In 2016, 15-time Grammy award-winning singer Alicia Keys gave up wearing makeup.
“I realized I became addicted to it; I didn’t feel comfortable without it,” Keys said. After years of adorning a full face of makeup almost every day, she felt that the pressure to constantly look perfect took a toll on her self-esteem: “I was really starting to feel like that—that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see.”
Although Keys still wears makeup on occasion, she has decided to solely wear it when it empowers her — not when she feels pressured to do so. It’s a courageous stand to take in a society where tabloids are quick to criticize celebrities who don’t adhere to unrealistic beauty standards or cover up every so-called flaw. These outrageous standards have deeply affected the physical and mental well-being of not only celebrities but also many young women. Feeling pressured to wear makeup is only one facet of the many difficulties women face regarding their self-image in the age of social media and filters.
“We put so many limitations on ourselves. We put limitations on each other. Society puts limitations on us. And in a lot of ways, I’m sick of it. I’m over it, to be honest,” Keys said. In another interview, she clarified: “I love makeup! I love my lip gloss, I love my blush, I love my eyeliner. It’s not about that. At the same time, I don’t want to feel beholden to have to do it.”
Many young women can relate to Keys’ struggle. I outright refused to put makeup on for many years because I could only see it as a way of covering up my imperfections — of rejecting who I really was — rather than a way of expressing myself. When I finally did wear it, it was stressful. I didn’t wear it because I wanted to. I wore it because I needed to “look pretty.” I felt like I wasn’t enough without makeup or a Snapchat filter.
Many of my peers have echoed these sentiments, battling a similar struggle with their self-image. Where did this need to cover up these perceived flaws come from? All physical features are equally beautiful — who decided that certain features, like flawless skin, are essential to society’s beauty standards rather than others?
With this in mind, I’ve recently begun reclaiming my own use of makeup. When I first started to wear it, it was out of the belief that I wasn’t enough without it. Now, on the occasion that I do wear it, it is because I’d like to highlight my own natural beauty. I used to utilize it to be someone I wasn’t, contouring my looks to exactly fit American beauty standards. Now, I style it in a way that I prefer, even if that way isn’t earning me a place on “America’s Next Top Model.” For me, makeup has become a method of self-care — an art form and a chance to express myself, rather than a chore to make myself presentable for the day.
Although makeup and other beauty products can be empowering, it’s important to note that within both the professional world and the realm of social media, there is an unhealthy expectation for women to consistently look their best.
According to the late Stanford law professor and author Deborah Rhode, “The more serious injustices arise when women lose jobs and self-esteem based on a failure to conform to our culture’s airbrushed ideals of female attractiveness.”
She further cited Jesperson v. Harrah’s Casino, a court case regarding a female bartender who was fired because she did not wear makeup or style her hair per the casino’s requirements, despite her performance evaluations being “excellent without cosmetic assistance.” Her male counterparts were not subject to such strict regulations with respect to their appearance.
Rhode asserted that “the world would be a better place if women were judged more on competence and less on appearance.”
Wearing makeup and living up to impossible beauty standards exactly as shown in the media should not be an absolute necessity for women. It is incredibly disturbing that appearance affects perceptions of a woman’s competence. We are beautiful and strong and intelligent just the way we are, without needing to spend excessive amounts of time and money to reach an arbitrary and ever-changing standard of beauty.
Beauty standards can be absurd and do fluctuate frequently. As a society, we should be well past the concept of glamorizing a select few features mainly for arbitrary reasons. You don’t need to change a thing about yourself to be beautiful — just by being yourself, you are, on the inside and out. You’re gorgeous with or without makeup and filters. You are beautiful as you are. You are enough.
Caitlin Brannigan is a sophomore from New Jersey studying psychology and English. She will forever defend her favorite young adult novels and is overjoyed to have a platform to rant. She can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CaitlinBrannig on Twitter.