No matter what they say, Lil’ Kim is notorious for her songs, but lately the naked truth is that she’s getting more attention for lightening her skin.
A week ago, the music artist — who has been undergoing cosmetic surgeries to alter her appearance for nearly a decade now — posted a collage of six selfies depicting her latest look: blonde hair and a fair complexion.
Even on the cover of her latest album, “Lil Kim Season,” the music artist is depicted as a cartoon with blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin.
Besides more than 19,100 likes, the photo opened a discussion in the comments section regarding race, colorism, identity, and beauty.
But there also could be larger underlying problems, many of which may be more than skin deep.
Low Self-Esteem and Skin Color
In previous interviews, Kim has said she’s had self-esteem issues following years of men telling her she wasn’t pretty enough.
That has affected the way she’s viewed her own beauty, including the color of her skin.
In a 2000 interview with Newsweek, Kim said she’s always had low self-esteem.
“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,” she told the magazine.
Representatives for Kim didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Zeba Blay, voices cultural writer, pointed out in her column for the Huffington Post that unlike most women with similar low self-esteem, Kim has money and access to doctors who would “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,” Blay wrote. “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.”
Skin lightening isn’t specific to Lil’ Kim. It’s a cultural phenomenon in places like Japan and India. In European cultures, fair skin was associated with the higher classes, as in those who didn’t have to be out in the sun tending fields and livestock.
While some people get skin lightening treatments — which can be — to smooth out uneven skin tones, others do it because they believe lighter skin is a more attractive trait or a sign of beauty.
Dr. Monya De, M.D. says some researchers think human brains have become biased against people with darker skin because they tend to have more health problems.
“We value a youthful appearance as humans because we are hardwired to do so,” she told Healthline. “Men especially are genetically programmed to reproduce with the ‘fittest’ mate, meaning a woman displaying signs of fertility: supple skin, youthful breasts, and delicate, childlike features.”
These signs play out in the media often, namely in casting youthful women in roles in television and movies, De says.
“Remember that the man who reproduces with the young woman will successfully pass on his genes — the baby is more likely to survive,” she said. “Even if it's in theory and they are just ogling a young starlet, it's how their brains are programmed.”
Just Say No
Kim and others who undergo such drastic appearance changes may be victims of body dysmorphic disorder, a mental disorder characterized by obsessive thinking in which some minor physical imperfection causes severe emotional distress.
Whether it’s lighter skin, a plumper behind, or firmer breasts, plastic surgeons can shape the human body into any form. And sometimes, they need to check the psychological state of the person being operated on before picking up the scalpel or lightening chemicals.
Dr. Renato Calabria, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, says the media, including meticulously edited photos of celebrities on magazine covers, plays a role.
He says he continuously sees young patients coming to his office with immaculate pictures of actresses asking if they can look like them.
That’s why he stresses the importance of realistic expectations.
“Plastic surgeons are sometimes reluctant to turn down patients seeking unnecessary cosmetic procedures and often these patients go from doctor to doctor seeking a perfect image of themselves, which is not achievable. A good plastic surgeon is someone who can say ‘No,’” he told Healthline.
Beauty Starts in the Mind
Melinda Parrish, a plus-size model, often hears about how she can change her body to better meet the “uber hourglass” figure that’s currently in vogue.
That’s why she started the #healthyatanysize community on Instagram.
“I'm really passionate about encouraging women to embrace their bodies as they are, and celebrate what is unique about them,” she told Healthline. “I feel like we as women should remind each other not to participate in body shaming because it hurts us all and drives us all to do crazy things to ourselves.”
Still, when a friend underwent weight loss surgery and related body modification surgery, she stood by her side.
“I remain supportive of women's ability to choose how they want to present themselves — as long as it's coming from a place of self-love and wanting to lead a healthy lifestyle,” she said.
But instead of changing every little detail of your body to get it where you feel it’s perfect, changing your mindset may be more beneficial.
“The only approach that has actually allowed me to achieve a greater level of love, acceptance, and freedom with my body has been to abandon any attempts to change it, and instead embrace it exactly as it is,” Parrish said. “Rather than obsess over getting a ‘perfect body,’ I work on transforming how I feel about my body. And instead of modifying my body to fit the latest standard of beauty, I show my body love through movement, and by taking amazing care of myself.”