The stunning transformation of Alicia Keys

Few stars have gone through transformations like Alicia Keys. The beloved singer, songwriter and activist has never shied away from making a statement, and that's why she is so fun to watch. From breaking down barriers in the music industry to founding a powerful charity, Keys uses her star power for good. Her signature style has gone from a tomboy with braids to a natural, confident mama and everything in between.

Early days

When Keys first came on the music scene in 2001, it was not an easy road. Her tough New York style didn't sit well with her critics, and Keys remembers the comments. She shared on Lenny Letter that she was used to hearing things like, "She's so hard, she acts like a boy, she must be gay, she should be more feminine!"

And it wasn't just her looks that had critics fired up. Keys spoke with AOL (via People) about how difficult it can be to break into the male-dominated music scene. "I had these different guy producers who wrote me off from the beginning," she said. "They didn't think I could play, they didn't think I could write and definitely didn't think I could produce."

By the time she released her first album Songs in A Minor, Keys was happy with her looks and her signature style. "I definitely love my braids," she shared with InStyle. "They make me feel regal and individualistic."

Tough girl style

Alicia Keys has always had a strong style and point of view. However, in her early days, her strong style might have been more armor than fashion statement. She has shared that she hid behind her tough style. "I definitely started hiding when I got old enough to walk down my NY streets alone," she wrote in a blog post. "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 wanted to avoid the whistles and catcalls, so covered up to keep away the attention. "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."

When her first album debuted, she kept her tough exterior. "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," she wrote. "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."

Fortunately Alicia has stopped hiding and fully embraced her true self. She wrote to her fans, "You are allowed to be smart, you are allowed to be tough. You are allowed to be sexy … You are allowed to be yourself!!"

Triple threat

By 2006 Keys began starring in movies like Smokin' Aces, followed by the The Nanny Diaries and The Secret Life of Bees. She ditched the braids for a pin-straight style and rocked long bangs. She also started receiving the recognition her music deserved, but she shared with People that one of her favorite awards is one she didn't even win. Her debut album Songs in A Minor cleaned up at the Grammys, but didn't win Song of the Year. That one went to John Mayer, even he thought Keys should have won it for "If I Ain't Got You."

"I loved that song 'Daughters,' and I remember he got up on stage and he said either onstage or backstage, but the point was that he felt that I should've won that award," Keys shared. After the show, Mayer actually took his Grammy apart and send the top half to Keys. "So as far as I'm concerned, I won that!" Keys laughed. We agree!

Embracing her own style

By the late 2000s, Keys was ready to leave the tight braids and stick-straight hair for a softer version of herself. She began to really come into her own style and opted for soft, more natural waves. Keys spoke with The Telegraph about her decision to fully embrace herself and her style, regardless of what anyone else thought.

"I had a vision for myself and felt I wasn't allowed to express it, because people always want to tell you, 'Do it like this, don't do that, you should do this, you can't do that'. So I did feel like I had to control it. I had to claim my space," she explained. "It was about demanding respect, saying 'Here's what I want', and pushing people as opposed to being pushed around. I found that if you acted like you knew what you were doing, people would believe you knew what you were doing."

New York girl

In 2009, Keys paid homage to her hometown with her hit "Empire State of Mind." At the Academy Awards, she performed with Jay-Z and went for an Old Hollywood style with dark makeup and soft waves.

Keys is a proud NYC native and credits her upbringing for making her who she is today. She shared in a blog post that growing up in New York gave her that tough exterior. "In the streets of New York you had to be tough, you HAD to be hard," she explained. "People needed to know that you weren't scared to fight!"

Mindful mama

2010 was a big year for Keys. Not only did she set out on a new tour, but she married her husband, producer Swizz Beatz and gave birth to her first son Egypt. With all those changes at once, it took Keys a little time to find her groove again. Her casual, laid back style never suffered, but she shared with People that she noticed she was really neglecting herself after becoming a mother. "I'm overly accommodating, like sickeningly so. I'm becoming better at that," she shared. Keys used the example of placing your mask on first when on an airplane. "That's my favorite thing they say on the plane," she shared. "Like, 'You don't do that, you don't secure your own mask? What's the matter with you?' And somehow I do that same thing."

So what is Alicia's mask in real life? One word: meditation. Keys knows that if she neglects her meditation practice, she won't feel like herself. It has given her a new perspective on life, so she makes sure to make time for it no matter what. "Some days I have 15 minutes, some days I have 40 minutes, some days I have five minutes where I have to take that time, because if I don't I literally feel off," she says. "And I can tell the difference in the choices that I'm making… my center is off. I feel shaken a bit more, but when I do it I feel sturdy."

Children's book author

Ahh Alicia Keys! Stop shaming us with all your accomplishments! In 2014, the singer/songwriter/actress/producer/wife/mother became a children's book author. Sporting a sleek bob and red lips at her release party, Keys read from her new book, Blue Moon: From the Journals of Mama Mae and LeeLee (Mama Mae & Lee Lee). She later shared a picture on Instagram and wrote, "Reading has changed my life and is one of the most special times I share with my lil guy Egypt. I hope my new book, Blue Moon, adds some magic to moments with your little ones! All we have to do is show them that everything is possible cause we have all the magic we need inside of us."

Marathon runner

As if Keys didn't have enough going on, she added another role to her repertoire, marathoner. She ditched the heels and makeup for running shoes and early morning training sessions. After reluctantly signing up for the New York City Marathon, she eventually got into it. She shared in a blog post that her brother asked her to join him in training for the marathon. "My first instinct was to say, "HELL NO!" LOL. But then I thought, This is my city, so why not?" she wrote.

And it isn't just Keys' brother who keeps her motivated — it's all for charity.

So how does Alicia fit it all in? Well, I have no idea how she does it all, but at least her trainer can share how she fits in her regular workouts. She sticks to shorter, more intense workouts to get up a good sweat without spending hours at the gym. Celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak trains Keys with her patented 5-Factor Fitness approach. Pasternak likes to keep Keys moving, even when they're lifting weights. She recommends just using one side of the body when training with dumbbells, so you can get in a little rest without actually stopping. As for cardio, Pasternak sticks with high-intensity shorter bursts. "After warming up, you should be breathing fairly hard for most of the workout," she shared with Fitness.

Activist at heart

Throughout the years, Keys has continued to reinvent herself and her style, but there is one thing that hasn't changed. Alicia Keys has never shied away from using her public profile for good. A true activist at heart, she co-founded Keep a Child Alive. With her organization, Keys' mission is to "realize the end of AIDS for children and families, by combating the physical, social and economic impacts of HIV." Then in 2014 she co-founded the We Are Here Movement to combat injustice and get her fans and audience involved.

In 2016, Keys joined Beyonce, Rihanna, Pharrell Williams, and other celebs to draw attention to 23 ways a black person could be killed in the United States. They released a video calling for "radical transformation" and urged fans to sign the petition for Congress.

"The Voice"

In August of 2016, Keys, along with Miley Cyrus, joined NBC's The Voice as brand new judges. Keys does not shy away from making a statement on the show, both with her appearance and coaching style. Rocking her signature scarf and natural fresh face, she likes to look for a real connection with her team of talented singers. One of her team members told CNN that Keys is "honest and real." Rather than only looking for pure singing ability, Keys seems to choose her singers based on the true connection. Her warm, caring coaching style is unlike any other judge.

Makeup-free

Keys made waves this year when she started showing up to talk shows and award shows sans makeup. Her new fresh-faced look had Twitter going crazy, but for Alicia, she was just being true to herself. Keys shared that she was tired of trying to be and look like someone she is not. She has always felt slightly uneasy about being in the public eye and actually wrote about her feelings in her song, "When a Girl Can't be Herself." She wrote, "In the morning from the minute that I wake up / What if I don't want to put on all that makeup / Who says I must conceal what I'm made of / Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem." Can't get much clearer than that.

Keys was always used to being scrutinized for her looks. When you're a rising star, there's always someone with an opinion about it. She just didn't realize how much it was affecting her until a recent photo shoot. Keys showed up ready for hair and makeup when the photographer suggested starting the shoot without anything, no makeup, no stylist, nothing. Keys shared that the thought scared her, but once she tried it, "I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt."

So what made her decide to ditch the Maybelline for good? She says it's "Cause I don't want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing."

But that skin

Going makeup-free in the public eye definitely takes courage, but it must be a little easier when your skin is as flawless as Alicia's. Even high-definition TV is kind to Alicia and her ridiculously small pores. Well, wipe your tears, because even Ms. Keys has help when it comes to skin.

Keys' makeup artist Dotti is known for using organic, vegan products and shared some of her secrets with W Magazine. "Alicia gets regular facials, does acupuncture and she eats healthy and exercises," Dotti shared. "She knows you have to invest internally for your skin to look great externally. It's also about how you process your energy. She comes from a very strong place and she comes from a very kind place. That in itself is super important. But it's about the choices she's making and the products she's using. It's the work of a good team."

So what are some small tweaks we could all try to get that glowing look? Dotti recommends using ice to tighten the sensitive skin on the face, as well as bring blood back to the surface. "I stick a jade roller in ice, so it's basically freezing when I roll it over her skin. I really, really work into all those areas where I want blood and water and energy brought to the surface," Dotti shared. "It brings her skin to life, it practically makes her skin say, 'Hi. I love you.'" Cucumber also helps cool the skin and bring that blood flow back to the surface. Dotti likes to grate an entire cucumber and place it over Alicia's eyes for a cooling effect.

And according to Dotti, it seems like Keys is not interested in trying makeup again anytime soon. When Dotti accompanied Keys at a concert, she shared that after the performance, Alicia ran off stage and said, 'It's so amazing to not have makeup on and just sweat like a bomb!"