Backlash against #nomakeup

Alicia Keys kicked off Makeupgate 2016 when she wrote about the make-up she had to put on to armour herself.
Alicia Keys kicked off Makeupgate 2016 when she wrote about the make-up she had to put on to armour herself.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • The #nomakeup movement has been roiling social media for months. It started in May, when pop star Alicia Keys wrote an essay about the insecurities she felt being a woman in the public eye, and the roles (and make-up) she had put on to armour herself.

But "Makeupgate 2016", as The New York Post and others called it, has grown only weirder and louder, as Twitter was at first ignited with Keys supporters, and then flooded with a backlash against her. And then with the backlash to the backlash.

Keys' (mostly female) detractors howled at her disingenuousness (surely she had spent thousands on skin care?) and her deceit (surely she was wearing tinted moisturiser?); some slammed her for not looking pretty enough. Late last month, rapper Swizz Beatz, Keys' husband, took to Instagram with a video defending his wife. "This is deep," he said, clearly incredulous. "Somebody's sitting home mad because somebody didn't wear make-up on their face?"

Do not be surprised that this is news, said second-wave feminist activist Letty Cottin Pogrebin. "It's all so familiar," she said. "Alicia Keys could be taking a page from the no-make-up orthodoxy of the women's movement 40 years ago. I'd never heard of her before this brouhaha, but now I'll follow her anywhere.

"She's challenging the culture's relentless standards of feminine conformity and the beauty industry's incessant product hype."

Ms Linda Wells, founding editor of Allure magazine, recalled The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf's 1991 book which argued that contemporary ideals of beauty, proposed in large part by a male-dominated cosmetics industry, were enslaving women.

She said: "I get the argument, but I don't agree with it. To me, we're not all passive victims. Make your choice, like Alicia Keys."

Furthermore, she said, Keys' gesture is coming at a moment when the Internet is flooded with YouTube videos on how to best present yourself... on the Internet.

"It's tutorials about contouring and highlighting, except now it's called strobing, and there's something else called baking," she said. "It's this sort of extreme grooming geared for the selfie culture, and then someone like Keys comes out and says, 'I'm not going to do it,' and people are losing their minds."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2016, with the headline 'Backlash against #nomakeup'. Subscribe