At an awards show known for its incredibly over-the-top, sequins-everywhere aesthetic, it takes a lot to stand out. Swarovski crystal eyeliner like Vanessa Hudgens’ does the trick, or you could go in the total opposite direction, and take on the VMAs red carpet and stage totally makeup-free. Last year, Alicia Keys and Alessia Cara took the latter route and broke the VMAs mold in a stand for self-acceptance. And while Keys didn’t attend the show this year, Cara just went to the VMAs bare-faced for the second year in a row—and emphasized the move by literally taking makeup off onstage.
The gesture was definitely a stand out given the rest of the looks we saw tonight, but for Cara, it was pretty much business as usual. Here’s the origin story for this year’s makeup-free look: after receiving an onslaught of criticism for not dressing up for her 2016 Dick Clark New Years‘ performance, Cara buckled down on her au naturel appearance.
According to Cara, it goes back to the honesty, vulnerability, and authenticity at the core of her music. Last summer, she said: “We decided that every performance I do of “Scars to Your Beautiful,” every interview I do about it, I am not going to be wearing any makeup, because how could I be preaching a song about being yourself and being beautiful and perfect the way you are—and have a full face of makeup? I want to show people that I am comfortable enough to go on national television and just be myself. It would only feel right if I am 100 percent me.”
She’s kept up the pledge ever since, extending the makeup-free mission to every performance—and given she sang “Scars” on stage tonight, that meant going in front of millions makeup-free. If you missed the performance, it was so good: she started off with a red lip, bob wig and red gown, and throughout the performance her backup dancers took it all off.
A hair fluff and a tissue smeared across her lips, and Cara transformed back into the self she typically performs as—her voice, and the message that you’re beautiful no matter what, incredible throughout.
Clearly, she looked fantastic (celebrity skin routines tend to help). But regardless of the final effect, huge props to Cara for showing that a star doesn’t have to look one way and the best look—red carpet or not—is one you love yourself in. As she told Glamour: “You can be natural. You can have a full face of makeup. You can be skinny or fat or short or tall. There is no definition for beautiful. There is no right or wrong way. Just be yourself.”
–Alessia Cara Opens Up for the First Time About Her Struggle With Hair Loss
–Why It’s So Important That Alicia Keys and Alessia Cara Didn’t Wear Makeup at the VMAs
–Laverne Cox Isn’t Here for Society’s Date Night Beauty Norms