When Alicia Keys says #nomakeup she really means it

The In Common singer is doing so much more than just taking a selfie without makeup. She’s going barefaced almost everywhere to help uncover her truth, and encourage others to do the same.

Alicia Keys performing without stage makeup at the UEFA Champions League Final in May. Giuseppe Maffia | NurPhoto | Sipa | AP Images

In an essay that kicked off the #nomakeup conversation heard around the world, Alicia Keys recently wrote an open letter on LennyLetter.com about “the moments” that define our concept of personal beauty and so-called perfection. The moments she refers to are ones that we can all understand; they start when we’re quite young. In her case, Keys remembers liking her “frizzy hair” while in the second grade. But soon after feeling proud of her hair, she began hiding that same feature, pulling it back and straightening it because it didn’t feel socially acceptable around her friends.

It’s not an uncommon story. And, no matter who you are, defining moments of identity and beauty like this one don’t stop when adolescence ends. They chase us right through junior high (it’s own minefield, as young women start to dabble in make-up) through adulthood.

In fact, these insecurities chased Keys right up until a few weeks ago, when she had a new moment, one of epiphany. Arriving at a photo shoot for Fault magazine with no makeup on (right after a workout session), the photographer saw her and insisted Keys be shot naturally, just like that. In her essay, Keys wrote:

“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!”

🌞 I shot Alicia Keys for Fault! #aliciakeys #legend #faultmagazine #zoltantombor

A photo posted by Zoltan Tombor (@zoltantombor) on

Even though the idea scared her, she decided to go for it. “I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt,” Keys said after the experience. And she resolved to do it again, as part of a personal “revolution.”

And here’s the amazing part: she did. After that Fault shoot, Keys appeared in another photo shoot for Vanity Fair, also without makeup. She filmed video interviews without makeup, released Instagram photos of herself without makeup, and went to a concert without stage makeup. “I don’t want to cover up anymore,” Keys says of her personal #nomakeup pledge. “Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing.”

MORE TO READ: Kerry Washington talks photo shopping, and where she draws the line

But don’t get Keys (or me) wrong here. This is not a war against makeup. Makeup can be fun. And a touch of cover-up or color, a bit of brightening or dulling (thank you, powder!), can make us feel better, more confident, and more ready to tackle the day. When used this way, it can be a tool of empowerment. But Alicia Keys realized that she was leaving the house fearful that she didn’t have enough makeup on. She was anxious that she would be judged and photographed for a face that wasn’t perfect enough.

“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???” Alicia writes. “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.”

Perhaps this is why Keys’s #nomakeup movement feels so powerful. Much more powerful than the usual celebrity one-off #nomakeup selfies. Not only did she bravely face her fears once, Keys continues to go without makeup again and again. In doing so, she is reclaiming her own beauty, and she’s helping us all to reclaim our natural faces, too. “I don’t believe in the word perfection,” Keys said during a video she shared on Twitter sans makeup. “I want to remove the word perfect so I can take that thought out [of my mind]. I learned that [no makeup] is perfect for me, no matter what anyone else’s opinion is.” She labeled the video: “Keep being your flawed, messy self! We’re all ‘perfect’!!!”

🌞I shot @aliciakeys for @fault_magazine. #aliciakeys #faultmagazine #legend #nomakeup #incommon #zoltantombor

A photo posted by Zoltan Tombor (@zoltantombor) on

Add that positive dialogue to the singer’s bare faced and curly-haired photographs currently circling the internet. Then add that to when Keys took to the stage without “stage makeup.” Slowly, all those things add up to a new definition of natural beauty, one that comes from the soul. And maybe that is a revolution of sorts.

Try it! If makeup is helping you hide, perhaps it’s time to uncover yourself and face that fear alongside Alicia Keys. Try a day without makeup, or post a picture to your social media without makeup. These small steps will help you learn to see yourself as beautiful once again, and enough without all that product.

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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