LITTLE Mix stars Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jade Thirlwall have made the shocking revelation they both wanted nose jobs after seeing themselves airbrushed to “look as white as possible” in their first ever photoshoot.
Leigh-Anne, 29, was speaking to 28-year-old Jade bandmate as part of a new BBC documentary, Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop and Power, which airs tonight.
In the documentary Leigh-Anne, who announced she’s pregnant with her and fiance Andre Gray’s first child last week, opens up on how racism within the music industry and the country as a whole “ruined” her decade-long career in Little Mix.
Having a predominately white fanbase, she reveals how she felt “lost and invisible” in the group for a long time, and was left questioning whether it was due to her race.
Made to look white
Leigh-Anne’s mum, Deborah, is half Bajan, while her father John is half Jamaican.
Meanwhile, Jade’s mum is Yemeni and Egyptian.
In the documentary, Leigh-Anne says to Jade: “It was always about us fitting in, and wanting to fit into this perfect pop world.”
Jade adds: “I remember we both wanted nose jobs after our first shoot.
“Our entire faces and bodies had been completely airbrushed. We were made to look as white as possible, and that’s what we thought we needed to look like.”
Jade – who confirms both girls grew out of their surgery desires – also opens up on how she was bullied for the colour of her skin at school, in South Shields, Tyne and Wear, where she grew up.
She says she was called the "token darkie," had bleach powder thrown on her, and a bindi forced on her head.
And for that reason, when she started to be seen as ‘white’ in Little Mix, she didn’t stop people from assuming she was.
“I knew there was a white privilege, so I thought, OK, you see me as white, I’m not going to stand up and say I’m not,” Jade says.
'I felt invisible'
Elsewhere in the documentary, Leigh-Anne explains how she always felt less popular than her bandmates, Perrie Edwards, Jade, and Jesy Nelson – who quit the band earlier this year.
Leigh-Anne didn’t notice she was different at first – and was extremely confused when Beyonce's creative director Frank Gatson told her “you're the black girl, you have to work 10 times harder” on Little Mix’s video shoot for their debut single, Wings.
But it was an encounter with a group of fans that made her slowly realise there was a problem.
She says: “We did a radio tour, we got off the plane and there were some fans waiting for us and I was the first to walk up to them.
“They just walked past me and went up to the other girls.
“It was so weird. It was never like it was someone racially abusing me, but it was little things that happened regularly.
“All of these little feelings just built up, built up, built up. It was something I could never fully explain."
She continues: “And you can’t pretend it’s not happening, feeling invisible, feeling that people would just look past me.
“I’m in the biggest girl group in the world, I have a fiancé, we have a lovely house. It’s like, ‘What have you got to be upset about?’
“But all of that stuff doesn’t matter. All that matters is that feeling, and that feeling that just doesn’t go away. It keeps hurting and hurting. And wondering, ‘Is it my colour?’
“All these questions. Pushing myself constantly to do better. I just wanted to be on the same level and nothing I did would get me there.”
Advised to bleach skin
Leigh-Anne meets with other black female musicians in the documentary, including Alexandra Burke and Sugagabes singer Keisha Buchanan, to talk about their experiences of racism within the music industry.
Leigh-Annne tells them: “For the last nine years, people would tell me ‘it’s in your head’.
“So I thought, I’ll improve my vocals, speak more in interviews, improve myself, and it still wasn’t enough.
“I thought, ‘Why do I feel invisible? Why do I feel less favoured, less desired?’”
Alexandra, who won the X Factor in 2008, revealed how she would go to management companies with her mum when she was younger, and would be told: “We’ve got one black girl on our label. We can’t have another.”
She adds: “I was told to bleach my skin, because I was too dark, so wouldn’t sell any records.
“That’s what’s so f**ked up about this industry. It took my confidence away so much I felt like I didn’t want to even be in the industry any more.”
And Keisha claims she was “replaced” by Jade Ewen while still in Sugababes.
She recalls: “I was being told, ‘This one feels bullied, that one feels bullied.’ I was giving them a foot massage the night before.
“I was told I was being a bully if I had an opinion.
“It affected me emotionally, physically and financially. I couldn’t have an opinion in the workplace.”
The shocking revelations lead Leigh-Anne to question whether she’d ever have been put into Little Mix on the X Factor in 2011 if she had darker skin.
Keisha honestly tells her: “If they were looking for a minority, they were looking for a minority to be in it to sell records. Because, let’s be honest, it makes it a little bit cooler.
“If you had a couple of white managers in a room and they wanted to throw someone of colour in, of course, being mixed race, the more you look like a white person is more acceptable and palatable.
“I don’t know if this is a compliment or not but I definitely think you were chosen for your blackness.”
Leigh-Anne’s documentary also sees her get in touch with the head of her record label Sony in a bid to introduce more diversity, with her explaining how she’s nearly always the only black person in the room.
Leigh-Anne says: “I feel like I’m in a unique position.
“Being a black girl in the pop industry with a predominantly white fanbase, I do feel like I have a responsibility to speak out.
“I can use my voice to try to do something.”
While the head of the label refuses to speak to her, and no one comes forward to speak on camera, the pop star manages to make some headway, and Sony agrees to “put forward more black creators” in the future.
Leigh-Anne finishes: “Our music is inspired by black culture and I don’t want the next black pop girl to come forward to feel like me.
“I’m going to keep pushing.
“It’s not a question anymore, it has to happen.”
Leigh-Anne: Racism, Pop and Power airs on BBC One at 9pm tonight, and available to watch on BBC iPlayer now
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