe?