Alicia Keys says she developed tomboy style to avoid street harassment from men

Alicia Keys: "For as long as I can remember, I’ve hidden myself."

Alicia Keys: "For as long as I can remember, I’ve hidden myself." Photo: Getty Images

Singer-songwriter Alicia Keys says she spent her life hiding from the world. 

In a reflective essay published on her website overnight, she describes the many ways, since she was a young child, she has disguised "my intelligence, my physical appearance, my truths, my thoughts, myself".

It began, the 15-time Grammy winner wrote, at school when she noticed, as a bright student, teachers started to show her favour. 

Alicia Keys when she shot to fame in 2001.

Alicia Keys when she shot to fame in 2001. Photo: Getty Images

 And when she became old enough to walk alone down the streets of New York City, where she was born, she began hiding her femininity to avoid being harassed by men.

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"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."

She said the "animal instinct" she sensed from men scared her.

Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys with son Egypt Daoud Deain 2013.

Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys with son Egypt Daoud Deain 2013. Photo: Theo Wargo/Child 13

"I didn't want to be talked to in that way, looked at in that way, whistled after, followed. And so I started hiding," she said. "I chose the baggy jeans and timbs, I chose the ponytail and hat, I chose no makeup, no bright colour lipstick or pretty dresses. I chose to hide. Pieces at a time. Less trouble that way."

Then, as her fame grew, she says the "the baggy/braided/tough NY tomboy thing" led people to assume she was gay.

So, in attempt to blend in again, she began wearing dresses and stopped braiding her whole head.

Alicia Keys at the Costume Institute Benefit Gala at the Met this uear.

Alicia Keys at the Costume Institute Benefit Gala at the Met this uear. Photo: Getty

To this day, Keys says, each morning she wonders what she can wear that won't draw to much attention when she goes grocery shopping or to pick her son Egypt.

But, the other day, she says, she had a realisation, wondering "Why are you choosing to be that person?"

She listed all the things she no longer wants to feel ashamed to be.

"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!!"

Keys concluded the impassioned essay by explaining she now knows she can be all these things at the same time.

"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. Who cares?"