Alicia Keys at the MTV EMA 2020
Pressure of perfection

The alarming reason why Alicia Keys stopped wearing makeup in 2016

The pressure to be picture-perfect made her succumb to an unspoken addiction.

Alicia Keys is mostly known for her accomplishments in the music industry. Far from public scandals and excesses, Keys built a career that leads her to become a Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and producer, plus an accomplished actress and New York Times best-selling author. However, the pressure to be picture-perfect made her succumb to an unspoken addiction. In a recent interview with Glamour UK, the “Underdog” interpreter shared the real reason behind her highly publicized decision to stop using makeup in 2016.

Makeup was a big thing for me; I had been wearing it since I was, like, 16 years old,” she told the publication. “And then, as I got into the music world, it was what you did every day to do your television or to do your shoot. So I did it because I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do. And I realized I became addicted to it; I didn’t feel comfortable without it.”

In 2016, Keys took social media to launch the campaign #nomakeup to fight back the beauty standards imposed on women by society and the beauty industry. “We all get to a point in our lives (especially girls) where we try to be perfect,” the singer wrote in an essay for Lenny Letter. “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.”

According to Keys, she “wrote a lot of songs about masks filled with metaphors about hiding.” The 39-year-old musician revealed she was feeling insecure. “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? I didn’t know the answers exactly, but I desperately wanted to,” she wrote.

The singer said she reached a point where not wearing makeup outside made her feel anxious. “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??? 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,” she revealed, adding that “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.”

Keys also revealed to Glamour UK how she felt the pressure of changing her style. “As a new girl – all New-York street vibes, with braids, playing the piano in pretty pants or jeans, Timberlands, and leather jackets – it was definitely not something that you had seen often, this kind of soul thing mixed with that energy. But I never felt like I wanted to change,” she says. “The pressure to try to [get me to] wear more dressy things… that just wasn’t who I was, and it will never be who I am. And even as I grow now and can truly feel comfortable in multiple ways and styles, I still am who I am. So, I was happy that I was pretty strong from the beginning. And my management early on was always very supportive about that.“

The superstar explained that every tweak to her style had been a personal decision. “If anything, I started changing more because I was growing more later on. Not because somebody said, ‘You should change.’ But you do internalize what’s around you a lot. I think when you see images and standards of beauty, you can automatically think to yourself, ‘Oh, isn’t that what beautiful is? Shouldn’t I emulate that?’ [There are] all these standards you can subscribe to, without even realizing it.”