The process that led Keys to alter her public image came after years of fame and feeling insecure, as she wrote in Lena Dunham's "Lenny Letter":
I was finally uncovering just how much I censored myself, and it scared me. Who was I anyway? Did I even know HOW to be brutally honest anymore? Who I wanted to be?
I didn't know the answers exactly, but I desperately wanted to.
In one song I wrote, called "When a Girl Can't Be Herself," it says,
In the morning from the minute that I wake up / What if I don't want to put on all that makeup / Who says I must conceal what I'm made of / Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem
No disrespect to Maybelline, the word just worked after the maybe. But the truth is ... I was really starting to feel like that - that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see.
This started manifesting on many levels, and it was not healthy.
Every time I left the house, I would be worried if I didn't put on makeup: What if someone wanted
a picture?? What if they POSTED it??? These were the insecure, superficial, but honest thoughts I was thinking. And all of it, one way or another, was based too much on what other people thought of me.
I found my way to meditation, and I started focusing on clarity and a deeper knowing of myself. I focused on cultivating strength and conviction and put a practice in place to learn more about the real me.
But the moment that led to her no-makeup revelation came when she arrived at a photo shoot for her new single, "In Common." She had just come from the gym and her face was "totally raw," Keys wrote. "As far as I was concerned, this was my quick run-to-the-shoot-so-I-can-get-ready look, not the actual photo-shoot look."
The photographer told her "I have to shoot you right now, like this! The music is raw and real, and these photos have to be too!" Keys wrote.
At first unsure, the singer eventually relented. "I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt," she wrote about the experience and resulting images.