This is Alicia Keys. You know, the singer whose voice sounds like liquid gold being poured into your ears by angels? Last night, she stopped by the VMAs to sing a cappella and read a poem inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. about love and equality. But her performance wasn’t what many people were focused on — it was the fact that she chose to walk the red carpet and appear on stage sans makeup.
Immediately, headlines started popping up applauding the singer for eschewing the traditional awards-show makeup formula of smoky eyes and contoured cheekbones. Twitter lit up with praise. Piers Morgan, the social media version of your drunk, sexist uncle, claimed that Keys was “100 times more ’empowering'” than Kim Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski’s nude selfies. (Because it’s impossible to measure inspiration without slut-shaming in Piers’ world.) No matter which social feed we checked, Keys and her bare face were dominating.
This isn’t new, though. Publications (including, admittedly, Refinery29) make a big deal of female celebrities who show up in public without makeup on. Some even dub these women as “brave” or “inspiring.” And yes, it is pretty cool to see a star with as much power as Keys define beauty on her own terms. Girls who choose not to wear makeup may need someone like Keys to feel secure in their choices, and there’s no arguing that representation is especially important in beauty.
But what I take issue with is how quick we are to make a news story out of it. Alicia Keys doesn’t have to wear makeup. Nobody does, in fact. You don’t have to wear makeup to CVS, or to brunch with your friends, or to your cousin’s wedding next weekend. To me, choosing not to wear makeup is like choosing not to wear a bra. Will people notice? Probably. But is it a big deal? No — and it’s definitely not headline-worthy (just ask Kendall Jenner).
There’s a problem with pointing out all of these instances of bare-faced celebrities. The more we single them out, the more they seem like rarities, and when we call them “brave,” we imply that forgoing cosmetics is somehow a “dangerous” act. Not only that, but no tabloid ever calls the actress making a coffee run with her hair in a messy knot and a zit on her chin brave. Instead, she’s labeled “completely unrecognizable” or “exhausted.”
My hope is that we can eventually get to a point where paparazzi shots of makeup-free stars don’t fetch boatloads of money. No woman’s worth is wrapped up in the cosmetics that she puts on her face, and Keys’ naked skin isn’t any more inspiring than Amber Rose’s red lips. The minute we stop praising and shaming women for their makeup choices is the minute we can actually talk about beauty for what it truly is: whatever the hell you want it to be.