A recent image uploaded by the legendary Lil' Kim highlighted a nearly decade-long struggle many of her fans have faced: Lil' Kim has been an ongoing challenge for those of us who love her, but love our blackness more; for fans who are grateful to her for the impact she's had on our individual lives, but in many cases are hurt, if not enraged, by what she's done to herself.
It may not be the nicest sentiment, but it is no less true: I love the Lil' Kim I hear from my speakers, but I struggle with not judging the sight of the one I often see today.
The latter forces me to confront the reality that someone I idolized for her strength and command of her sexuality doesn't like the way she looks. That makes her a bit of a walking contradiction. Many of us who felt partially raised by Lil' Kim are struggling to make sense of that.
Lil' Kim, the one who made women and gay men alike more comfortable with their own sexuality with the overt display of hers, is an everlasting symbol of strength. Lil' Kim, the pioneering female rapper who paved the way for the sort of pop-rap fusions whose perks are now enjoyed by many who came after her, is a testament to individuality and innovation. But there's that other Lil' Kim we've all had to bear witness to.
The one who sometimes speaks in an unnatural, almost caricature-like voice when she surrounds herself with the likes of the Kardashians — well, anyone white. A voice that sounds so foreign to her black-girl-from-Brooklyn cadence that we all love so much. This other Kim is the person who piles on so much makeup to disguise her brown skin in order to present a lighter hue.
It is unclear as to whether or not Lil' Kim has fallen into the poor habit that is skin-bleaching. In many cases, she looks like she's just piled on makeup and applied various filters to her images in order to best show off the facade online.
Whatever she's doing with her skin, it's quite apparent the intent is to give off the aesthetic attributed to light-skinned women, or white women period, all the same.
This other Kim is befuddling and angering, because it is a complete contradiction to the one so many of us championed.
And yet, in all my anger, I do question the role we may have played in her obsession with removing the most overt traces of blackness in her face. We are often far too cruel to people we deem pitiful. We see someone hurting, and not only do we kick them when we they are down, we watch them fall lower from our blows and pile on the pain with our laughter.
This is largely evident on social media, were many, in true Twitter form, were quick to cast judgement:
But there were also many cases of folks coming to Kim's defense:
Kim herself tried to explain the pressure she to look a certain way in a June 2000 interview with Newsweek — more than 15 years ago. "I have low self-esteem and I always have," Kim said. "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 I can I compete with that?' Being a regular black girl wasn't good enough."
Revisiting this interview, however, reminds me (and should remind all of us) that Kim was already broken. Kim was a sex symbol, yet she felt undesirable — a style icon who never appreciated the image she saw in the mirror. So she chose to skew herself into this completely different person.
In the Instagram pictures that got the internet talking, she looks like an almost cartoonish combination of the late Notorious B.I.G.'s widow, singer Faith Evans, and his last girlfriend, Charli Baltimore. She is so far gone, and she has been for some time now.
Many have invoked the word "shaming" to describe the ongoing outcry about Kim's appearance. That's an easy conclusion to race to. However, if everyone had played nice, would Kim have stopped doing this to herself? Kim is continuously uploading pictures of herself online that depict her as lighter and lighter in appearance. Kim wants us to see her this way. The majority of us, however, don't share her same level of excitement for what she has turned to.
Lil' Kim uses cosmetic surgery, makeup and image filters to as a bandaid for her lack of self-esteem, all due to her belief that "being a regular black girl wasn't good enough."
It upsets me that Lil' Kim never knew how gorgeous and spectacular of a person she was when she was just a petite, brown-skinned girl with the pizazz of someone quadruple her size. I hate that readers of that Newsweek interview from 2000 did not do more to help her see herself the way so many of her fans did. I wonder how the people in her life today can allow her to continue to lampoon herself. What are they telling her? Are they even trying?
But I also realize that this is what Kim wants. All we can do at this point is love her for who she is — despite the love of herself that she seems to lack — and accept what has been done, no matter how emotionally jarring it is.
I'll forever be grateful for what Lil' Kim provided me in my own life. I'm just sad she could never provide it to herself.