Alicia Keys' empowering #nomakeup revolution: “I don’t want to cover up anymore”

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Kayleigh Dray
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Alicia Keys is embracing the #nomakeup trend – and she hopes that her decision empowers women everywhere to start a barefaced “revolution”.

Following the Rio 2016 Games’ closing ceremony, the singer made her debut appearance on The Voice US.

After listening to a 17-year-old bullying victim’s powerful cover of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good, Keys grew emotional as she admitted:  “I was working on music, trying to figure out who I am… since I was 14 years old.

“I don't want to be like anybody else. And I don't want you to be like anybody else.

"You were born to show people what love sounds like.”

Many took to Twitter to praise Keys for her attitude – but others commented on her appearance, pointing out that she, unlike fellow judge Miley Cyrus, wasn’t wearing any makeup for the show.

However, this should have come as no surprise to the Girl on Fire’s loyal fans, as the singer has made no secret of the fact that she believes makeup erodes self-esteem.

In fact, she recently penned a powerful essay explaining why she believes it’s time for women to ‘uncover up’.

“We all get to a point in our lives (especially girls) where we try to be perfect,” Keys wrote in Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s feminist newsletter, Lenny.

This usually happens in school, she continued, when young girls are placed under intense pressure to conform to the world’s narrow beauty standards. Whether this is having your “unique hair” laughed at, so that you brush it into a tight bun, or coming face-to-face with schoolgirls in makeup for the first time, it all amounts to one thing: “hiding a piece of who you are in order to fit into a picture of what others seem to see as perfection.”

And once the 35-year-old first established herself in “the harsh world of entertainment” fifteen years ago, the pressure to “cover up” increased. “Everyone had something to say” about her appearance, she said.

Slowly, over time, her self-esteem became more and more damaged, forcing her to become a “chameleon… constantly changing so all the ‘they’s’ would accept me.”

Keys revealed that, when she began working on her latest music project, she found herself writing a list of all the things she hates about modern society.

The one thing that she kept coming back to was “how much women are brainwashed into feeling like we have to be skinny, or sexy, or desirable, or perfect”, and how tired she was of the “constant judgement of women”.

“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?” she wrote.

“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.”

The singer turned to meditation in a bid to find the inner strength to work through her insecurities – but it wasn’t until she walked into one of the first photoshoots for her upcoming album that she found herself confronting the issue head-on.

She had walked into the studio dressed in a sweatshirt and baseball cap, with no makeup on, assuming that the on-site beauty team would get her ready for the shoot once she arrived.

However the photographer was captivated by Keys’ “raw” look, and persuaded her to do a “no makeup” shoot.

The results left Keys feeling “the strongest, most empowered, most free and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt”.

“I felt powerful because my initial intentions realised themselves,” she writes. “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!

“The universe was listening to those things I’d promised myself, or maybe I was just finally listening to the universe, but however it goes, that’s how this whole #nomakeup thing began.”

Since then, Keys has seen the hashtag explode on social media – and has said that she hopes it sparks a “revolution”.

 “I don't want to cover up anymore,” she admitted. “Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth.


It’s not the first time that a celebrity has decided to hit back against the pressures placed upon women to look “perfect”.

In August, Renee Zellweger penned a blistering op-ed for The Huffington Post, which directly addressed tabloid speculation about her appearance.

 “Not that it’s anyone’s business, but I did not make a decision to alter my face and have surgery on my eyes,” she wrote, before going on to explain how, as a woman in the public eye, she is unable to deny the rumours made about her, as it “implies an attempt to cover up the supposed tabloid ‘exposed truth’”.

And choosing to maintain a dignified silence has a similar effect.

“[To do so] leaves one vulnerable not only to the usual ridicule, but to having the narrative of one’s life hijacked by those who profiteer from invented scandal.”

Earlier this year, Jennifer Aniston, in a scathing essay of her own, also slammed the media for continuing to pen speculative articles about her personal life.

“For the record, I am not pregnant,” she wrote. “What I am is fed up.”

The Friends actress continued: “I resent being made to feel ‘less than’ because my body is changing and/or I had a burger for lunch and was photographed from a weird angle and therefore deemed one of two things: ‘pregnant’ or ‘fat.’“…I’ve learned tabloid practices, however dangerous, will not change, at least not any time soon.

“What can change is our awareness and reaction to the toxic messages buried within these seemingly harmless stories served up as truth and shaping our ideas of who we are.

“We get to decide how much we buy into what’s being served up, and maybe some day the tabloids will be forced to see the world through a different, more humanized lens because consumers have just stopped buying the bulls**t.”

You can read Alicia Keys’ full essay, titled Time To Uncover, in full on the Lenny website now.

 Image: Rex Features