Why Alicia Keys has embraced the #nomakeup movement.

Every woman has her reasons for wearing makeup, or not wearing it. To some, it’s a form of self-expression; to others, it simply doesn’t hold any appeal.

While the way we present ourselves to the world is a deeply personal decision, it’s hard to argue that social pressures and expectations can influence it — and not necessarily in a way that’s positive or even healthy.

This is something Alicia Keys learned the hard way when she entered the “harsh, judgmental” entertainment business as a young woman.

In ‘Time to Uncover’, an essay she wrote for Lena Dunham’s e-newsletter Lenny, the 15-time Grammy Award winner describes how fame and the constant pressure to look a certain way made her feel as though she “was not good enough for the world to see”.

“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,” Keys writes.

Ultimately, the pressure to maintain ‘perfection’ — or at least, the stereotypical ideal of it — left her anxious about how she naturally looked.

“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 explains.

“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.”

Watch: Meghan Ramsay on the impacts of negative body image. (Post continues after video.)

The 35-year-old arrived at this conclusion while writing her yet-to-be-released sixth album.


Fed up with the scrutiny, stereotyping and judgement of women, she made a promise to herself that she’d approach her appearance differently in future.

“I was finally uncovering just how much I censored myself, and it scared me. Who was I anyway? Did I even know HOW to be brutally honest anymore? Who I wanted to be?” she writes.

One of the first manifestations of Keys’ new mindset was the promotional artwork for her song In Common, where she’s photographed makeup-free.

"I’d just come from the gym, had a scarf under my baseball cap, and the beautiful photographer Paola (never met a Paola I didn’t like) said, 'I have to shoot you right now, like this! The music is raw and real, and these photos have to be too!'," the Girl on Fire singer recalls.

This wasn't exactly what she'd anticipated when she turned up to the shoot, and the prospect of 'baring all' initially made her nervous.

"My face was totally raw. I had on a sweatshirt! As far as I was concerned, this was my quick run-to-the-shoot-so-I-can-get-ready look, not the actual photo-shoot look," Keys writes.

"So I asked her, 'Now?! Like right now? I want to be real, but this might be too real!!'"

Theoretically, a woman being photographed without makeup on her face shouldn't be a big deal. As mentioned, it's an individual choice. Yet the reality is, it often is a big deal. (Post continues after gallery.)

We so rarely see images of famous women without professionally-applied hair and makeup (not to mention photo editing), and thus — whether wrongly or rightly — a celebrity going makeup-free never fails to cause a stir.

Just look at the response to any A-list #makeupfree selfie posted on Instagram, or the number of tabloid magazines that run issues filled with paparazzi images of celebrities without their usual 'face' on.

Considering the world she works in, it's understandable that Keys was hesitant to go totally au naturel in the photos — but the experience ultimately left her feeling empowered.

"I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt," she writes.

"I felt powerful because my initial intentions realised 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."


The images also resonated with Keys' fans, many of whom began posting their own #nomakeup selfies in response to the "real and raw" version of Keys depicted on In Common. 

The star has also recently posed makeup-free for Vanity Fair, with her husband Swizz Beatz sharing one of the shots on Instagram.

Keys concludes her Lenny piece by stating she hopes her #makeupfree approach is "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 writes.

And we're applauding her.

Do you ever feel the pressure to conceal or change your appearance? How do you deal with it?