Alicia Keys and the Big Fuss About Going Makeup-Free (or Not)

This story was originally published December 5, 2016, and has been updated here.

Some responses I've received, based on what makeup is or isn't on my face at any given moment:

"Ooh, you look fancy!"

"Are you okay?"

"You look tired."

One morning, I stepped into the elevator with a co-worker. Listening to her recount her difficult morning, I casually replied, "Yeah, you look really tired."

And in that moment, I hated myself: partly because it was such an involuntary response, and partly because  I'd been on the receiving end of this exact scenario. "You look really tired," was not what I wanted to hear.

Because it's frustrating to have your face used as a barometer for what might be going on in your life—or specifically, how well you may or may not be handling whatever that is.

Why do we innately feel compelled to comment on a woman's makeup or lack thereof? Why do we feel the need to infer things about her because of this?

Alicia Keys recently made the decision to appear without makeup at various events, as well as on the cover of her newest album. This caused a huge reaction from fans and media alike, praising her for her choice.

Personally, I agree. It's a positive and unprecedented move on Keys' part that will continue to help break down the expectations heaped on women, famous or otherwise.

But ultimately, the strength of her move isn't so much to do with any "rule-breaking"; with makeup itself (or lack thereof). It's about her motivation: that she did it for her own peace of mind, and no one else's.

In her 2016 essay for Lenny Letter, Keys writes:

"I felt powerful because my initial intentions realized 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 universe was listening to those things I'd promised myself, or maybe I was just finally listening to the universe, but however it goes, that's how this whole #nomakeup thing began."

Keys realized she'd been doing something for the sake of how others perceived her, and not what actually made her happy.

She received even more attention after appearing in Allure's February 2017 issue wearing a number of bold makeup looks.

Keys makes it clear that just because she chose to wear makeup in this shoot doesn't negate anything she's previously said. Essentially, she can do whatever she wants, and so can every woman.

"I’m not a slave to makeup. I’m not a slave to not wearing makeup either," she tells the magazine.

A photo posted by Southern Laced (@southernlacedofficial) on

Makeup makes some people happy, and that shouldn't be looked down on. Nor should anything be inferred about those people except that they like makeup.

But it doesn't seem to stop us from madly inferring, and trying to "decode" something from women's makeup. Or their lack of it.

After last year's election, Hillary Clinton made an appearance for the Children's Defense Fund sans makeup. This choice caused such a commotion in the media that The New York Post ran an entire article about it: 'Clinton gets mixed reaction after going makeup-free for speech'.

My question was, "Why is she getting any reaction?"

Maybe Clinton was sending some kind of message with her makeup-free face. Or maybe we should stop trying to use women's aesthetic choices as some kind of secret code.

Because there's no conspiracy. If you're wondering what a women is trying to tell you, don't look for a secret message in her makeup. Listen to what she's saying.