It’s not unusual for jaws to drop when R&B artist Alicia Keys gets on stage to perform. But when she appeared at the 2016 VMAs to announce the winner of the best male video award, the audience’s awe wasn’t because of her 15-time Grammy Award-winning voice. It was because something seemed to be missing.
A face full of makeup.
Though Keys ignited instant attention by walking the red carpet and posing for pictures without makeup on, this wasn’t the first time she dared to go bare in front of the media.
In May 2016, Keys wrote an essay that was published in LennyLetter—a weekly feminist newsletter created by comedian Lena Dunham—announcing her decision to go makeup free.
“I don’t want to cover up anymore,” Keys wrote. “Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing.”
Keys’ #nomakeup movement has sparked discussion about the influence of makeup on young women and the societal pressures women face on a daily basis.
Keys’ decision to go makeup-free was spurred by a desire to stop covering up to fit societal standards, a prevalent issue in today’s society.
According to a study published by the Social Issues Research Center, 80 percent of women over 18 are unhappy with what they see in the mirror —with many not “seeing an accurate reflection,” according to the study.
“(Junior high) is another moment where some piece of you realizes that to fit in or be thought of as beautiful, you have to cover up to be a bit closer to perfect,” Keys wrote in the essay.
Assistant Professor of Health Psychology David Frederick explains that it is natural to compare yourself to others.
“We all engage in “social comparison,” which means we look around at others to see how our traits compare to the traits of others,” Frederick said. “Some people do this more than others, and this can affect how we feel about ourselves.”
Frederick said that women who are dissatisfied with their bodies tend to engage in these “upward comparisons” more often, which can become a vicious cycle.
Sophomore communication studies major Natalie Benson grew up competing in beauty pageants, which caused wearing makeup to be a part of her daily life.
“My mom was former Miss Washington and competed in Miss America in 1990. She told me to never leave the house without looking like Miss America,” Benson said. “So I have adopted that mindset in my everyday life.”
Benson enjoys doing her hair and makeup because it makes her feel confident; however, she said that there are still some moments that the makeup cannot conceal her insecurities.
“I still feel intimidated by all the beautiful people around me, it can be deteriorating on your confidence to compare yourself to others,” Benson said.
Many other students, like senior theatre studies major Monica Furman, hardly ever go out in public without makeup.
“I wear makeup every single day unless I know I am not seeing people,” Furman said. “If I’m seeing my close friends on a weekend I won’t wear makeup, but if I’m going out into a public space, I will definitely at least put on my eyebrows and mascara.”
And when she does decide to forgo the cover up and mascara one day, Furman said that others generally take notice and comment on it.
“Every time I don’t wear makeup, they’re like ‘Are you okay? Are you tired? What’s wrong?’ I’m like, ‘I’m fine, thank you,’” said Furman.
However, Furman doesn’t only look at makeup as a way to boost her confidence, but also as a form of art. She said that by making herself look better, she tends to feel better.
“I love to paint, and so I love to paint my face. I see it as artistic expression,” Furman said.
Other celebrities such as Alessia Cara, Nicole Richie and even Kim Kardashian have joined the #nomakeup movement. While some say this movement is admirable, others say this movement involves a certain amount of privilege and should be taken with a grain of salt.
“Alicia Keys is standardly beautiful and she has a certain amount of privilege with that. She is the ideal beautiful in this world,” Furman said. “The people who are able to not wear makeup have an advantage to a certain extent.”
Furman also said that Alicia Keys possesses certain features that are societally acceptable and seen as beautiful.
“Even as a woman of color, she still has light skin, and light-skinned women of color are treated better in society,” Furman said. “She has light eyes and freckles and all these features that are socially attractive, whereas women who don’t fit that mold who don’t wear makeup — I’m theorizing — would probably be treated even worse than Alicia Keys.”
Imani Woodley, a junior political science major, believes that if it was a different celebrity spearheading this movement, the reactions to the movement might be different.
“It would be different if it were a bigger black woman. For example, if it was Gabourey Sidibe. She’s treated differently,” Woodley said. “That’s just how those things go. There is definitely privilege within that.”
Despite the scrutiny that Keys may receive, Woodley believes the overall movement sends a strong message to young women.
“I think it has a good message that women should feel beautiful in their skin,” Woodley said. “Women have the choice to choose to. They should do whatever makes them happy.”
“I think her message is empowering, and something I really like about her message is that she is not to say she is abandon makeup,” Benson said. “She’s saying that girls don’t necessarily need to rely on makeup to feel beautiful. She wants them to feel confident with or without makeup.”