When Alicia Keys came on the scene back in 2001, she had the tomboy look down with minimal makeup, cornrows, hats and baggy clothing. And while those elements are not masculine in and of themselves, by Alicia’s own admission they were combined to give her a ‘hard’ vibe.
But now the 34‐year‐old singer is speaking honestly about why she dressed like a tomboy, and it’s not necessarily because she wanted to. It was a way to hide.
In an essay on her website titled A Revelation, Keys spoke about her ongoing struggles with being true to herself;
For as long as I can remember, I’ve hidden myself. It might have started in school when I realized that I caught on to things a little quicker, and teachers started to show slight favor to me, or use me as an example. I remember feeling like my friends would make fun of me or look at me as if I was different from them and so… I started hiding. Not intentionally, I didn’t mean to, but I did. Little pieces at a time.
I definitely started hiding when I got old enough to walk down my NY streets alone. I started to notice a drastic difference in how men would relate to me if I had on jeans, or if I had on a skirt, or if my hair was done pretty. I could tell the difference, I could feel the animal instinct in them and it scared me. I didn’t want to be talked to in that way, looked at in that way, whistled after, followed. And so I started hiding. I chose the baggy jeans and timbs, I chose the ponytail and hat, I chose no makeup, no bright color lipstick or pretty dresses. I chose to hide. Pieces at a time. Less trouble that way.
I remember feeling that same way when I first started to get recognized as an artist. I had the baggy/braided/tough NY tomboy thing mastered, that was who I was (or who I chose to be) and I felt good there. Then, because of the way I spoke or carried myself, people started calling me gay and hard and I wasn’t gay, but I was hard and although I felt comfortable there, it made me uncomfortable that people were judging me…
Alicia, girl, we feeeeel you! Many women learn early on to dress defensively against a male gaze that could, in a second, devolve into real violence. Additionally, our morality is often judged according to how we dress. It’s a direct connection that is not made in the same way for men. I remember back when Alicia Keys first came out she was applauded for being the modest counterpoint to Beyonce who didn’t shake her booty for attention. And yet, at that time, Alicia was obscuring a more sensuous part of herself because she didn’t want to make others uncomfortable. Crazy!
The singer goes on to share that the hiding became a habit;
I became comfortable hiding, my intelligence, my physical appearance, my truths, my thoughts, myself.
To this day, every time I get out of the shower to get dressed, I swear the first thought that comes into my head is, what can I wear that won’t cause too much attention when I go pick up Egy, or head to the store, or go shopping, or visit a friend etc.
Luckily she finally realizes that she is FREE to express herself as she pleases!
And just the other day it hit me! OMG! Alicia!!! Why are you choosing to be that person?? That is so old and outdated!! STOP!!
You are allowed to be smart
You are allowed to be beautiful
You are allowed to be radical and have strong thoughts that others might not agree with
You are allowed to be tough
You are allowed to be sexy
You are allowed to be bold
You are allowed to be shapely
You are allowed to be kind
You are allowed to be yourself!!
And guess what!?? I can be all these things all at the same time. I don’t have to give up one to be the other. I don’t have to hide anymore, I don’t have to pretend and hold back, I don’t have to think that my intelligence, beauty and sensuality are intimidating to others. Who cares??!!! I don’t have to think my silliness, clumsiness, or hallmark card optimism, is something I can’t be proud of! Who cares????!!!!
Yaaas girl! Even though we live in a society that denies the complexity of women (and black women in particular!) it doesn’t mean we have to distill ourselves down.
A few days before writing her personal essay, the actress released a stunning recreation of the iconic 1972 promotional Jamaica poster featuring Sintra Arunte‐Bronte.
It seems like she is ready to live life on her own terms.
Ladies, what are your thoughts?