5 Reasons Alicia Keys #Nomakeup Campaign is Not Resistance

If you love make-up and beauty you have likely been following the conversation Alicia Keys #NoMakeup campaign has started. I believe most of us have formed an immediate opinion based on our own personal relationship with beauty.

My intention today is not to convert the non-believers but to provide an affirming space for those who have used make-up as empowerment and would like to continue doing so. This is for the people who don't feel represented with this campaign and are struggling to find the words why. I hope this may be a space of affirmation and love. 

Many of us started our complicated relationship with beauty at birth. The moment our gender is assigned so are our beauty qualifiers. We are treated differently depending on a list of qualifications such as "good hair" or "pretty complexion". All these terms are loaded with insinuation and rules as to how we may fit into beauty.  The harsh criticism is unleashed on to small children, particularly little Black girls before they can even walk. Scroll through social media or google Blue Ivy vs North West, the ideologies within our own communities and the general media make it almost impossible to forum a healthy self-esteem. 

I appreciate Alicia Keys for her vulnerability in this discussion and believe her article in Lenny Letter raises important points needed in any conversation regarding beauty. Many of us are on our own personal journey to self-love and it is unquestionable that the impact of media is real. She reveals some of her struggles by sharing song lyrics from "When a Girl Can't Be Herself". 

"In the morning from the minute that I wake up  / What if I don't want to put on all that makeup  / Who says I must conceal what I'm made of  / Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem "

Keys then goes on to explain her own personal process and reason this movement is rooted in her survival. 

"Every time I left the house, I would be worried if I didn't put on makeup: What if someone wanted a picture?? What if they POSTED it??? These were the insecure, superficial, but honest thoughts I was thinking. And all of it, one way or another, was based too much on what other people thought of me."

Within her journey of beauty she concluded that it would be best to free her self from the bondage of make-up and connect back to self. 

"I found my way to meditation, and I started 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."

Personally I found her words to be beautiful and telling of the struggle many of us have when trying to fit a subscribed standard of beauty not meant for us. These ideals are often unattainable and create trauma filled realities for those deemed "undesirable".  

My only concern is that while this movement is revolutionary in the eyes of Alicia Keys it lacks critique and awareness for the various bodies and stories of those deemed "undesirable". The #NoMakeup movement is awkwardly designed for those who have the privilege to participate without fear of violent word retaliation. 

As a make-up artist and unapologetic beauty advocate I have experienced many moments of make-up playing either a healing or confining role in a persons life. As a Black femme women who is not deemed as  conventionally beautiful but does access some of the qualifications I expressed earlier like fairly clear skin, I write this not for myself but in hopes to create space for those who feel they are able to move mountains when fully adorned in their armour. It would be naive and irresponsible for me to read Alicia Keys's article and simply assume that her beautifully put words and story are accessible to everyone. Im just not here for pretending, so shall we have some honest dialogue?

 Let me explain in Five points why while her words are beautiful they are not resistance or revolutionary.   

1. "Pretty Privilege" 

illustration by 17-year-old French artist   @benbiayenda

illustration by 17-year-old French artist @benbiayenda

I did not create this term but it describes efficiently what is wrong with this campaign. For a light skin, thin, able bodied, bi-racial looking women to start a campaign deeming her natural beauty as beautiful is almost redundant. We know media actually loves this aesthetic, please refer to all the token black ads that are actually just mixed folks. Much of western desirability is actually in line with looking ambiguous racially. Keys has all the markers of a Black women who would be deemed "naturally pretty" therefore inherently she is given permission to exist in ways many other Black women are not. 

 Recently as I was surfing the inter web I came across an article by Blackgirllonghair.com expressing concern that lil Mamas self-love journey was not as equally well received. I think its interesting mostly because Lil Mama has qualifications for "pretty privilege" like skin and eyes. But she is clearly not ambiguous, as her features are in line with predominately African- American features like bold lips and nose.  

The response on the internet makes it clear that pretty privilege is nuanced and layered but clearly a contributing factor in the response many people have to natural beauty movements. While these movements in the conversation around beauty are necessary it is imperative that we do so in solidarity. With intention of not only creating space for easily digestible beauty but also for those who are not able to access this privilege. Unless we are here for all the women with acne prone skin, dark skin, bold features, fat women, disabled women, non-"passing" trans women, lips too big women, hair too nappy women, discolouration of the skin women, this movement is not actually revolutionary or resisting anything. It is simply idealizing a standard of natural beauty we can't all attain. 


2. Mental Health

Mental health is "a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being." Canadian Mental Health Association  expresses "Mental health means striking a balance in all aspects of your life: social, physical, spiritual, economic and mental".  

Mental health does not happen is isolation. It is incredibly linked to social impacts and it is important we take those who are struggling with mental health into consideration when having a discussion about anything we hope to be relatively revolutionary.  

What are the impacts on a person struggling with anxiety and depression who have developed structured routines using make-up, if they try to join the #nomakeup movement only to get zero likes on a picture, ridiculed or even turned into a meme. This may all sound very superficial but if you understand mental health you know this can become a trigger leading to isolation and panic. Meme culture makes it socially acceptable to violently roast a stranger once their image is on the inter web. If we are encouraging people to share #nomakeup images we must prepare to rally around them with support when societies qualifiers of beauty come knocking and say "you are not naturally beautiful". While we know everyone is beautiful in their own right, we also know mental health is not about rational emotions. The impact this violent message has is not superficial, it is real and can become a chain reaction. 

I personally use make-up as a moment of meditation, calming my social anxiety and preparing me to more authentically socialize with others. The colours and brush strokes allow for me to experience the creative therapy to centre my self, therefore best reflecting my inner self. 

3. Vanity

illustration by 17-year-old French artist  @benbiayenda

illustration by 17-year-old French artist @benbiayenda

 Make-up is not just for vanity but even if it was that would still be a valid reason to wear it. Patriarchy often tries to delegitimize anything associated with femininity as being vain, shallow or overly emotional. This act makes it difficult for feminine people to love them selves which inherently makes it easier to pay us less and devalue our work. 

If you want to spend an hour on your face everyday, please do so. Please adorn your beautiful body. If you desire to be a canvas please paint your self all the colours. You can be both brilliant and beautifully adorned. Your work, emotions and existence is valuable. In the words of Kayla Carter "You deserve to be witnessed" , your make-up does not need to look natural for your contribution to be legitimate. With or without make-up you da baddest. 

The time we share together caring for our bodies is sacred and important to our socialization. deeming feminine acts as vain or superficial delegitimizes the bounds feminine people create as they paint their nails and apply make-up together. Humans need to socialize to be healthy, attaching shame to acts of socialization for many people may also cause isolation which leads back to my point about mental above. Vanity is a legitimate reason to wear make-up.  

4. Spirituality

Face painting, adornment and make-up has been sacred acts for centuries. Spirituality has informed much of what is seen as beautiful aesthetically today. Indian women would use dark kohl to protect against the evil eye (Philosophy, Make-up and Spiritual Beauty). Bodily adornment and make-up has been used in rituals and deemed sacred in ancient Egyptian cultures. While not deemed as only a feminine act make-up has been known to be used as a gate way to access the Devine Feminine Energy. 

Much of the shame attached to make-up is linked to the objectification of women's bodies as sexual. Black women are particularly hyper-sexaulized and seen as deviant when seemingly "trying" to look attractive. These ideals are used to perpetuate misogynoir and the belief that Black women should not have access to beauty, autonomy and invalidates the ways our spirituality is linked to make-up and adornment.  While sacred space also lives in the erotica, we are not here simply for the male, white , sexual gaze.

Many of us connect to our ancestors when applying make-up and could careless about mainstream media and their ideals. Any campaign that centralizes make-up from the perspective of corporate media is bound to forget that we were doing this before the white man showed up. This ain't about them, boo. 

Can we have eye liner, crystals and sage in peace? 

5. "Choose your weapon" 

Illustration by Wendy Heisler

Illustration by Wendy Heisler

Make-up has many purposes and should be honoured for the strength it has carried for centuries. Lena Peters talks about the power of "Building an Army Of Femmes" and its impact to our survival as "freedom dreamers".

While searching for self-love it often becomes a literal battle for those of us bombarded with oppressive messages claiming we are not beautiful. When we are taught our skin, features and hair are defective from the age of 5 within all institutions it takes more then will power to unlearn.   Going to battle sometimes means many things. It can mean painting your face with what some make-up wears call "war paint" or taking selfies with no make-up. All approaches are valid as long as they are rooted in self determination and collective liberation. If our means of fighting oppressive systems does not leave space for those who are marginalized to be represented also, our actions can not be deemed resistant or revolutionary. Self-affirmation is necessary in this battle but also requires self-reflection. Make-up can be empowering for many on a self-love journey, it can also be a beautiful act of socializing, healing and self-love. It is important we do not possession make-up wears or non-wears as the other because while we all choose our weapon, we need each other. 

Any campaign looking to discuss beauty needs to leave space for multiple stories, realities and survival. Truthfully if the movement is not prepared to support those at risk of violence for participating, it is simply a nice thought and gesture. Make-up is survival for many and the #NoMakeup campaign does not count for that. 

For the Symbiotic Beauty launch we wanted to capture the communities stories and experiences of beauty. With our complex Identities and intersections our survival and self love is linked to redefining what beauty it.


I truly appreciate Alicia Keys for sharing her journey and sparking discussion but I feel it is important we take the conversation past not wearing make-up which puts so much pressure on individuals and direct the questions to why these oppressive media outlets believe they can own us. Truthfully not wearing make-up will not solve misogyny. That is the beast we are really up against and like capitalism it is flexible. If this movement caught on not wearing make-up will simply become the new standard and all women not deemed "naturally pretty" or "wearing too much make-up" will be shamed. Wait, the "take her swimming on a first date" internet meme already happened proving society is committed to shaming women who wear make-up anyway.  Wearing make-up or not wearing make-up is not the problem. Lets address the issue its self, misogyny. 

While a Black women having any say regarding beauty is critical, important and revolutionary, framing beauty only within the limited storylines of corporate America is reinforcing their perception and not resisting it. My make-up, my aesthetic and my love are all on purpose. The idea this is not by choice is simply untrue. I'm not saying that we should all wear make-up all the time. I am saying if we are going to discuss it lets be comprehensive and not rooted in privileged ideals. We are all beautiful but we do not share realities within the North American beauty construct. 

What are your thoughts?  Please share your stories!


With love, 

Unapologetically T