How to Get Made Up Like a Porn Star

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
March 13 2013 4:23 PM

How to Get Made Up Like a Porn Star

Before and After.
Before and After.

Courtesy of Melissa Murphy

Melissa "Makeup" Murphy is a makeup artist to the porn stars—for the past eight years, she's been transforming women into sexy zombies, naughty nurses, and cabaret tarts for their performances in adult films. A few months ago, she began posting before-and-after shots of her work online, and the results are unexpectedly fascinating. Her photos of porn stars with and without makeup ask us to ditch our preconceived notions about how porn performers look, to examine the role that makeup plays in sexual performance, and to respect the craft of the makeup artist, no matter what set she's on. I talked with Murphy, 35, about her experiences making up porn stars on set—and how she feels about her photos blowing up online.

Amanda Hess Amanda Hess

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

Slate: How did you get into this business?

Advertisement

Melissa Murphy: I didn’t plan it, of course. I didn’t go to makeup school. I was in sales when I moved here from Boston and got laid off. I was working at a talent agency during the day and doing makeup part-time in the mall to make extra money. A friend of mine got placed through a temp agency as a porn director’s assistant, and she had me look after his dogs while he was at the AVN Awards. As he was paying me, I said, “You’re from Boston. I’m from Boston. If you ever need a makeup artist, give me a job.”

Slate: Tell me about your first experience on set.

At that point, my only experience was doing people’s makeup at the mall to make them pretty. I showed up on set with testers from the makeup counter. The first girl I ever did was Gianna Michaels. Vince Blair was the director. When I got there, I didn’t realize that “makeup” meant makeup and hair. I called my boyfriend at the time and had him bring all my personal hair items, all my brushes and curling irons and stuff, straight to the set. When I started, it was before HD. The makeup was a lot heavier. I did not know how to do it. At the mall, if a person’s eyes are small, I knew not to put liner on the bottom lashes. So I did that. I remember Vince coming up to me and being like, “What did you do?” But I was motivated by the money. I saw that I could go in and do one face, and make $125 or $150 to do just one person’s makeup. So I stayed after and watched the other makeup artists work. I bought books about it. I became obsessed with it. It became an absolute passion that just sort of came to me, and now I love what I do. But I got a big break. In 2005, business was really booming. There were more jobs than artists back when DVD was prominent. Now, there are more artists than there is work.

Slate: Do you have any tips for doing makeup for porn specifically?

Murphy: I do makeup for a lot of different things. For the adult stuff, I try to stick with one neutral tone. Some directors will specifically request a red lip for a scene. That’s rare—you can imagine the mess that creates. We just go for a lot of neutral tones. There is definitely a standard look, the one that most directors and companies are looking for: Soft, glamour, pretty. It works on everyone. It’s about enhancing your natural beauty. A lot of people refer back to that Playboy kind of style as being the ideal look, and it still holds true to this day. But then I'll do some work for [alt-porn producer] Joanna Angel, and she'll want a really gothy, black lip. You try to give them something long-lasting, but nothing's foolproof. It takes me about an hour and a half to two hours to do both hair and makeup before a scene.

Slate: What responses have you gotten to your work on the internet?

Murphy: People are saying that they like that it humanizes porn actresses. I’m really just trying to humanize all people. On Twitter and Instagram, I try to stake a very neutral ground. I post photographs from mainstream products alongside photos from Wicked Pictures. I post before-and-afters of myself. I post photos of my sister and my friends that I’ve done makeup on. I had to do some damage control yesterday with the sites that were calling my friends and sisters “porn stars.” It was hilarious. But I try and humanize everyone. We are all just human beings, we are all the same, and nobody’s perfect. No one looks stunningly perfect without makeup. Supermodels are Photoshopped. The ideal is not real. And I’m super grateful to these women who are brave enough to let me do this. I show all the before-and-afters to them before I post them. They’ll see the collages and probably do a “Gulp!” and an “Oh, God!” It’s a brave thing to do.

  Slate Plus
Working
Nov. 27 2014 12:31 PM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 11 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked a helicopter paramedic about his workday.