R+B singer Alicia Keys was forced to hide any signs of femininity growing up in her gang-infested neighbourhood, just to avoid being attacked.

The singer was raised by her single mother in the rough Hells Kitchen area of New York City, which was overrun by prostitutes, drug dealers and gangs.

She explains, "I grew up in an area that was pretty rough, so I had to compensate with how I dressed.

"If I came across as too slutty or sexy or showed too much, it would cause a lot of problems.

"That's why I called myself a tomboy, because I was always covered. I had to protect myself."

Keys has now found a way to comfortably express her feminine side saying, "I like subtle. Sexy to me now is when you leave something to the imagination.

"Sexy to me is when you feel so beautiful on the inside that it shines on the outside."