Now, Alicia Keys is taking the social media trend in which celebs reveal their natural and awesomely imperfect selves to the world one step further.
In a new essay for Lena Dunham's Lenny newsletter titled "Time to Uncover," the singer, whose smiling, makeup-free face appears regularly on her husband, Swizz Beatz' Instagram, reflects on what it means for a woman to come to terms with the pressure to look the way our culture expects us to look.
For Alicia, becoming famous added a new layer to something she'd already struggled with for much of her life. But when she started writing music about how wearing -- or not wearing -- makeup was affecting her sense of self, she came to the understanding that she no longer wants to "cover up," whether with foundation and mascara or by hiding who she really is to those around her.
"We all get to a point in our lives (especially girls) where we try to be perfect," Alicia writes, describing the experience of changing the natural look of her hair as a girl "to fit into a picture of what others seem to see as perfection" as an example.
The singer goes on to write that when she became known for her music, there was more feedback than ever about how she looked and who she was perceived to be.
"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," she writes.
"In the streets of New York you had to be tough, you HAD to be hard, people needed to know that you weren't scared to fight!
"But this wasn't the streets of New York. 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."
Alicia continues: "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."
Once she nailed down some of those issues, she discovered she'd been "censoring" herself for too long.
"Did I even know HOW to be brutally honest anymore? Who I wanted to be?" she asked.
Eventually, wrestling with those questions helped inspire new music. Alicia points to her track, "When a Girl Can't Be Herself," as an example of what was going on inside her during that period, recounting the lyrics, "In the morning from the minute that I wake up / What if I don't want to put on all that makeup / Who says I must conceal what I'm made of / Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem."
"Every time I left the house," she continues, "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."
Alicia says she tried meditation and told herself she had to get a healthier perspective on things. But it wasn't until a photographer actually requested Alicia share the real-life, post-gym version of herself for an album shoot that she really found her way into that newer, healthier head space.
She recalls having shown up for the shoot with a scarf, baseball hat and sweatshirt when the photographer pointed out that the new music Alicia had written was "raw and real" and "these photos have to be, too."
Though she was uncomfortable with the idea, Alicia trusted the professional advice and went for it -- a #nomakeup photo shoot.
"And I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt," she writes.
"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."
In the end, Alicia says, "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."
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