In an essay for Lean Dunham’s Lenny Letter, Grammy Award-winning musician Alicia Keys wrote a piece titled “It’s Time To Uncover” which detailed her reasons for starting her #nomakeup campaign and why it is important to her. We know this is not the first time a make-up free campaign, complete with a social media-friendly hashtag, has gone viral or caught the attention of the interwebs.
We love any movement or campaign that is dedicated to breaking down barriers and challenging the norms that we as humans are told to abide by, or else suffer the consequences of low self-esteem. Disrupting beauty standards to allow space for each individual to define who they are on their own terms is something we will support any day!
And while we love the many ordinary men and women who create movements that generate viral buzz, this message from Alicia has an added layer of weight to it simply because of her celebrity currency and the sheer impact she has from being in the public eye.
She is a woman whose music videos, red carpet appearances, on-stage performances and swooned-over still images put her in another stratosphere from many of us ordinary citizens, but when all that glitz and glamour is stripped away, there is something quite identifiable about her.
“We all get to a point in our lives (especially girls) where we try to be perfect. Does it start somewhere in second grade after picture day when you wear your frizzy hair out ’cause your mama says it’s beautiful but all your “friends” laugh at you?” she begins her essay.
“Or how about in junior high school? Where all the ‘pretty’ girls are wearing lipstick and eyeliner and mascara. Some of them are so skilled they even look like those models in every magazine you ever read — the ones who made you feel slightly uncomfortable with yourself or misrepresented or just unseen. It’s another moment where some piece of you realizes that to fit in or be thought of as beautiful, you have to cover up to be a bit closer to perfect,” she continued, describing scenes many of us would be familiar with.
But when she burst onto the artist scene, all of a sudden the pressure to look a certain way compounded with so many people’s opinions on her appearance.
“I remember when I first started to be in the public eye. Oh my gawd! Everyone had something to say. ‘She’s so hard, she acts like a boy, she must be gay, she should be more feminine!’ But the truth is, I was just from New York, and everyone I knew acted like that…This was the harsh, judgmental world of entertainment and my biggest test yet. I started, more than ever, to become a chameleon. Never fully being who I was, but constantly changing so all the ‘they’s’ would accept me,” she revealed.
This is where it gets interesting. As she, and many other female celebrities, get pulled in certain directions in terms of their image, it instantly has an impact on millions of fans around the world. It is a form of “trickle down” beauty standards created by powerful visual industries like music, elevated and amplified by celebrities, then filtered down to impressionable audience members via phones, magazines, the internet, TV, movies and the media.
After realizing she had become part of a trend that perpetuated the beauty standards, and waking up to the fact that she no longer wanted to be a pawn, Alicia says she used her new perspective as fuel for her new album.
“Before I started my new album, I wrote a list of all the things that I was sick of. And one was how much women are brainwashed into feeling like we have to be skinny, or sexy, or desirable, or perfect. One of the many things I was tired of was the constant judgment of women. The constant stereotyping through every medium that makes us feel like being a normal size is not normal, and heaven forbid if you’re plus-size. Or the constant message that being sexy means being naked. All of it is so frustrating and so freakin’ impossible,” she admits, to which we concur!
Throughout this process she wrote a lot of songs that included metaphors about masks and hiding, which helped her come to terms with her own insecurities and face them head on, instead of continuing to covering them up with the external tools that society tells us will help us feel better about ourselves.
“I was really starting to feel like that as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see. This started manifesting on many levels, and it was not healthy. Every time I left the house, I would be worried if I didn’t put on makeup: What if someone wanted a picture?? What if they POSTED it??? These were the insecure, superficial, but honest thoughts I was thinking. And all of it, one way or another, was based too much on what other people thought of me,” she says about the thought process which led to a song on her latest album called ‘When a Girl Can’t be Herself’.
After completing the album and getting to the stage where she was creating the imagery for it with photo shoots, she recalls a day where she came from the gym with her hair wrapped in a scarf wearing ordinary clothes and arriving on set expecting to be made over. Instead, the photographer took one look at her and told Alicia she wanted to shoot her as she was, in her natural state of beauty.
At first she was hesitant because she was so used to changing her image to look more “camera-friendly”, but Paola the photographer made her comfortable with the idea and the end product became the spark which started #nomakeup.
“I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt. I felt powerful because my initial intentions realized themselves. My desire to listen to myself, to tear down the walls I built over all those years, to be full of purpose, and to be myself!” she described.
“That’s how this whole #nomakeup thing began. Once the photo I took with Paola came out as the artwork for my new song ‘In Common,’ it was that truth that resonated with others who posted #nomakeup selfies in response to this real and raw me. I hope to God it’s a revolution. ‘Cause I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing,” she concludes her essay.
This movement is more than just another viral social media hit, it is something that almost every human on this planet can relate to – feeling less than worthy because of your appearance, due to the heavy pressure of the media, fashion, beauty and entertainment subtly telling us with visual cues that the “good looking” people get all the happiness and success in life, and the ones who don’t fit the mold are doomed to be unhappy unless they conform.
The trickle-down effect of a powerful, accomplished and talented artist telling the world (as well as her industry) that she no longer feels the need to cover her natural features to feel worthy to show up in public is that it gives her fans permission to do the same.
Of course, the message should not be mistaken with the idea that makeup is evil, or wanting to dress up is somehow demeaning, it is the deeper significance we place on these daily activities that could use a little challenging. When external methods of beauty become the only way we can accept ourselves according to someone else’s standards, it’s time to re-evaluate why we are indulging in them. Well done Alicia for taking a stand and showing many other women and girls that true beauty does not come from applying something to your face and body each day.