Alicia Keys announced her #NoMakeupPledge back in May, but people still seem to have a lot to say about her bare face.
On Sunday night, the singer-songwriter appeared on stage at the MTV VMA awards rocking a stunning red dress, an intricately braided bun, and not a stitch of makeup. Reactions to her continued dedication to avoiding cosmetics ranged from praise to complete disdain:
That last point from the ever-grating Piers Morgan encapsulates everything wrong with this makeup vs. no-makeup debate. Morgan comparing Keys’ bare face to Kim Kardashian’s nude selfies, calling it more “empowering” is just another example of how society polices and scrutinizes female expression. Instead of simply giving kudos to Keys for making a choice that works for her, people are acting as if her choice is a commentary on the choices of every other woman ever.
Makeup, and the choice to wear makeup, is a complex and personal decision. Some women choose not to wear makeup in order to embrace a different side of their beauty (makeup-less beauty is not the only form of “natural” beauty). Other women choose not to wear makeup simply because they can’t be bothered, or they don’t know how to apply it, or they don’t even have access to it because of their economic background.
A common defense of makeup use is that it’s all about making oneself feel “good,” that it isn’t about pleasing men, but about pleasing yourself. That’s one approach, but let’s be real. For some people, makeup is absolutely about giving in to societal pressures about beauty. And there’s no shame in that.
Makeup can also be about survival. Wearing it can allow some women access to spaces that they wouldn’t have otherwise (in the corporate world, for instance, where women are far more scrutinized for their looks than men).
And for some femme trans women and other feminine-identified people, makeup is not only a form of self expression, but a form of self actualization that allows them to navigate the world easier, that keeps them safe. Some women with severe scarring (acne hyper-pigmentation, accidents, burns from acid attacks), use makeup to help them feel more comfortable facing the world each day.
Wearing makeup isn’t just about “hiding” one’s “natural” beauty, or being “fake.” So many of the “Alicia looks so beautiful without makeup” comments on Twitter came from men like Piers Morgan, praising her while pitting her against other women who choose to wear makeup.
As YouTuber and blogger Rian Phin succinctly put it in a recent video about makeup, this is a prime example of how society (and listen, mostly men) will rush to praise a women who doesn’t wear makeup ― but only if she is already “pretty enough.”
“Like, you don’t want someone to show their natural acne and scars and natural hyper pigmentation,” Phin writes. “You don’t let women have their natural mustaches, chin hair, beards, and unibrows without shi***ng on them.”
That’s why both the positive and negative commentary about Keys is so completely absurd. It’s ignoring the fact that women wear or don’t wear makeup for a myriad of reasons. So why are we so preoccupied with what one woman chooses to do with her face?
On Monday, Alicia Keys tweeted a response to the criticism she received over her face, writing:
Do. You. It’s probably the most succinct approach to this entire debate. Alicia Keys started #NoMakeupPledge as a way to embrace who she is, free herself from a preoccupation with looks, and inspire others who have grappled with similar issues to follow suit. And that’s great. But that doesn’t mean that people who love a beat face, or who feel they need makeup to feel comfortable in the world, are any less beautiful or any less valid in their reasoning.