Let’s Be Real, We Know Exactly What Happened To Lil Kim’s Face
Can we please stop asking, what happened to Lil’ Kim’s face?
We already know what happened to Lil’ Kim’s face. And we know why she did it.
And yeah I know: self love, candy-coated rainbows, #BlackGirlMagic and all the jazz hands from the chorus line.
But let me be seriously honest here: it takes a hell of a lot of mental, emotional and spiritual energy to stand in the face of people who hate you and actually love yourself.
Yeah, I said it.
We talk about self-love as if it is a given. But the reality is that loving yourself ain’t always the easy and popular thing to do.
In many instances, loving yourself often means going against the grain. It means ignoring the people who constantly tell you you’re ugly and not good enough; it means looking past all of the flaws and short-comings society says you have and having the courage to find value in yourself anyway.
And that’s real.
As racism is real. And so are many of its spirit-crushing tenets. Like colorism. Like Anti-Blackness. And misogynoir.
The kind that has historically graced the pages of the community’s more affluent publications like Ebony, Jet and other Black publications just as much as it has always existed in Vogue, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan. The kind that loves Afro baby hairs and Negro noses when Beyoncé says it, but looks away and shuns those same tight curls and wide nostrils when attached to a person, particularly a woman, with darker skin.
The kind that tends to personally make me feel good when I’m dolled up, looking like someone else and awful when I look more like my regular ol’ Black girl self.
Like when I wear my wig.
Although I prefer my natural hair, I wear a wig for other job purposes.
I do it not because of some unconscious hatred of my natural hair. But less sinisterly, because I dyed my natural curls ombre green and, in short, it’s not really professional.
I get the hesitation to my unnatural hair color.
But what I don’t get is what happens when I put my wig on.
I get whistles. I get stares. I get called “beautiful” and “sexy.” I get approached more. Folks are nicer and have more patience with me. They want to help me more. They want me around. They want to know me. It happens with all races of people but it is most noticeable when all of this positive feedback to my appearance comes by way of us.
It feels good, but I am also conflicted.
Admittedly, as a hairstyle, I look good in it. A short pixie cut that highlights my round face. I’m conflicted because as soon as I hit the front door, I’m ripping that other person’s hair of my head. But I’m also very disrespectful to the hair. I despise it. It’s hot. It gives me headaches. And most importantly, it ain’t authentic to me.
Whoever she is, is not me.
So, I banish it under the car seat where it sit undisturbed until my next gig. I turn on the car ignition and then rub my hair through my short afro. I love my curls. They are soft. They feel good between my fingers. I feel like I’m finally me.
But no matter how good I personally feel about my hair, I know that how society feels isn’t mutual.
I know this because it tells me – in so many words. It tells me in glossy magazine spreads and on billboard ads sprawled across urban landscapes. It comes out of the mouths of rappers and singers with a “thing” for red and yellow bones. It is shown to me on film and television screens where darker skinned women are especially violent and hyper-sexualized while lighter skin is treated as marriage material. It even makes memes about me and shares them widely on social media.
Whereever I go in this world, it is there to remind me that my natural state is not welcome here.
And this is not to say that some folks aren’t checking me out. But the attention is different – cautious, even. Folks assume things. That I’m trouble, an outsider and difficult. They think I don’t need help, that I can take the pain and that I am a lot tougher than I actually am.
I tell myself that it is probably the green hair. It’s bold and authentic. It’s a color a reminder of my yearning to be free and limitless like the ocean.
But then I recall how that the same feeling of invisibility happened when I had my locs too. For thirteen years, I felt invisible. And then I remember that this feeling wasn’t mine alone. And I have heard so many stories over the years of other Black women who too felt rejected for being their natural selves.
I had a friend whose husband went ballistic when she cut her perm out and transitioned to a short afro. As I recall, he threatened to leave her if she insisted on “looking like a boy.” And then there was the nine-year-old dark skinned girl at the day camp where I counseled, who was teased and called horrible names like “African Booty-snatcher” by some of her lighter skinned “play mates.” And also my own grandma, who one day confessed to me that for an entire lifetime she too was made to feel ugly all because her skin was not as light and her nose not as sharp as her sister and her mother.
But love yourself, they say. It doesn’t matter what people think about you, they also say.
But it does matter. It matters when you’re getting passed up for work because you’re not the right complexion.
It matters when folks actually believe that natural hair is “nasty” or not red-carpet ready.
It matters when your hair, your skin and even your movements become synonymous with all of society’s ills like poverty, crime and violence.
It matters when many of the men who you love – your brothers – can’t even look you in the eyes because your hair, your skin and even your movements remind them of everything they are trying to run away from too.
And it matters when these same hazardous messages about your supposed worth in society are told to you over and over and over again.
I don’t care what anyone says but it messes with your psyche. It eats at your soul and invades your thoughts. It brainwashes you. And after a while, you start thinking that maybe you do look a lot better in that wig that you hate…
In an early 2000 article for Newsweek, Lil’ Kim spoke candidly about her changing appearance. In short, she said it had to do with always been told that she was not worthy of love.
More accurately, she said:
“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?’ ” She winces. “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.”
In the same interview, she added:
“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.” And the implants? “That surgery was the most pain I’ve ever been in in my life,” says Kim. “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.”
We can try to pretend like we don’t know what happened to Lil’ Kim’s face, but we actually know it – and perpetuate it – very well. Because it happens (ed) to me and I know that it happens to many of you too.
And while we’re all taking this moment to shame her for the carnal sin of “not loving herself” let’s also take a moment to reflect on the ways in which we don’t make it easy for that love to manifest.