The real reason Alicia Keys stopped wearing makeup

Alicia Keys had everyone talking when she arrived at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards in August 2016 wearing (gasp!) no makeup. What was the decision behind her bold mode? As it turns out, that choice was a long time coming.

The entertainment industry had turned her into a 'chameleon'

In a powerful essay for Lena Dunham's newsletter Lenny, published May 31, 2016, Keys discussed how her many years in the public eye had altered her perception of beauty and perfection. "I remember when I first started to be in the public eye. Oh my gawd! Everyone had something to say," she wrote. "'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."

Keys continued, "But this wasn't the streets of New York. This was the harsh, judgmental world of entertainment and my biggest test yet." Keys said the pressures of the industry turned her into a "chameleon" who was "constantly changing so all the 'they's' would accept me." She wrote, "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 got sick of trying to be 'perfect'

When it came time to work on her newest album, In Common, Keys revealed she had a Network-esque, "mad-as-hell" moment about the public's standards of beauty for women. "Before I started my new album, I wrote a list of all the things that I was sick of," she said in her Lenny essay. "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," she said. "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."

She noticed her insecurities had affected her music

With this "a-ha" moment in place, Keys soon began to notice that many of the songs she had written were about "masks filled with metaphors about hiding." Her song, "When a Girl Can't Be Herself," includes the lyrics, "Who says I must conceal what i'm made of / Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem."

"No disrespect to Maybelline, the word just worked after the maybe," Keys wrote in her Lenny essay. "But the truth is…I was really starting to feel like that—that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see."

A photo shoot changed everything

With all of these thoughts and questions floating about in her mind, Keys—who credits meditation for helping her find "clarity and a deeper knowledge" of herself—finally discovered a way to channel her frustrations into a positive message, albeit accidentally. Writing for Lenny, Keys recalled arriving for a photo shoot fresh from the gym wearing a baseball hat and scarf. The photographer, Paola Kudacki, wanted to shoot her as she arrived—real and raw to reflect the real and raw music on her album. Although she hesitated at first, Keys finally gave in. The result, she wrote, was powerful.

"I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt," she wrote. "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."

One of Paola's photos became the artwork for the song, "In Common." Keys wrote, "…it was that truth that resonated with others who posted #nomakeup selfies in response to this real and raw me."

She's proudly sticking to her message

Keys closed her essay with a hope to God that this #nomakeup realization will lead to a "revolution," writing, "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."

In the months since her essay was published, Keys has stayed true to her word. She recently made headlines when she showed up to the August 2016 MTV Video Music Awards wearing—you guessed it—no makeup. "[It's been] really empowering, really freeing," she told the Today show on Sept. 2, 2016. "We put so many limitations on ourselves…In a lot of ways, I'm sick of it. I'm over it, to be honest…It's about being our unique, own selves."

"It would be so amazing to just embrace each other how we are," she added. "I think the most important thing is you do what feels good for you."

But she may not be done with makeup forever

Of course, as with every celebrity stance in Hollywood, Keys' decision to go make-up free was criticized by some who felt offended by what was perceived as an "anti-makeup" stance. Other critics suggested she could only go makeup-free because she was naturally beautiful. The backlash prompted Keys to respond to the criticism on Twitter: "Y'all, me choosing to be makeup free doesn't mean I'm anti-makeup. Do you!"

Keys also hinted in her interview on Today that she may not be ready to end her relationship with makeup altogether. "I love my lip gloss, I love my blush, I love my eyeliner," she said. 'It's not about that. At the same time, I don't want to feel beholden—to have to do it."

In the meantime, Alicia, do you.