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Alicia Keys smiling on The Voice
Alicia Keys on The Voice | NBC

A few years ago, singer Alicia Keys made the decision to ditch makeup and go with a fresh-faced look, a huge departure from the way most celebrities tackle the beauty game. Find out why 2019 Grammys host Alicia Keys doesn’t wear makeup.

When did Alicia Keys stop wearing makeup?

In 2016, Keys hit the MTV Video Music Awards with a stripped down look — not a revealing dress, but rather, a bare face. Her look was in stark contrast to other celebs who arrived glammed up with smoky eyes and popping lip color, for sure, but Keys looked natural and beautiful.

Keys’ makeup-free look certainly had people wondering why she would take such an all-natural approach. The reason, it turns out, had been revealed a few months before that red carpet appearance.

Keys explains the pressures she felt about her appearance

In a May 31, 2016 essay in Lena Dunham’s newsletter Lenny, called Time to Uncover, Keys personally addressed her decision, with a movement she called #nomakeup.

In the essay, Keys shared her views on how many strive for perfection and how, when she became famous, all eyes were on her. She explained: “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 added: “But this wasn’t the streets of New York. This was the harsh, judgmental world of entertainment and my biggest test yet. I started, more than ever, to become a chameleon. Never fully being who I was, but constantly changing so all the ‘they’s’ would accept me.”

Keys got a wake up call

Keys also shared how, when starting an album, she listed things she was sick of. Among the items 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.”

In the process of songwriting, Keys realized she was censoring herself and she began asking herself: “Who was I anyway? Did I even know HOW to be brutally honest anymore? Who I wanted to be?”

In the song “When a Girl Can’t Be Herself,” it made her realize “that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see. This started manifesting on many levels, and it was not healthy.”

Keys realized she was worried what other people thought of her, so she started to meditate, explaining she was “focusing on clarity and a deeper knowing of myself. I focused on cultivating strength and conviction and put a practice in place to learn more about the real me.”

Keys’ eye opening photo shoot

Those efforts weren’t enough — until the singer explained that she had a powerful moment when she came to a photo shoot for a new album, arriving fresh from the gym. The photographer said, “I have to shoot you right now, like this! The music is raw and real, and these photos have to be too!”

Keys explained how it made her feel “nervous and slightly uncomfortable,” since she wasn’t wearing makeup and was dressed in gym clothes. She hesitated initially, but surrendered to the idea and it was life-changing.

She wrote: “I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt.”

Keys embraced #nomakeup

That photo shoot was transformative, Keys noted, explaining that she “felt powerful because my initial intentions realized themselves.” She added, “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.”

She added: “‘Cause 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.”