Alicia Keys: I Dressed Like a Tomboy to Stave Off Attention, but I’m Done Hiding Who I Am

Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele
Alicia Keys
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

From an early age, Alicia Keys found that a lot of the things about herself that elicited praise and compliments from other people made her feel different, and so she started to downplay those attributes in order to blend in. She opens up about all this in a blog post titled "A Revelation" on her website.

"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," she writes.


She also got a lot of attention from men because of her curvy figure. That's why, she says, she wore braids and baggy jeans and dressed like a "tomboy" early on in her career. 

"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," Keys explains.

"I could tell the difference, I could feel the animal instinct in them, and it scared me," she continues. "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."

It's definitely a tactic that many women can relate to: not wanting to "shine bright" or draw any more attention to yourself than necessary. Except, Keys explains, because she was a public figure, that kind of masquerading caused people to think that she was someone she wasn't, and when she tried to reveal more of her authentic self, it confused people.


"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 and so slowly I hid that side of myself," she says. "I put on dresses and didn't braid my whole head up, so people could see more of the 'real' me, even though at that point I'm sure I was more confused then ever of what the real me was."

She's done with all that hiding. When she gets up in the morning, she's no longer fretting about what she should put on in order to hide her curves, or how she should behave in order to tame the extraordinary parts of who she is. 


Keys writes: "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. […] I don't have to think my silliness, clumsiness, or hallmark card optimism, is something I can't be proud of!'

Hopefully, by sharing her journey, she'll inspire other people to follow suit. 

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Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.

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