Last autumn Alicia Keys took Hollywood by storm with her decision to ditch wearing make-up when in the spot-light, and otherwise in her daily routine. In a powerful essay on Lennyletter, Keys outlined the reasons behind her decision, which ranged from self-reflection, to looking at the bigger picture of how the concept of beauty is constructed, and ultimately, distorted.
In an age of a multi-billion-dollar beauty industry, fuelled by Kardashians, Beauty Gurus and Touch-up teams, Keys’s decision is both bold, and unorthodox. Keys details the personal insecurities which developed as a direct result of the juxtaposition of her need to appear ‘strong and tough’ during her New York upbringing, against the stark Hollywood backdrop that demanded a far ‘softer’ and ‘more feminine’ image. These demands slowly grew to burden the reality of her identity, with fears that she did not dress or look the way she ‘should’.
For one, Keys’s story highlights the assumption that one cannot be strong and tough whilst being feminine; how the adjectives are too often placed on polar opposite ends of the scale as though they cancel one other out, when really, who is to say they do not work in conjunction? The widespread belief that to be strong and tough is not feminine, because to be strong and tough is not within the fundamentals of being a woman (clearly whoever thought up this dichotomy has never read a book, looked outside, or heard of Chrissy Teigen). Second, this story highlights how young women are falsely led to believe there is a universal standard of beauty that they must adhere toward to be successful in almost every professional capacity. To wear their hair in its natural state, to dress as they please or leave the house bare-faced would be a faux-pas.
Though Keys’s decision has attracted criticism in some arguing her actions have created a ‘new standard of beauty’ (that women must be just as beautiful without make up as they are with it), and others pointing out that she fills in her brows and follows an intensive skin-care regime, Keys herself presents the disclaimer that echoes the primary issue every feminist movement is working toward; choice. Keys’s decision to go bare faced is not founded on shaming women who are not comfortable in going bare faced, but instead, empowering those who are, but are constantly put down by societal standards that teach them otherwise.
In Keys’s Words:
‘I was really starting to feel like that — 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.’
Seeing and hearing Keys on a multitude of platforms every day, embodying success, happiness and dare I say, beauty, it would be difficult to phantom her having such thoughts. The idea that a singer who has sold over 30 million albums world-wide, felt she was not good enough to be heard, purely because Hollywood made her feel like she was not good enough to be seen. In the true nature of a Game-changer, Keys stepped aside and decided to look the way she wanted to look, instead of the way Hollywood wanted her to. For this courage, I both applaud, and thank you, Ms. Keys.