“What happened to Lil’ Kim’s face?” It’s the question that’s been echoing across the Internet since Sunday, when the rap icon posted a series of unrecognizable selfies of on Instagram showing off her super light skin and a dirty blonde lace front wig:
Even if you aren't totally familiar with what Kimberly Denise Jones looked like during her peak in the 90s and early 2000s, her transformation from brown-skinned cutie to this is still incredibly jarring. She's had many faces (and many surgeries), but this current iteration is unsettling not just because of how unlike her former self she looks, but because of how light she seems to have bleached her formerly cocoa-brown skin.
People on social media have been very vocal about this, leaving comments such as"Lil Kim is white now?" on her Instagram page, and churning out one snarky meme after another about how she's trying to become a white or Latina woman. It's easy to laugh, easy to zero in on the bad surgery and bleached skin. But what about actually questioning why an icon like Kim would so drastically change the way she looks?
Lil' Kim has been steadily changing her appearance since at least 1999, beginning with blue contacts and platinum blonde weaves before moving on to nose contouring, breast implants, nose jobs, and so on. She has talked, on several occasions, about her struggles with self-esteem. In a 1996 interview (gif'd below), just after the release of her first album "Hard Core," she opened up about the impact past relationships with men had on her:
But not even a successful musical debut and respect in the industry, it seems, could help build up the self esteem that had been chipped away in the past.
Later, in 2000, Kim told Newsweek:
“All my life men have told me I wasn’t pretty enough—even the men I was dating... It’s always been men putting me down just like my dad. To this day when someone says I’m cute, I can’t see it. I don’t see it no matter what anybody says.”
Lil' Kim, like millions of dark-skinned women, has been socialized to believe she is ugly and unworthy because she is not white or light. And like many, she has taken on the racism that surrounds her, and subscribed to what we're all told is the "ideal" image of beauty: the fairest skin, the blondest hair. The difference between Kim and so many others who struggle with this specific kind of low self-esteem is that Kim has money and access to doctors willing to indulge and encourage her need to change herself into a different person. Add to this the pressure most women in entertainment feel to uphold unrealistic requirements of beauty. Perhaps the saddest thing about Kim's transformation is that it reflects a look that is very much celebrated and applauded -- just not on her.
Our shock comes from how extreme this latest photo is, but where was the shock and concern in 2005, when Kim had already clearly began to lighten her skin? While she is an extreme case, she is not the first dark woman in entertainment who has felt the need to lighten her skin or change her appearance to keep up with the so-called "ideal" beauty.
On Monday, rapper Azealia Banks, often compared to both Kim and Foxy Brown, admitted to bleaching her own skin, tweeting that the reason behind it was:
Other black female performers, from Banks to Kelly Rowland to K. Michelle, have also come under scrutiny for possibly lightening their skin. But Why criticize just them, and not the circumstances surrounding them? Why not criticize an industry and a society that makes them feel as though they must be lighter in order to actually be successful or to be considered beautiful?
What happened to Lil' Kim's face? Sexism. Racism. Colorism. Society. Abuse. Misogyny. Take your pick.