We Need To Talk About Lil' Kim, But We're Doing It Wrong, And It's Hurting Women of Color

Reading the comments on various reports of Lil' Kim's new look is heartbreaking to me.
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Elizabeth Tsung
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Reading the comments on various reports of Lil' Kim's new look is heartbreaking to me.
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Last night, viral photos of Lil' Kim surfaced all over my newsfeed. Immediately, you notice something different about her — her skin is a few shades lighter. While she did not admit to bleaching her skin, a few hours after she posted her new selfies, she shared three throwback pictures in which her skin is slightly darker. Of course, along with viral photos comes an onslaught of backlash.

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Lil' Kim is not the first celebrity to bleach her skin, and I'm honestly surprised there's so much controversy regarding her appearance. All my life, I've been exposed to bleaching products and whitening creams. The women in my family used them religiously. Whereas most Americans and westerners prefer having bronzed, tanned skin, many POC's beauty standards are held up to a whiter regard (no pun intended). Pale, white skin is what many Asians (in the Americas and in Asia) wish to covet, not our natural golden color. I know my Latina and Black female friends have felt the same way and are equally intrigued by how our culture and standards of beauty vary so differently from their culture.

One of my Black friends said she's so tired of seeing only light-skinned Black women in media, and it's time we got rid of this archaic beauty standard, and I agree. We only see certain types of women because the entertainment industry is heavily dominated by white, heterosexual cis men who have specific beauty standards in which they deem whom is beautiful and worthy of casting (i.e. Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone). I too rarely see darker-skinned Asian women portrayed in media. In regions such as the Philippines or Thailand, where women are naturally darker than the women in northern Asia (such as Japan or Korea), there's an even bigger pressure to be whiter, paler. To me, all the famous celebrities from Asia all share similar features — big doe eyes, slim oval face, and extremely pale skin.

My grandmother told me at an early age I should never play outside because if I got tan, no man would want to marry me. Growing up, I saw a thousand commercials of flawless, thin Asian women with unblemished white skin touting chicly packaged whitening creams (my family had a subscription to SinoVision, a leading Chinese television network). I always found it fascinating how my classmates in school would get compliments when they came back a shade darker from a weekend out frolicking in the sun because I was taught that was not beautiful.

In second grade, I went to Italy with my extended family and my aunt carried a parasol with her wherever she went. I remember my whole family getting stared at by Italians and tourists alike. Despite it being one of the hottest summers of my childhood, my aunt wore long sleeves and made sure she was always in the shade. At the time, I had no idea why it was such a big deal, but looking back now, I feel so naive.

I understand where Lil' Kim is coming from. Michael Jackson felt the same way — alienated in his skin, not knowing where he fit in society, and he let his body dysmorphia rule his life. Lil' Kim has publicly spoken out about her insecurities as far back as sixteen years ago. 

"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?' 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." I only hope she gets the help she needs and can move on from this."

Her words break my heart because I know exactly where she's coming from. This notion of European beauty as the epitome of beautiful is outdated and needs to be replaced. Beauty comes in all shapes and forms, and no one has the right to dictate who is beautiful and who isn't. Young children, especially, need to be comfortable in their skin, otherwise they might feel insecure throughout the rest of their lives. Body dysmorphia affects 1% of the population, but we need to do all we can so that future generations don't feel this way.

Reading the comments on various reports of Lil' Kim's new look is heartbreaking to me. Women, especially, have been the most critical of her appearance — from comparing her skin bleaching to that of Rachel Dolezal's (which is NOT the same) to saying they can longer support her because she's so blinded by her vanity. 

Lil' Kim, I'm so sorry you feel this way and I stand with you in solidarity, as do many in the POC community. We, at some point in our lives, have all felt the need to cater to European standards. Some may still feel that way, and are happier for it. Others have accepted that's not their beauty standard, and have moved on.

The solution to this dilemma does not lie in belittling others and starting Internet feuds. We're perpetuating primitive beauty standards by shaming Lil' Kim because society has for so long convinced us what is beautiful and what is not, and it's about time we changed that.