Yesha Callahan

‘It Scared Me’ – Alicia Keys Says She Downplayed Her Femininity At A Young Age To Avoid Harassment From Men


For most women, being treated like a piece of meat just by walking down the street everyday is not something we find enjoyable and R&B songstress Alicia Keys is just like us.

While there are some women who take pride in attracting any and all types of male attention regardless of how degrading or vulgar the delivery, a large majority of us do what we can to avoid being “cat-called” or excessively harassed in public by members of the opposite sex. Wearing headphones, purposely scowling and picking up our walking pace are a few of the things women have been known to do keep comments from guys at bay, but Alicia says she went to even more extremes in and attempt to ensure that she was left alone.


Opening up about her struggles with wanting to dumb down her beauty and intelligence as a young woman in an essay on her personal blog, Alicia had this to say:

For as long as I can remember, I’ve hidden myself. 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. Not intentionally, I didn’t mean to, but I did. Little pieces at a time.

I definitely started hiding when I got old enough to walk down my NY streets alone. 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. I could tell the difference, I could feel the animal instinct in them and it scared me. 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.

She also revealed that she carried her “tomboy” identity with her as she became a budding young superstar and even speaks on trying to feminize her image more after people began to think she was gay.

I remember feeling that same way when I first started to get recognized as an artist. 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. 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.

I became comfortable hiding, my intelligence, my physical appearance, my truths, my thoughts, myself.


Now a wife and mother of two, Alicia says she’s finally come into her own as a woman and is comfortable being exactly who she is without apology.

To this day, every time I get out of the shower to get dressed, I swear the first thought that comes into my head is, what can I wear that won’t cause too much attention when I go pick up Egy, or head to the store, or go shopping, or visit a friend etc.

And just the other day it hit me! OMG! Alicia!!! Why are you choosing to be that person?? That is so old and outdated!! STOP!!

You are allowed to be smart
You are allowed to be beautiful
You are allowed to be radical and have strong thoughts that others might not agree with
You are allowed to be tough
You are allowed to be sexy
You are allowed to be bold
You are allowed to be shapely
You are allowed to be kind
You are allowed to be yourself!!

Alicia’s essay comes on the heels of her upcoming new single “28 Thousand Days.” You can check out her blog post in full HERE.

  1. August 11, 2015 - Reply

    nowhere in that post does she speak about feminism. let’s not confuse feminism w/femininity. not all women are feminists just b/c they are confident or self aware.

  2. August 11, 2015 - Reply

    i understand what she went through. the comfort of being hidden b/c no attention at all is so much better than an ounce of unwanted attention. it’s sad that we have the power to make someone shrivel so much, but that’s part of growing. it’s good that she articulated this part of her growing up b/c it shows young girls that feeling uncomfortable is not weird & it validates that some attention should not be sought after. the only missing piece of the puzzle is how to teach young boys to recognize nonverbal cues. like when a girl all of a sudden starts going out of her way to walk on the other side of the street from you, it’s not b/c she’s a [fill in the blank], it’s b/c what you’re doing is disturbing. i’m glad she’s shedding her facades now.

  3. August 11, 2015 - Reply

    Alicia Keys certainly told a great story about how cruel society is and how important it is to respect women’s autonomy (and to respect any women the right to express herself without harassment and without injustice). Some evil folks want females to be controlled when females ought to be free to express her own independent thinking and her own creative expression. It’s great for Alicia Keys to tell her story and the human voice is powerful and important. Her words can help other women going through the same issues and it can inspire real change in society. People have to respect people’s spaces. She is living her life on her own terms.

  4. August 15, 2015 - Reply

    We need this awareness of some of the burdens facing young black women growing up. The fear of judgement from peers if you are too smart. And the ever present threat of misogyny faced in the street from strange men whose only goal in life is to terrorize young girls and women in the streets. A lot of people underestimate the struggles that young, good looking women face in our families and community, that it’s a testament to our strength as black women that we can face the inequalities in the larger society.

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