Alicia Keys and the decision to get naked to ‘raise awareness’


Natalie Reilly
Imagine, if you will, that Chris Martin, is feeling fed up with how grim the world is right now, (a valid response, I think we can all agree) so he decides that, in order to raise awareness, he’ll upload a photo of himself to his social media platforms. He’s wearing, well, nothing, save for a peace sign on his tummy, with his hands artfully covering his manhood. 

“It’s time to get people’s attention” is how he explains himself to the New York Times. “People won’t be able to ignore this visual!’

I’m not sure about you but my first thought would be ‘Chris, you’re a critically acclaimed, incredibly popular, talented, intelligent man. I know many people consider you attractive, but why you gotta go nude?”

Now, let me tell you what’s really happened: a critically acclaimed, incredibly popular, talented and intelligent singer, Alicia  Keys, has gone and posed nude for her fans. In an interview with the New York Times on Sunday, she used those exact words above about not being able to ignore the visual. 

You mean the nude pregnant woman visual pioneered by Demi Moore that celebrated its 23rd anniversary this year?

Now, because she is a compassionate, socially conscious woman, Keys is following up on her nude pic by donating $1 million of her own money to a dozen worthy causes. It’s all part of the grass roots campaign she’s launching called

And yet, the question remains on high rotation in my brain: why you gotta go nude? 

It’s funny isn’t it, that when we ask it of a hypothetical Chris Martin, we’re asking it in terms of relevancy. Why would such a man strip?

But if it’s a woman then we know her body is part of the package. This is what it is to be a female singer in a hyper-sexualised landscape: at some point or another you gotta go nude.

Putting aside the ‘awkward family photo’ associations that drawing on a pregnant belly calls to mind; let’s get down to some facts here. Keys has a new single to promote – it’s called ‘We Are Here’ and it fits, snug as a Tetris wall, into the larger social justice campaign she’s launched.

Keys probably had to find a slightly new angle to differentiate herself ever-so-slightly from the bombardment of booty-focused vocalists out there right now. And when we’ve already seen Britney and Christina and Queen Bey herself cupping their bumps for public consumption, it makes sense that Keys felt she had to take it to the next level. It’s not her fault that another round of hacked female celebrity nude selfies has just surfaced, either. It’s just that, from a PR perspective, it looks a little maladroit.

I know she’s just a girl and she’s on FIRE-AH! Moreover, this doesn’t have to be a dichotomous dilemma. Just because she’s smart and seriously talented doesn’t mean she can’t also own her clearly blossoming sexual heat, right?

Well, yeah! Hey, that’s true… It’s just that it’s not really all that relevant to the issues she’s promoting. 

But the really interesting thing in all of this is that Keys had her social justice awakening years ago. She already heads up a major charity (Keep A Child Alive) and has contributed more than just her vocals to building it.

So, why am I attacking such a talented woman when she is with child?

As Clementine Ford wrote so eloquently on this website just last week,

‘The cornucopia of body image related issues are not going to be solved by mocking and pointing fingers at the female celebrities who, despite their power, still feel obliged to follow the rules …’

It’s just that Keys, while supporting various social justice organisations, including Girl Rising, clearly understands that sometimes it takes a celebrity to incite change.

How unfortunate then, that she has to rely on an out-dated, two-dimensional representation of womanhood in order to do it. We know that ‘sex sells’. (Thanks PETA! Stay sexist, you guys!)

But we also know that for too long now, women who have achieved greatness have been reduced – sometimes unconsciously, but often publicly – to nothing more than sex objects and mothers and incubators of unborn children.

It seems like a wasted moment that while Keys is banging the drums of change for men and women of colour, for developing nations, for mothers, for poverty, for the LGBT community, for peace, she forgot that there was a social justice issue sitting right underneath her nose – the right of a woman to be more than a body.



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