In a powerful essay for Girls creator Lena Dunham‘s newsletter Lenny, Alicia Keys boldly explores all the ways she’s been judged about her looks, and in turn, all the messages about beauty she internalized from a young age. The “Girl On Fire” singer writes:
I remember when I first started to be in the public eye. Oh my gawd! 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.
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.
She goes on to details the ways makeup can feel oppressive, when we’re putting it on because we feel we have to, not because we want to, when the judgments of others come ahead of how we want to look and feel. As Keys explains:
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.
Famous or not, haven’t we all been there?
Keys explores how her desire to free herself from the nonstop fretting over her looks inspired her songwriting, including these lyrics from “When a Girl Can’t Be Herself.”
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
It was also the catalyst for the artwork for her new song “In Common,” whose video premiered in May. Brava to Keys for reminding us that beauty truly does come from the inside!
Englewood resident Keys will be a guest on The Graham Norton Show on Friday.