Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards brought the usual glitz — sheer frocks, sparkly gowns and hair extensions galore — to the signature blue carpet. But the evening’s showstoppers happened inside the concert hall, as female artists took to the stage to express themselves — and buck conventional beauty standards.
The most-talked-about moment was singer Pink’s moving acceptance speech for the Video Vanguard Award, in which she told the audience how she was shocked to hear her 6-year-old daughter, Willow, call herself “the ugliest girl,” explaining that she looked like “a boy with long hair.”
And so Pink said she decided to make her daughter a PowerPoint presentation of famous androgynous artists celebrated for their uniqueness — from Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury and Prince to Annie Lennox and Janis Joplin. Pink told her daughter that she too had been told by people she looked like a boy — that her body was “too strong” — but that she didn’t listen to such criticism.
“Do you see me growing my hair?” she told her daughter, repeating it at the VMAs to applause. “Do you see me changing my body? … Do you see me changing the way I present myself to the world? … Do you see me selling out arenas all over the world?”
Crooner Alessia Cara, 21, also made a bold statement by having her makeup removed onstage while she sang “Scars to Your Beautiful.” The singer stripped off her wig, earrings and gown to reveal messy hair and a basic black tank and leggings.
The message, as she belted out the chorus to loud cheers from the audience, was clear: She was just as beautiful makeup-free and in sweats as she was in her dress. (The singer went clean-faced and casual at the awards last year, as well, but didn’t speak about it.)
The VMAs have always been a soapbox for artists, and this year was no different: The show was chock-full of causes to support and social pain points to denounce. There was even a newly rebranded award for songs that made a statement about social justice, the Best Fight Against the System Award. In true millennial fashion, all nominated songs “won.”
But instead of dreaming of a better world to come, these women embodied real, tangible change, happening right before viewers’ eyes. There was Pink pointing to her daughter, smiling and dressed in a suit. There was Cara, wiping off her lipstick while belting out her song.
Both women received resounding approval on social media for their statements — a marked contrast to last year’s ceremony, when Alicia Keys (absent at this year’s event) sparked controversy by walking the blue carpet makeup-free.
Twitter users called her choice “annoying,” name-checked the makeup they wished she’d worn instead and even claimed she wasn’t actually product-free. Keys later penned an essay about the choice to go bare-faced, saying she’d never felt more beautiful.
Now, with Keys paving the way, it seems that standards have already begun to shift.
“We don’t change [for other people],” Pink said, wrapping up her talk with her daughter and summarizing the night. “We take the gravel in the shell and we make a pearl, and we help other people to change so that they can see more kinds of beauty.”
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