Alicia Keys’ ‘No Makeup Movement’ and the Difference Between Liberation and Empowerment

by Elizabeth Jaikaran

I am a woman. I am a person of color. I am a Muslim. Growing up in post 9/11 New York City, I quickly learned that my body is a political playground. Dozens of ideological hands pry at my flesh—my aesthetic has become the most policed and the most hotly debated entity of recent history.

  • Is it desirable to wear my hair naturally at work? With long, frizzy waves sashaying over my shoulders and down my back?
  • Or should I apply nearly 300 degrees of heat to flatten it into obedience?
  • Should I wear hijab to be closer to my faith, all while being told that I am oppressed for it?
  • Or do I remain uncovered just to be perceived as a spiritual deviant in puritan religious circles?
  • Should I dress sexily and outwardly enjoy unfettered agency over my body?
  • Or should I be cautionary and “respectable” lest I fall prey to the sexual violence that has so consistently been perpetrated against women, yet hardly brought to justice?

[Read Related: #DoYourOwnThing: What is the Correct Way to Promote Women’s Empowerment and Break Stereotypes?]

The world that I know now is one in which I beg my cousins to consider removing their hijabs for their own safety, while in the same breath urge them not to be too provocative—also for their own safety. Our bodies are not safe. Ideological warfare regarding what we do with our bodies is, by itself, an act of violence. These strains of policing tell women to avoid falling too far on either side of the spectrum. Do not be too conservative. Do not be too free. Do not speak too loudly. Do not be too anything.

In light of the exhaustion that is inherent in this kind of social scheme, one can imagine my frustration—complete with an Exorcist reminiscent eye roll—when I learned about the No Makeup Movement that gained footing after Alicia Keys announced that refraining from wearing makeup made her feel empowered.


My initial disdain was rooted in my recently developed intolerance for divisive moments that are based on women’s physical choices. I, personally, do not wear a great deal of makeup but I do owe a huge debt of gratitude to the makeup deities for the blessed idols of contours, highlights, and cut creases. Nonetheless, out of love for Keys and all that she represents as an artist, I decided to temporarily join the No Makeup Movement that so many women had taken up.

It was just my luck that the weekend I decided to get on board the bare-faced train that I had a 30th birthday party to attend in Williamsburg—the land of vegan brownie toting hipsters and some of the most impeccably beat faces in the five boroughs. It doesn’t quite emulate going au naturale to the VMAs, as Keys did, but I’d like to think that the concept of public exposition is the same.

The night went well. My acne scars, short lashes, and perennially dry skin made for a far cry from the ethereal glow that is Keys in her natural state. I’m sure my friends found me to look a bit different without my winged eyeliner, but otherwise I felt no different. Sure, it was liberating—much like one feels after sneaking out of the office early or changing into pajamas after a long day. But I, in no way, felt more empowered than the women around me with their filled eyebrows, vibrant eyelids, and rouged cheeks.

alicia keys [ #NoMakeupMovement for one weekend.| Photo Credit: Elizabeth Jaikaran]

The thing is, one can be liberated without being empowered. If in need of a refresher, the dark history of this country can easily teach you the difference between liberation and empowerment. One can be free and still remain static in their social mobility. One can free themselves of the process of beautification and still be just as empowered as the women who find joy in the application of beauty products. The choices we make with our bodies are not sound metrics for ranking our social awareness and consequent freedom.

In her essay for Lenny Letter explaining her choice to ditch makeup, Keys explained that the entertainment industry, coupled with long prevailing pursuits by women to obtain perfection, led her to be sick and tired of changing herself for the consumption of others. She even went as far as categorizing her made-up self as a mask that hides her true self. To show her artistic expression of these frustrations, Keys cited a lyric from her song “When a Girl Can’t Be Herself”, where she sings, “Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem.” She ended her essay by proclaiming that she hoped to God that the No Makeup Movement would result in a revolution.

[Read Related: Superwoman aka Lilly Singh Encourages Female Empowerment Through #GirlLove]

Yet I ended my no makeup weekend hoping to God that it would not, for it would be such a pity for women to believe that something as superficial as our skin and our choice with it somehow define or measure how empowered we are.

After going natural for a weekend, I decided that Keys has misidentified where her empowerment resides. It does not reside in the end result of being bare faced and natural but, rather, in successfully exercising the very choice to exist how one pleases. Being free to make your own choices regarding your body is empowerment that can manifest in both natural skin and three layers of makeup, complete with setting spray.

I am especially hesitant to equate the departure from the pursuit of beautification with the attainment of empowerment because such a subscription presupposes that the only reason women beautify is for adherence to societal norms and/or the benefit of the male gaze. This oversimplification reduces womanhood to one of a monolithic perspective that is subservient, even subconsciously, to patriarchal behavioral codes.

While it is well recognized that much of the origins of female beauty standards are closely tied to the expectations of cis heterosexual men and their corresponding desires in women, makeup is much more expansive in its scope and positive effects. Indeed, makeup can actually be a great source of self-esteem despite Keys’ belief that it depletes and stifles self-love. The misguided assertion that high self-esteem/genuine beauty can only be achieved by displaying one’s natural state is one that is closely related to the current tradition of unrelenting male criticism of cosmetics—criticism that deplores makeup for being “deceptive” and the women who wear it as being “fake”. You know. Those overdone, tired memes where men criticize ‘before and after’ makeup photos with, “This is why you take her swimming on the first date,” and “This is why I have trust issues.”

Somewhere along the line, this consistent criticism has found companionship with corresponding makeup shaming culture among women, whereby there has been an influx of pseudo-elitist no-makeup advocates who espouse that natural beauty is also superior beauty. It has created a growing tribe of women who walk around with an undeserved and snide sense of pride as they brag, “Oh no, I don’t wear makeup,” in much the same way that CrossFitters brag about their program progress. As though the women around them are too weak to free themselves of the patriarchal agenda.

The way the No Makeup Movement has celebrated the absence of cosmetics as an avenue of empowerment grants legitimacy to the very ideals that unnecessarily divide and paradoxically snatch away women’s ability to choose their own paths as the custodians of their own bodies. Keys found empowerment in choosing to remain makeup-free in an industry that is unforgiving and centered on perfection. But this does not mean that being bare faced is the equivalent to empowerment for all women. Yet this is how the movement has been perceived and continues to be promoted.

[Read Related:  Beauty Blogger Jasmin Rahman Proves Beauty is a Form of Empowerment]

Women find empowerment in different things, and it is not our place to dictate what constitutes an empowered woman. Going without makeup for a single weekend may have liberated me from the 30-45 minutes it takes me to serve face. But going without makeup did not, in any way, make me more enlightened or somehow more of a feminist pioneer vis-à-vis my made-up sisters.

Empowerment is when we can recognize that both made up and natural women are empowered; that our flesh is too shallow to measure the depth of our existence. Sure, beauty is not our burden to bear or labor to achieve. But beautifying does not equate to inferiority or the absence of mental liberation either. Exercising our own personal choices is empowerment. In that moment when our choice is actualized, we are free.

Elizabeth JaikaranElizabeth Jaikaran is a freelance writer based in New York. She graduated from The City College of New York with her B.A. in 2012, and from New York University School of Law in 2016. She is interested in theories of gender politics and enjoys exploring the intersection of international law and social consciousness. When she’s not writing, she enjoys celebrating small joys with her friends and binge watching juicy serial dramas with her husband. Her first book, “Trauma,” will be published by Shanti Arts in 2017.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

South Asian Creators Claim Their Space at the Cannes Film Festival

Ever since we can recall, the Cannes Film Festival has been a merger of movies and glamour. On one side, there are hand-picked films — ready to premiere and make their mark in the world of entertainment — and on the other, audiences and paparazzi alike are served epic moments in fashion.

The festival, aimed to preview upcoming films from all over the world, invites a wide variety of guests that span the film fraternity, of course, but more recently, has opened its doors to many digital content creators, including renowned South Asian creatives.

With a more vast guest list comes a more recent debate: Cannes is a film festival and not a fashion showcase. Kickstarting the debate this year was none other than ace Bollywood director, Nandita Das, who in an Instagram post shared:

Sometimes people seem to forget that it is a festival of films and not of clothes!

In short, Das wants Cannes’ narrative to continue to focus on films.

[Read Related: Cannes Film Festival 2022: Red Carpet Representation at its Finest]

But of course, there’s been a paradigm shift in the guest list over the last few years; this shift has allowed talents from various industries — including lifestyle content creators, entrepreneurs, etc., who showcase their work in fashion and beauty like fine masterstrokes — to walk the carpet and represent their craft, making space for others in their industry.

Influential names like Dolly Singh, Kaushal, Diipa Buller-Khosla, and Shivani Bafna — all of whom made a raging impact on the red carpet this year — weigh in on the significance of representing South Asian artists/influencers on the red carpet, and how they feel they’ve been part of this paradigm shift at Cannes Film Festival.

Diipa Buller-Khosla

I believe that each step we take at events like Cannes sends a powerful message of diversity, cultural richness, and artistic excellence. Representation matters, and the presence of South Asian creators on the red carpet at Cannes helps broaden the narrative of beauty, talent, and creativity. It allows us to showcase our unique perspectives, narratives, and contributions, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive industry. By actively participating and making our presence felt, we help create more opportunities and spaces for South Asian creators, encouraging others to share their stories with the world.


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A post shared by Diipa Bu?ller-Khosla (@diipakhosla)


Since 2015, the first time I walked the red carpet, till this year I have always been invited by L’Oreal Paris, one of the main sponsors of the event. It has always been such an honor to be invited to the festival through the makeup brand that I have been using for almost two decades, and, before my social media career began. Personally, I feel a sense of acknowledgment from such a prestigious brand, and its head office teams that sponsor Cannes Film Festival, and value the work I have done and continue to do as a South Asian content creator within the beauty space. Makeup, hair, and beauty will always play a big role within the film industry and it’s something I have always created my content around which is why I am proud to attend.


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A post shared by Kaushal ? (@kaushal)

Dolly Singh

This is a proud moment not just for me but also [for] my peers and the entire content creator ecosystem given that we have reached such new global stages and presence. Of course, as you said, such film festivals, once considered as an exclusive hub for a congregation of the finest acting talents have, in the last few years, opened their arms to more people from the entertainment industry.

This is not just a sudden phenomenon with a burst of Indian creators at the festival this year but there is increased participation from non-film and non-South Asian celebrities across various spectrums from different sides of the world. Along with the many filmmakers, actors, producers, etc I also met some amazing influencers and entrepreneurs from other sides of the world. It’s amazing to represent India and celebrate and champion the advent of the digital ecosphere on such a prominent platform.

The confluence of actors and creators signified the amalgamation of traditional cinema and new-age digital influence, highlighting the transformative power of creative expression and how festivals like Cannes have become more forthcoming and progressive in their approach.

Cannes, like any other prominent festival, boasts of a red carpet that is synonymous with fashion and glitz, and I wanted to use this opportunity to represent all the amazing Indian fashion designers on the carpet besides, of course, attending the screenings. As someone who is just not an influencer but also an actress, I thoroughly enjoyed all the red-carpet screenings and meeting like-minded film talent from around the world at the event. At some point in the future, I would like to be attending Cannes for a film I’ve featured in.


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A post shared by Dolly Singh (@dollysingh)

Shivani Bafna

Creators are often placed into boxes of where they belong and the rooms they can be a part of. Being on the red carpet dismantles the ideology that there’s a cap on how far we, as creators and as a South Asian community, can go and what we can achieve.

The Cannes Film Festival has always been viewed as the epitome of a glamorous event — everyone who attends looks like they’re living their best lives. I used the platform to share an authentic message of what the experience felt like for me. To represent all of us who doubt our potential, experience imposter syndrome, and are nervous to find their place, yet continue to push through to achieve their dreams!

As the first Indian American influencer to walk at Cannes, I hope I can inspire young women to confidently ask, ‘Why not me?’


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A post shared by Shivani Bafna (@shivani_bafna)

There’s no doubt that the Cannes Film Festival is centered around films, and continues to be a unique space for the global film fraternity to bring their art and showcase their aptitude. But, creators like Bafna, Singh, Buller-Khosla, and Kaushal — a special shoutout to Raja Kumari for being instrumental in paving the way as well — have their own set of responsibilities to fulfill upon their invitation to the prestigious event. Their will to represent their South Asian identities, celebrate their industries, and continue to hold space for their peers makes their presence at Cannes more than just clothes.

All images in the featured photo are from the influencers’ Instagram feeds.

By Sandeep Panesar

Sandeep Panesar is an editor, and freelance writer, based out of Toronto. She enjoys everything from the holiday season to … Read more ›

17 Ayurvedic Beauty Brands on our Radar Right Now

Holistic beauty trends are more prevalent than ever — that makes ayurvedic beauty brands incredibly sought-after, as well. Do you find yourself asking what your beauty products are actually made of? A lot of us even resort to food products for a skincare routine such as honey for face wash.

The term “Ayurvedic Beauty” is getting more recognition outside the South Asian world as well.

Ayurvedic beauty is coined upon the term “Ayurveda,” which originated in Hindu culture as the basis of utilizing the five life forms — air, water, ether, fire, and earth — to heal the human body.

[Read Related: The Budget-Friendly Beauty Guide you Need This Spring Season]

Ayurvedic beauty brands focus on using herbs and natural ingredients to create their skincare range and consumers around the world are attracted to these natural products.

Scroll down to see some Ayurvedic beauty brands founded by South Asians.

Soma Ayurvedic

Is your skin feeling a little dry this winter? Nourishing your skin with body oil will lend it the right amount of moisture — Soma Ayurvedic’s jasmine body oil can do that trick! Shop the oil, and their full line of products, here.


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A post shared by SOMA AYURVEDIC™ (@somaayurvedic)

Sama Tea

If you’re familiar with author and podcast Host, Jay Shetty, then you may have heard of his tea line, Sama Tea. Herbal teas provide many natural benefits. Has it been a stressful week? Try their lavender rose chamomile tea for some TLC. Check them out here.


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Sahajan Skincare

Know the Netflix show “Ginny & Georgia?” Loved the actress’ fresh-looking skin? Sahajan Skincare is behind that glow! They’re a must-try, featured in both Vogue and Elle India. See their full range of products here.


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Shaz and Kiks

This unique company showcases its brand with an emphasis on ‘holistic.’ Whether it’s bad hair days or excessive shedding, not only do Shaz and Kiks provide the products to help but also break down the science behind the problem. Go on your very own shopping spree by clicking here!


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Looking for accessible ayurvedic beauty products? Look no further! Ranavat is now in Sephora. With a beauty line that covers both hair and skin, there’s something here for everyone. See for yourself here.


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UMM Skincare

UMM Skincare is known for its brown sugar body scrub, made with natural ingredients, and Bakuchi oil known to improve signs of aging and hyperpigmentation. Try it for yourself by shopping here!


Give your skin the best by adding ZAILA to your daily skincare routine! Click here and start shopping!


This brand is all plant-powered, and we’re here for it — you should be too! Check out their full range of products here.

Inde Wild

Are you looking for brown skin-friendly sunscreen filled with nutrients? Look no further. Inde Wild has its very own SPF 50, with natural substances such as liquorice extract and cica, and it’s a mineral SPF suitable for all skin types. See what the brand is all about and shop it here.


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Mango People

I’m always in the market for brown girl-friendly lipsticks, and ones that are made of natural ingredients are a huge plus. Mango People does just this with their unique lipstick colors that suit all brown skin tones. Try them out here!

Kama Ayurveda

Need to swap out your shampoo for something better? Try Kama Ayurveda’s Ayurvedic Hair cleaner, infused with a variety of herbs and pulses with key ingredients like vetiver, tulsi, rose, moong beans, and shikakai. They have a variety of products to choose from so start with your hair and keep shopping for more here!


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A post shared by Kama Ayurveda (@kamaayurveda)

Forest Essentials

According to Forest Essentials, night time is the best time for hydration. Check out their night cream, filled with nutrients to enrich your skin. You can shop their wide variety of products here.


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Koppen Ayurveda

A brand made for modern living, their essentials are all worth a shot! Start shopping here!


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Looking for a new face mask to try? AAVRANI has a variety of face masks and explains in detail when you should apply the mask during the week depending on your skin type. Take a look here!


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Plant-based skincare, anyone? Delhicious has got everyone covered, so click here and fill your baskets!


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Pratima Skincare

Just getting into skincare and don’t know where to start? PRATIMA skincare has starter sets, with basics, that every woman can use such as vitamin C serum, essential oils, and collagen creams. Grab yours now by shopping here!


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A post shared by PRATIMA Skincare (@pratimaskincare)

Fable & Mane

Struggling with hair care recently? Fable & Mane includes various hair oils in their collection that help grow and nourish your hair. Not only that, they have a scalp detox line as well — definitely worth checking out. See their full range of products here.


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A post shared by Fable & Mane (@fableandmane)

[Read Related: 10 Clean Beauty Products That’ll Have you Winning on Earth Day]

In a world that’s becoming more conscious of holistic living, embracing Ayurvedic beauty in your day-to-day is a step in the right direction, and these brands are here to help you get started.

By Hrishika Muthukrishnan

Raised in North Carolina, Hrishika Muthukrishnan spent 18 years thinking there wasn’t much to the suburbs before she discovered how … Read more ›

Ankush Bahuguna: “My Favorite Makeup Hack is to Underpaint”

If I DM my friends a bunch of videos on any given day, one of them is almost always an Ankush Bahuguna reel. When I first stumbled upon his content, I saw him as an actor and a comedian, lifting our mood up during the lockdown one video at a time. However, his day-to-day content is more than just that — Bahuguna is changing the landscape of the beauty industry by making (and holding) space for men who aspire to be makeup artists and who have a passion for all things beauty.

[Read Related: The Art of Cleaning Your Makeup Brushes]


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A post shared by Ankush Bahuguna (@ankushbahuguna)

Content creator, makeup enthusiast, actor: Which title do you resonate with the most? And, why?

A creator is the word I’d resonate with the most — that’s what got me here — creating comedy, creating beauty content. Even as an actor, I’m very collaborative. I tend to weave nuances around a character and make it my own. I believe, no matter what you do, your work should be unique to you and that can only happen when you build it up yourself.

How did “Wing it with Ankush” come about?

Till three years ago, I used to work for a media house that had a whole team of stylists and MUAs working on every shoot. So when the world went into lockdown, I realized I would have to don all those hats myself. I used to [regularly] shoot videos with my mother and she didn’t know anything about makeup either. So I had to try my hand at it — I would do her makeup and we’d shoot videos together. Soon I realized how much I enjoyed learning a new skill from scratch. I used to paint as a kid, so makeup just somehow made sense. It felt like even though I had a whole lot to learn, it came naturally to me. I decided I would journal these experiments [on] a ‘secret’ page called Wing it With Ankush so that I can look back at it five years from now and see what I was up to [during] lockdown. I didn’t tell anyone about it. But people eventually discovered it and there was no looking back!

One word for gender stereotypes?

One word: Ingrained. It’s so deeply ingrained in us that we find it hard to just accept people the way they are.


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A post shared by Ankush Bahuguna (@ankushbahuguna)

How is (or isn’t) India evolving in terms of stereotypes?

We are definitely evolving. It’s a slow process but there’s hope. There’s a long way to go and for starters, I wish people could give non-cis people as much respect, appreciation, and credit, as they give to cis people like me, especially in the beauty space.

Must-have makeup products for men?

Makeup ‘must-haves’ are very subjective across all genders. Some people can’t do without a full face of makeup, while others could care less. I feel nothing is a must-have. [D]on’t wear makeup because you feel you need to, wear it only if it makes you feel good. My must-haves would be a color corrector, concealer, and powder.

Favorite makeup hack ever:

My favorite makeup hack is to underpaint. Apply bronzer and blush before your foundation. It’s so much more natural looking.

Let’s talk about your career in entertainment. What does comedy mean to you?

Comedy is a defense mechanism for me. It’s also self-expression, to be honest. That’s how I go about my day — finding humor in mundane things. Comedy is how I see life.

Beauty Influencer Of The Year Male (Popular Choice) — Ankush Bahuguna! Congratulations! You left your audience with these words in your Instagram post: “There’s always been too much self-doubt and too little self-worth.” How does one overcome that feeling of self-doubt?

As someone who has grown up constantly feeling inadequate, it’s difficult for me to not give in to self-doubt, literally every day. But I guess the idea is to be as kind and forgiving to yourself as you are to others. If you’ve come this far, you must’ve done something right. Right?


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A post shared by Ankush Bahuguna (@ankushbahuguna)

Absolutely right!

We can’t deny that Ankush Bahuguna is going out of his way to put a smile on our faces with his day-to-day content — reels, photos, Insta stories, and more! All while paving a new path for himself and, like we mentioned before, holding space for those who aspire to be them one day. Ankush continues to push the envelope one makeup tutorial at a time, showing the modern world that it’s time to take men in makeup seriously because they’re here to stay!

The featured image is courtesy of Dream N Hustle Media.

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By Shezda Afrin

Shezda Afrin is an aspiring physician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the age of four, it was quite normal of her … Read more ›