Female, hip-hop, legend Lil’ Kim recently took to Instagram to flaunt her new look in a collage of glamorous selfies, donning Barbie blonde hair, and a new, brightened skin tone. From the late 90’s to the early 2000’s, the original "Queen B" has always been known for bawdy costuming, a strong signature fashion flare, and an animated, doll-like figure. Cascading blonde wigs and blue contact lenses gifted room for early speculation on the Brooklyn MC’s perception of beauty; yet were subtle in comparison to the show stopping array of neon colored hairpieces, and her extensive collection of comic-book inspired faux lenses. Perhaps the black community took her more Europeanized beauty ideals lightly and understated when viewed in contrast to her more flagrant looks. Yet and still, this instance showed the evidence of layers of melanin having been stripped from her complexion (in the aforementioned Instagram photos), and were not oversighted by the black community this time around. It was discernable to the masses that the infamous lady-rapper may have been on a long-term skin lightening regimen; however, the public could not say for certain how she had achieved her desired look.
Birmingham, dermatologist, Dr. Norman Walton lll weighed in on the matter and offered an alternative perspective to consider. Dr. Norman states- "There are a number of health related complications that can slow the reproduction of melanin pigmentation in African Americans. If the body is sick or under duress, your skin cells are not healthy, therefore they do not cycle properly, or reproduce melanated pigment as they should. I know that Lil’ Kim spent some time in prison a while back, and people do lighten from lack of sun exposure. Yes, she may have taken steps to try and keep her lighter complexion, but black people tan and lighten up all year round. Everybody is darker in the summer and lighter in the winter. When you are born, you are many shades lighter until you become sun exposed and your melanin is activated by what is called a facultative, hyperactive darkening. However, if she did bleach her skin, all she’s done is use hydroquinone products to inhibit the production of her pigmentation. Skin sheds continuously over a 4-week period, and the cells from the bottom of the epidermis rise to the top of the epidermis, and are exfoliated into the environment. In consequence, as her skin continues to shed (remember the production of melanin has been slowed), the lighter skin rises to the top."
The new optics sent social media’s black population into a frenzy and the illustrious Lil’ Kim had been crowned with a new hashtag- #LilKimSoWhite! This hashtag was made famous in previous months by the controversy surrounding the Academy’s 88th Oscar Awards ceremony and mounting claims of Hollywood injustices, by leading black actors. Entertainers spoke out about the lack of opportunities available for their demographic and how "type-casting" has set a worldwide stigma on black beauty. Nevertheless, due to varying degrees of insult, African Americans are continually overlooked and ignored in "Tinseltown" because of their blackness. Black Hollywood stood together in solidarity and revolted against the 2016 Oscar’s. Stars like Jada Pinkett Smith and Filmmaker Spike Lee, virtually boycotted the Oscars by way of social media, and pegged them- #OscarsSoWhite.
Black’s took to social platforms to express their opinions, concerns, and psychological diagnosis on Lil’ Kim’s slow transformation. Facial reconstruction, fillers, and enhancements have been widely noted by people for some time now, and even mild assumptions of skin bleaching had been made about the self-proclaimed "first black Barbie" in the past. Be that as it may, her imagery has never inspired the thought provoking dialogue that transpired recently across the globe.
Warm sentiments of empathy, as well as sinister remarks of disgust made headlines following the release of the popular photographs. Accusations of self-hatred, identity crisis, and severely misplaced beauty ideals were recognized by the public and sparked cause for concern for the middle aged rap veteran. Is the disassociation of beauty from color still prevalent in the world today? Melanin produces itself in a multitude of hues, and one would think that the luster of its variety would be considered a remarkable trait of beauty by now. Despite its splendor, the diversity of black beauty is still underappreciated today, and causes many of the same mental stigmas of our yesteryears.
Community Development Consultant, and Director of the "Color Project Ensley", Brian "Voice Porter" Hawkins shares insight regarding beauty anxieties in black teens, and the general disesteem of blackness associated with African Americans living in concentrated, rural areas. "It’s learned behavior, not "self-hatred. It would be more accurate to say that, whatever oppression that black people have had upon them for hundreds of years, are ideals and behaviors that we have learned from our oppressors and applied to ourselves. We’ve been told forever, that we’re not beautiful, and that the European standard of beauty is THE standard of beauty. We’ve been told forever that our blackness is ugly, and we’re not as good as, as smart as, or as important as the prevailing culture. After a while, those views start to stick because the prevailing culture has the biggest PR machine. They control the media, and have essentially brainwashed an entire nativity of people into believing that everything "good’ is by them, for them, and about them; while everything "bad" is by us, for us, and about us. The media shows us that we are murderers, rapists, leeches, and worthless, and when you live in ghettoized conditions, everything around you tends to confirm those perceptions, and then it becomes internalized.
So now the question becomes, why is "color" such a complex issue with people of color? Where does is start, and how deep does it go? How early does a black girls self-esteem start to diminish, due to the richness of her melanin? How deeply woven can these issues thread themselves into her relationships and family orientation? Do our girls become victimized by early encounters of internalized-racism, in "color struck" educators? Does this incite an inferiority complex within dark skinned, black girls and cause them to become unnecessarily sensitive to rejection and failure? Is lighter, better? Do fair skinned, African American women have complexion issues, too? Do they wish to have more color, whereas ebony women wish for less?
35 year Birmingham Educator and Administrator, Joyce Tyus confirmed that the color stigmas and false beauty ideals stain the mentalities of blacks at a young age. Tyus states- "It starts early, as early as 1st and 2nd grade in the classroom. The first time a dark skinned student realizes or believes that a light skinned student is receiving preferential treatment and they associate it with complexion, the stigma takes root. Unfortunately, this is prone to happen because teachers have the tendency- well people and society in general have the tendency to cater to the lighter complexion. Darker people are then left to feel second rate to blacks with a fair complexion."
Is lighter, better?
It’s no hidden secret that slavery and a dysfunctional post-slavery society created the complexion crisis amongst the black community, today. The original matter of "skin envy" was about much more than popularity and beauty, but rather a right to fair and equal treatment. Just as the fair skinned free laborers were let into "the big house" during slavery, they were more easily let into the workforce, post slavery. And so, black people have envied their own and tried to conform to Europeanized beauty paragons for centuries. But who’s to say that "red boned", light skinned blacks don’t have their own set of complexion issues? Who’s to say that lighter, is really better?
Marriage & Family Counselor, Life & Relationship Coach, Valencia Anderson Carpenter posed an altogether different point of view and asked an incredible question- "Who’s to say that lighter is better? Actually, there are a lot of fair complected people who would prefer to be dark complected. Dark skinned individuals don’t think that fair skinned people have complexion issues, but they do. Growing up, I was antagonized greatly by family and community for having a fair complexion. I was called a half breed, I wasn’t fully accepted as black, and my people didn’t show me the same love and comradery that they did, others. I grew up hating my fair complexion, probably as much as a dark skinned person with complexion or identity issues hates theirs, it goes both ways."
As it seems, positive, familial, reinforcement of beauty standards and the cultivation of a high self-regard are crucial to the development of a young person’s sense of self-worth. Especially a girl, because if you don’t, she will look for the validation in other places, and their beauty ideals could be detrimental to her long term confidence. It could damage her family orientation and the insecurities could become a hindrance to her future relationships. She could develop shallow, warped cosmetic prototypes in her mind, and spend a lifetime chasing those concepts, or accepting abuse to attain them.
In order to break the vicious cycle of complexion issues in the black community, a greater appreciation for the majesty of melanin has to be nurtured and developed in the home. Our children have to be taught to love and value themselves so much so, that the endorsement of others will not be sought after or hoped for. We have to instill in our daughters that her shade of mahogany is beautiful, and her natural essence is to be prized and cherished. We have to teach our young men to value black beauty, and not depreciate it by European and foreign standards. When we recognize these stigmas taking root within our youth, it is our responsibility to correct their outlook, and strengthen their reverence for their people. It is our duty to promote and display black heritage in our homes, so that our children have a deeper connection to their ancestry, and better understand their blackness. But more importantly, be proud of their blackness.