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Alicia Keys refusing to wear makeup is a much bigger deal than you think it is

Alicia Keys is continuing to rock her no-makeup look, and I love her for it. After Keys appeared at the MTV Video Music Awards without makeup (or, if she was wearing makeup, there was very, very little of it), she had no shortage of critics in the Twittersphere begging her to put on some concealer and mascara. Still, Keys has refused to stop.

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This morning, Keys appeared fresh-faced on the Today show and even inspired anchors Tamron Hall, Billy Bush and Al Roker to take off their makeup on live television. As Keys helped Hall take off her makeup, Hall told her that she wanted to do it because she loved her, to which Keys responded, “It’s not for me, it’s for you.” And that right there is what makes Keys’ no-makeup stand so empowering.

Keys’ decision not to wear makeup is one she made by herself and for herself. And it’s one she may change. Keys isn’t looking to start a no-makeup movement; she wants to encourage others to do whatever it is that makes them feel beautiful, and if that means wearing makeup, she’s all for it. “I think the most important thing is that you do what feels good for you… Do what makes you feel good, as opposed to trying to please every-damn-body,” Keys said on Today.

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But make no mistake, Keys’ decision to stop wearing makeup — and her willingness to speak about it publicly — is still an important example. By rejecting what has become a standard of beauty, particularly for people in the spotlight or in front of a camera, Keys has exposed its ridiculousness. “We put so many limitations on ourselves. I think we put limitations on each other. Society puts limitations on us. And, in a lot of ways, I’m sick of it,” Keys told Today about her new look. All this raises the question, why do we expect all celebrities to wear makeup? Why do we accept that as the norm? Some will say that celebrities sell a particular image — an image of perfection — and those who buy it (that is, us ordinary people) understand that the image is false. But that’s not always true.

The more saturated we are with media, the more we come to accept celebrity beauty (read: makeup) as the norm. As social media grows more essential to everyday life, so does the pressure on regular people to be “camera ready.” So, if you buy into modern celebrity beauty standards, being “camera ready” means having a full face of makeup. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, media can negatively affect a woman’s body image and ability to love herself. It’s not a huge leap to suggest that part of that is because girls off the street can’t hire a “glam squad” to do their makeup every morning like the Kardashians. Figures like Kim Kardashian can be incredibly empowering for women (personally, I love it), but it’s also true that a full-glam Kardashian represents an unattainable standard of beauty for anyone who can’t afford to hire professionals to help them get ready for a night out.

More: Everyone loves Mila Kunis’ “makeup-free” cover, but guys, she’s not makeup-free

As a celebrity, Keys’ choice to ditch the makeup provides a very important counter-narrative to these unattainable beauty standards. Not everyone can afford makeup or skin care or blowouts, but everyone can afford the face they were given. It’s also true that not everyone wants to wear a full face of makeup, and by publicly deciding not to wear makeup right now, Keys is allowing for that to become a media-endorsed beauty norm.

There’s no reason wearing makeup should be the standard — both in and out of Hollywood — just like there’s no reason not wearing makeup should be the standard. Keys’ refusal to wear makeup while still supporting and celebrating women who do is making that point crystal clear, and we will all be better for it.

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