The many looks of Lil Kim then and now have become a daunting task to keep track of; over the past two decades, the rapper and emcee has been linked to literally dozens of rumors about plastic surgery, skin-lightening creams, and other appearance adjustments. Thanks to the controversial Lil Kim 2016 photos–which Kim herself shared, and which you can see above–her fans and the social media world at large have been abuzz with discussion about what might have led Kim to alter her look so drastically–along with what it means to be a dark-skinned woman in America.
As soon as Kim shared the above photo set, publications rushed to get quotes from plastic surgeons about any and all work that Kim might have had done. Page Six quoted celebrity surgeon Dr. Gary Breslow, who said he feared Lil Kim is a plastic surgery addict, and that, in his professional opinion, she “should seek professional help” for her problem before it gets any worse. In addition, Us went to board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Jennifer Levine, who said it seems clear that Lil Kim’s plastic surgery includes work on her eyes. “They seem elongated and completely different,” she told the publication. “Kim would have had to have surgery to remove the fat, skin and tissue to create this new eye shape.”
Lil Kim at the Angel Brinks Fashion 5th Anniversary Celebration, on April 2nd of this year.
Lil Kim has openly discussed plastic surgery several times before: in 2005, for example, she gave an interview to Angie Martinez in which she explained that she had had some reconstructive work done after an abusive ex-boyfriend broke her nose. However, Dr. Levine gave another quote to Us, on a topic that’s gained more attention than any other Lil Kim then and now topic: namely, the color of Kim’s skin. “It’s clear that there has been some skin bleaching,” Dr. Levine said. “She’s probably used chemicals, which contain very high doses of acids, on her face, combined with high-acid creams to lighten her skin.”
Indeed, a great deal of the coverage the Lil Kim 2016 coverage has focused on her lighter skin. A recent CNN article made up of little more than tweets from shocked fans states bluntly that Lil Kim is being “criticized for ‘looking white.'” It begins with an equally blunt declaration: “Lil Kim looks nothing like she used to.” Huffington Post‘s take on the topic is more helpful–we “already know” what happened to Lil Kim’s face, it claims, since she “has been socialized to believe she is ugly and unworthy because she is not white or light.” The article goes on to expose a double standard:
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.
And it further points out that a very real reason celebrities with dark skin turn to lightening creams is emotional. Here’s Azaelia Banks’ response to a fan who asked her–after the Lil Kim 2016 photos went viral–why Azaelia herself felt the need to bleach her skin:
Depression. Watching white/lighter skinned women advance all while having worse music than mine is confusing. https://t.co/kve8oHUpYL
— BRUJA DEL BLOQUE (@AZEALIABANKS) April 25, 2016
According to the Washington Post, such a “drastic” step might be more common than you think. For many, the first example to come to mind is Michael Jackson, but Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez have both been accused of lightening their skin tone, and former baseball All-Star Sammy Sosa has been the victim of cruel memes that exaggerate his already pronounced bleaching.
Kim herself discussed dealing with depression and low self-esteem all the way back in 2000, in a Newsweek interview that’s often quoted in the wake of the most recent Lil Kim then and now photos:
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 I can I compete with that?’ Being a regular black girl wasn’t good enough….[Breast implant] surgery was the most pain I’ve ever been in in my life. 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.
Finally, here’s a Lil Kim photo gallery, reaching back into the 90s and ending this year:
Lil Kim at the 1999 Source Awards
Onstage in 2001
At the Marc Jacobs fashion show in 2004
At the CW Winter Press Tour party in 2007
At the Sex and the City: The Movie premiere in 2008
Before a 2011 performance
Backstage at the LA Pride festival in 2012
At the Floyd Mayweather Media Workout Day in 2015
With Kim Kardashian in early 2016
(Photo credits: Lil Kim then and now via Facebook, Chris Connor / LK / Starbux / PNP / Judy Eddy / WENN.com)