Over the past several years we’ve watched beloved female rapper Lil’ Kim transform.
The Bed Stuy bred fly girl began her career as a seemingly confident woman with brown skin, a rounded nose, and a beautiful smile that showed off her once perfectly imperfect elongated front teeth. She wore colored wigs and designer clothes that created a character people adored—one who owned her sexuality in ways that felt like uncharted territory for black women—especially one at the forefront of a male rap group, then eventually on her own as a solo act.
Her transformation is no secret and we can say without question, she’s undergone several alterations over the years. Her teeth have been fixed, her nose slimmed down, her cheeks plumped, and the list goes on. But when she shared a collage of selfies recently looking even more unrecognizable with beige colored skin and blonde tresses, folks on social media responded with shock, compassion, and ridicule.
Some still ask why she would go so far, though the answer is pretty obvious. Kim never hid her feelings about being a black woman who felt the pressures of Eurocentric beauty ideals.
“I have low self-esteem and I always have,” she told Newsweek in 2000. “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.”
It’s the sad truth for many black women worldwide. We’ve been led to believe that we don’t measure up in a world where white beauty is upheld as the standard. It’s a battle most of us face often. At some point, many of us have made changes here and there, whether big or small, just to make the battle seem less burdensome—though it always remains. White supremacy, white privilege, colorism, and prejudice are the kinds of pervasive assaults on humanity that can poison the mind beyond repair.
It’s the reason this new era of black pride, the widespread celebration of melanin on social media, and the natural hair movement are considered revolutionary. We’ve literally had to stand up and say we love ourselves despite what the world thinks. While this is beautiful and empowering, the need to go the extra mile to be represented, celebrated, and shown authentic love for who we are naturally can sometimes feel unnatural. The celebration of our humanity shouldn’t have to be a movement, it should just…be. But we do this work because if we don’t, who will?
Since I began working on Beyond Classically Beautiful, I’ve been asked a few times why so much importance is placed on outward beauty and beauty standards. My answer is usually the same: How we feel about ourselves affects the way we show up in the world. It affects how we interact with the people in our lives, and it shapes who we become.
As difficult as it may be, hers is a reflection that we have to face. Not only what she is reflecting to us about us, but what we are reflecting to her about her: bigger than hip-hop, bigger than Kim.
I just wish women like her were saved from the disease of white supremacy and prejudice before it changed the way they show up.