For as long as I can remember, I've hidden myself. It might have started in school when I realized that I caught on to things a little quicker, and teachers started to show slight favor to me, or use me as an example. I remember feeling like my friends would make fun of me or look at me as if I was different from them and so... I started hiding. Not intentionally, I didn't mean to, but I did. Little pieces at a time.
I definitely started hiding when I got old enough to walk down my NY streets alone. I started to notice a drastic difference in how men would relate to me if I had on jeans, or if I had on a skirt, or if my hair was done pretty. I could tell the difference, I could feel the animal instinct in them and it scared me. I didn't want to be talked to in that way, looked at in that way, whistled after, followed.
And so I started hiding. I chose the baggy jeans and Timbs. I chose the ponytail and hat. I chose no makeup, no bright color lipstick or pretty dresses. I chose to hide. Pieces at a time. Less trouble that way.
I remember feeling that same way when I first started to get recognized as an artist. I had the baggy/braided/tough NY tomboy thing mastered, that was who I was (or who I chose to be), and I felt good there.
Then, because of the way I spoke or carried myself, people started calling me gay and hard, and I wasn't gay, but I was hard. And although I felt comfortable there, it made me uncomfortable that people were judging me and so slowly I hid that side of myself. I put on dresses and didn't braid my whole head up, so people could see more of the "real" me, even though at that point, I'm sure I was more confused then ever of what the real me was.
I remember one interview I gave had strong social thoughts from a book I just read. The writer misunderstood me and wrote something that I didn't say. I felt judged by those reading it. Out came the shell again and me under it. Hiding, piece by piece. Little by little. More and more.
I became comfortable hiding my intelligence, my physical appearance, my truths, my thoughts, myself.
To this day, every time I get out of the shower to get dressed, I swear the first thought that comes into my head is, what can I wear that won't cause too much attention when I go pick up Egy, or head to the store, or go shopping, or visit a friend, etc.
And just the other day it hit me! OMG! Alicia! Why are you choosing to be that person? That is so old and outdated! STOP!
You are allowed to be smart.
You are allowed to be beautiful.
You are allowed to be radical and have strong thoughts that others might not agree with.
You are allowed to be tough.
You are allowed to be sexy.
You are allowed to be bold.
You are allowed to be shapely.
You are allowed to be kind.
You are allowed to be yourself!
And guess what? I can be all these things all at the same time.
I don't have to give up one to be the other. I don't have to hide anymore, I don't have to pretend and hold back, I don't have to think that my intelligence, beauty and sensuality are intimidating to others.
Who cares? I don't have to think my silliness, clumsiness or hallmark card optimism, as something I can't be proud of! Who cares?!
I don't have to try to go unnoticed.
I don't have to fit in.
I don't have to close up my thoughts and only speak my truth through songs!
I can speak it everyday.
Live it everyday.
Be it everyday.
Dress it everyday.
Show it everyday.
Grow it everyday!
I only got 28,000 of those days. So what the fuck am I waiting for??
And dammit, that's what I'm doing!
This post originally appeared on AliciaKeys.com.