I grew up in Ohio, and their summers are some of the hottest and stickiest days you can come by. The humidity is overbearing and it can feel like you’re walking through a hot-air shower you never asked for. The heat lingers through the night as if even the moon were emitting heat.
As a young adult, I came to know those oppressive summers well. For many years, in the thick of sun-drenched days, there I was, always dressed in jeans and a long-sleeve shirt.
As a young girl suffering from chronic eczema, summers were the ultimate source of anxiety because I was faced with the reality of exposing my skin.
Having scratched my legs endlessly during bouts of flare-ups, I was left scarred and depigmented. The steroid cremes I used left my chocolate skin lighter than the rest of my body.
And people definitely noticed.
I remember one girl pointing out my “ugly-spotted legs” in an argument and people rudely stared at them when I wore a dress or shorts. And if someone hadn’t noticed, I was thinking about it. And so, I suffered through the heat, opting to cover up the skin I was ashamed of. It was absolute misery.
My awakening came when my best friend took me to a Macy’s and we stumbled upon Dermablend, a body coverage makeup brand. I remember my 15-year-old self being thrilled at the prospect that there is makeup for legs.
I first purchased a batch of their makeup in the color “Deep” almost 11 years ago, and I’ve never looked back. Suddenly, I was a girl running through the park uninhibited. I was a girl wearing a knee-length skirt and heels without feeling embarrassed. I was a girl who didn’t have to think about the scars on my legs.
I was afforded an opportunity to be carefree; It was a freedom I had never known.
You see, makeup is not always about vanity or glam, sometimes it’s about emotional survival, and sometimes it’s just about your God-given right to exist how you please.
So when Alicia Keys’ no makeup manifesto hit the internet, my knee-jerk reaction was filled with the spirit of Flavia Dzodan, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!”
I found Alicia’s public unveiling painfully anticlimatic.
Here she was, showing me the “finished” product of her journey – free from cystic pimples and acne scars (she was a Proactiv ambassador, after all) and lightly freckled without the wear and tear of bags under her eyes or the weight of dark circles.
And I was supposed to feel a goddamn revolution rising in my bones from her new appearance, so carefree in its privilege of being pampered, wealthy and the default mass media representation of ultimate beauty as a light-skinned woman? Uh uh.
So I had to ask: Where was my representation in this “imperfect” perfection? How was I — with the memories of those Ohio days still fresh in my mind — supposed to identify with her “uncovering,” when she is basically a girl-next-door version of an Instagram model?
Now, I’m not here to knock her progression, nor her struggle. If Alicia is in a place where she feels the freedom to have a fresh face, kudos to her. All of our journeys to self-love are paved so differently, and I can never shame another woman for her ‘aha’ moment.
But I want to extinguish the conversation that says makeup is rooted in superficiality. Just like any other outward expression (that includes hair, nails, clothes, piercings, tattoos), makeup can be another vessel to feel more connected to yourself, and therefore feel more free.
We’ve seen the gamut of social media stars who have made waves by demonstrating the transformative power of makeup. One in particular, Shalom Blac, went viral when people got ahold of her Insta-videos that showed how she used makeup on her burned skin. Sassy J, is another Insta-star who gained followers by daring to love herself even when people criticized her dramatic before and after photos.
While Alicia didn’t specifically shame people who wear makeup, by only speaking of makeup through the lens of vanity, she left out the possibility that makeup and empowerment can go hand in hand. That choice ultimately alienates a portion of the population she was trying to reach.
It’s not always about covering up, sometimes it’s about unveiling. And how I choose to unveil that part of myself is ultimately up to me.
In my particular case, it meant running around in the summer with my legs, as naked and bare as the day I was born, with a light layer of makeup aiding in my journey.
And if that ain’t freedom, I don’t know what is.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty