In this age of 24/7 news, anchors and newscasters spend a lot of time in front of the camera -- and they've got to look good while doing it.
Mimi Raad is the one who makes that happen. As a stylist in the Middle East, Raad works as an image consultant for Al Arabiya, one of the biggest Arabic news channels, owned by Saudi broadcaster Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC). For the past three years, Raad has been working to shape the image of the channel one presenter at a time, from the makeup they wear to the color of their suits.
We phoned up Raad in Dubai to get the low-down on what it's like to style for a daily news channel, particularly in the Arab world.
HuffPost: What does your styling job for Al Arabiya entail -- clothing, hair, makeup, everything?
Raad: I created something called the image department. I have a team with me of makeup artists and hair dressers and stylists, and I choose for every presenter a specific style -- the stylist goes shopping with them and then I have a chart for makeup and hair. What TV requires is different than, say, a photo shoot, because you have the lights and the camera and they move -- it's not static. I also explain to them how to stand, how to talk, how to use their voice or not to use their hands -- all those details you're not aware of when you're not on camera.
HuffPost: Do you watch a lot of news to get a sense of what works and what doesn't work?
Raad: I do monitor every presenter when they go on air, and I make sure that the hair dressers and the makeup artists and the stylists did their job so I won't have any surprises on air. You are judged on the last five minutes you were on air -- you could look like a princess for so many hours, but the last thing people will remember will be the last five minutes. So it has to be consistent.
So I monitor how they look before they go on air, then they get my approval, and then they go on and I watch TV to check that there are no flaws. If it's a live show, I stand directly with the hair dresses and the makeup artists or even the stylists so if there's something wrong with their outfits, whenever we have a break, one of the team can go up to the studio to fix whatever's wrong.
HuffPost: It seems like there are many constraining factors to styling the presenters, not the least of which is the individuals' own opinions and preferences. Do those factor in?
Raad: Oh, yes! There is a lot of psychology in what I do. Because I can't just go, "Oh my God, you can't wear this." It's very subjective, because you are used to a certain way of dressing or a certain way of doing your hair and makeup, and this is your comfort zone. And then I come and tell you that the way you look on the camera has requirements, and you have to stick to those requirements. You don't take into account that, say, this dress that you love so much will probably put five extra kilos on you when you're on camera.
Plus, in the Arab world, you have to be careful of the length of the dress and of the sleeves. So it's very important because the newscaster's image goes into every house in the Arab world, and it's like you are a guest in the house. So you can't just go into people's houses wearing indecent clothes, as per our understanding here. So no low cleavage, no shirts without sleeves and nothing too short. The knee-length is a must for skirts and dresses, and the pants can't be too tight.
But also, there is a tendency here [in the Arab world], especially for the presenters on TV, to put a lot of kohl on their eyes, a lot of extra mascara, extra makeup -- it's part of the culture here. But I try to explain to them that they're not the stars, they're the medium to get the news out there. So they have to be slick, neat and elegant, but not too much, not too "bling-bling," not too "in-your-face." And I have a very European approach to that, so no jewelry and no extravagant makeup or hair. I try to explain to them that you can't go on air talking about war and people dying looking like you're going to a party. It just doesn't make any sense.
HuffPost: It seems there are constraints due to the Arab audience that requires more modesty, but that there is a competing tendency for big hair, big makeup and that "blingier" look. Is that a general trend throughout the Arab world that you've observed?
Raad: Women here want to show off. All the time. When they're wearing the shayla or the abaya, it's all black, so they try to put the focus on the handbag they're carrying and make sure everybody knows the brand of the handbag they're carrying or the sunglasses they're wearing. And as for the other women, who don't wear abaya or shayla, I don't know why they want to show everything at the same time -- it's like putting the whole closet on them and showing everything all at once! The hairdo, the makeup, the handbag... it's a lack of simplicity. They don't have the concept of "less is better" -- that just doesn't exist here.
So that's why at first, when I started, I observed for one month and didn't say a word and just took pictures. And then, when I started styling them and taking care of their looks, I showed them the "before" and the "after" and they all agreed that it made a difference, even the most subtle ones.
Although I'm Lebanese and I'm an Arab woman, I have a French education and I'm always watching French channels and getting inspired by them. But for these Arab women, it's like they want to put themselves out there so everybody can see what they have. So I've tried to change this way of seeing things by explaining to them that they can look very simple but shine and be elegant -- elegance is not in putting more. It's just being chic and understated.
HuffPost: Have you ever had any pushback against a styling decision you wanted to make?
Raad: A lot of times, when I try to tell them, say, you can wear a simple black jacket and you don't need a colorful one, I think they relate black to being old or not a happy person. In Dubai, it's sunny all the time and people have a tendency to wear color all the time. So when you ask people to wear dark colors, for them it doesn't fit. But for news, it gives more austerity; dark colors are more appropriate for a news presenter.
I also have clashes with them when they have Botox without telling me, or they do breast enlargements or lip enlargements. And what I do is just take them off the air -- this is a punishment and they're not on air. I think they hate me for that. [Laughs.] I've had a few female anchors who did that and they were off-air for quite some time. But I cannot control it, because they do it and we cannot tell them not to. I told them I'm not against Botox -- we can do it my way and not just freeze expressions. They can do whatever they want as long as it's subtle. When it becomes too obvious, with fake lips that aren't moving, you cannot concentrate. I tell them, "I cannot listen to the news you're reading, I'm just watching your lips moving." So I try to explain to them in a very logical way to refrain from doing extra things like that. I'm not against it, it just has to be subtle.
HuffPost: Is what you're implementing drastically different than what you see on other Arab news channels in the region?
Raad: Yes. The image we have on Al Arabiya compared to other Arabic channels is very different. The other Arabic channels still have this '80s look, with stiff jackets in not-trendy cuts, the makeup is garish and the hair doesn't move -- it's like a wig. Whereas I implemented a more modern and urban style for the Al Arabiya news presenters. It's young but yet I make sure each presenter has her own style according to her own features, her body shape and her age.
Like I said, I use a lot of psychology. It's not easy to convince people, especially women, to come out of their comfort zone and change they way they look and let them be happy about the way they look now.
HuffPost: Is there a difference between the men and the women in how they take feedback or how strongly they feel about how their look?
Raad: Every person has a comfort zone. But I think the approach is different for a woman versus a man. For the men, I think they see it as flattering that I'm taking care of them. And for women, it's a 50-50. Some of them will just blindly go with all the advice I give them and I go shopping with them, or I do a mix-and-match in their closets and they stick with whatever I chose for them. Some of them give me a little bit of a hard time at the beginning.
The other factor here is that they're jealous of each other. So when one of them shines on-screen and everyone says, "Oh, you look great!" then the other one comes and says, "Oh Mimi, I would have to have your advice on this and this and that." This is what happens -- and I bet on that, to get them to come my way [eventually] and not have any trouble with them.
HuffPost: What are people most self-conscious about?
Raad: It's mainly weight. The way they look -- they're all aware and thinking they have extra kilos. So this is their main concern.
HuffPost: Are there makeup tricks or clothing tricks that are particularly slimming?
Raad: When it comes to makeup, we try to put darker shades on the extra they might have under their chin, to cover the extra weight. So we have lot of makeup tricks, morphing the face with the makeup products. And when they have small eyes, we try to apply a certain way to make their eyes look wider, or add some colors to make them look shinier. There are a lot of tricks to make them look better and feel happier about the way they look.
HuffPost: You said you look a lot to European newscasters. What's your take on American newscasters and our image over here? Could Americans use to take some cues from, say, the French?
Raad: I rarely look at American news channels, but when I look, I rarely like what I see. They're overdone and it's too stiff, the way they wear their suits or the way the hair doesn't move. I don't think it's really modern and it doesn't make me dream. It doesn't make me want to look like that.
HuffPost: That's an interesting point. I think we tend to think of celebrities and fashion models are aspiration and inspiring dreams, but rarely do we think of news casters as representing aspirational images, too.
Raad: Well, they're on air for at least 12 hours -- especially with everything that's going on in the Arab world these days, they're on air all the time and they've become these celebrities and everybody's watching the news. They have a big audience. And why not? They have their own niches, and I don't want them to have no style, just wearing a suit and delivering. They each have their own personalities, and this is what I'm trying, by styling them, to present -- that this anchor is different than this one, with the way she is dressed or the way she does her hair and makeup. So they have really different identities, and you make sure you can sense their personalities from the way they look.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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