Makeup-Free, Alicia Keys Feels Like Her Most Beautiful Self

Alicia Keys Screenshot H 2016

The Grammy-winning songstress explains why she's going for a #nomakeup, fresh-faced look timed to her new album.

This girl is on fire. Alicia Keys may be insecure like the rest of us, but in the latest issue of Lenny Letter, she explained what she's doing about it. On Tuesday, the Lena Dunham- and Jenni Konner-helmed newsletter published a no-holds-barred essay penned by the songstress about what it feels like to be in the spotlight and constantly judged — and why she skipped out on wearing makeup in a recent photo shoot for her upcoming album.

As Keys puts it, the judging of women and their appearances and attitudes, which starts in school for most of us, escalated further for the singer as her career began to take off. "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," she writes.

It got to the point where Keys worried about leaving the house without makeup for fear that she would be photographed. Realizing the insanity of these "unhealthy" thoughts, the singer turned to meditation, which helped her focus on "cultivating strength and conviction."

So when it came time to write her new album, Keys says, "I wrote a list of all the things that I was sick of. 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. 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."

The result is songs like "When a Girl Can't Be Herself," which addresses issues of self-esteem. But the biggest coup throughout this process happened by accident, during a photo shoot for the upcoming album when photographer Paola Kudacki asked to capture Keys fresh from the gym — makeup-free, in a sweatshirt, with a scarf wrapped around her head. "I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt," says Keys of the photo, which became the artwork for her "In Common" single.

And clearly, hubby Swizz Beatz agrees, as seen in a recent Instagram post he shared of a makeup-free shoot Keys did with Vanity Fair, freckles and all. "You look 19 without makeup," he gushed in the caption, adding. "My fav pic."

"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," says Keys.


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