I grew up immolating Lil Kim. I loved her even before I was old enough to understand why I did. My mother tells stories of young me gawking at Lil Kim posters with her legs spread eagle in awe. As much as she tried to pull me away and shield me, I’d find a way to see her anyway. Even when there is no music, I am a fan of Lil Kim. People who know this about me always try to combat this and convince me that she has fallen off and because of this is unworthy of love. Over the years Lil Kim has had a number of elective surgeries to change her appearance, from nose jobs to skin lightening treatments. There has been mixed commentary about her appearance changes since they began. People are always ready to judge and criticize her decisions without looking at the causes for them.
As much as Kim has been a representation for black girls, specifically black girls with darker complexions, that does not necessarily mean she was able to internalize any of that love and recognition of her unapologetic self. I have always identified with her in the sense that there are not a lot of women in the music industry that look like me, that are my complexion. There are not a lot of women in the industry that can be as vulgar and raw with their sexuality and sexual expression without being deemed sluts, and Kim was able to. So many times we project our opinions onto artists without understanding their own. Throughout her time inspiring girls everywhere and being aground breaking artist she even then expressed discomfort with her appearance. From an early age she was taught by her father to feel that everything about her appearance- her hair her clothes, even her skin- was wrong.
In many interviews in the ’90s Kim expressed uncomfortability with her complexion and repeatedly stated that she was made to feel less than beautiful by men in her life. “All my life men have told me I wasn’t pretty enough–even the men I was dating. And I’d be like, ‘Well, why are you with me, then?’ ” She winces. “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.” As fans this should have been a sign, to understand that the way other people see us has very little effect on how we see ourselves.
A few weeks ago Kim posted pictures to her Instagram account of herself, that made it hard to see the same black, openly honest and vulgar and sexually free woman we all fell in love with. Professor Yaba Blay describes them by writing: “It looks as though she has lightened her once black-girl-brown complexion to one that’s not so brown at all. Her hair is longer, straighter, blonder. Her once round nose now thin. Even her eyes sit differently on her face. She’s changed, in ways that words can’t even begin to capture. And it hurts.” While it does hurt and the Internet allows so many people to voice their hurt, we have no say in Kim’s decisions. We have no place to judge or cast her out of the black community as many have done as if her current situation isn’t the product of a racist society, colorism within the music industry, and reality of dating as a brown skin black woman. In an Interview Kim says, “I have low self-esteem and I always have, guys always cheated on me with women who were European-looking. You know, the long-hair type. Really beautiful women that left me thinking, ‘How can I compete with that?’ Being a regular black girl wasn’t good enough.” She gave these interviews years before the newest round of skin lightening treatments and surgeries that were revealed through Instagram, which is to say, she foreshadowed this. Which is to say there were years before it got to this point. Instead of this conversation being about the ways in which society consistently makes black women feel inferior and un-pretty, it is a conversation about her decisions to alter her life. I am not an advocate for skin lightening in anyway, but I have empathy and understanding because I live this life everyday. I know how exhausting it is to hear you’re pretty for a black girl, to be compared to women that you never should be and to feel like as much as you try to fight it, you’ll never be as good. Instead of talking about how men constantly put women against each other and hold women to impossible standards we are shaming her for a decision that she was ultimately backed into. The music industry, especially hip hop is known for favoring lighter skinned women, Kim does not have the same clout she once did in the ’90s.
Kim talks about her appearance changes, “that surgery was the most pain I’ve ever been in in my life,” says Kim. “But people made such a big deal about it. White women get them every day. It was to make me look the way I wanted to look. It’s my body.” And she is right. We have to ask ourselves why we are so quick to comment and judge her and would we do the same if she wasn’t a black women. My mother texted me over the weekend and asked me if I was still putting Lil Kim on my graduation cap as planned since the pictures came out. She was concerned about the message it would send. I told her I would. Because I am not the type of fan that is selective with their support; I am not trading her out of the black community. It is important for me to still recognize her significance in my life and in many other black women’s life even if she is at a place in her life right now that she cannot see it.