The troubled star's unsettling Instagram snaps are putting a big global beauty problem under the spotlight

When 41-year-old Lil' Kim (aka Kimberly Denise Jones) posted a series of photos on Instagram with peroxide blonde hair, bubble gum pink, plumped up lips and porcelain skin, the internet went into overdrive - one camp slammed her all-too-obvious transformation, the other rushed to her defence.

Love her or simply confused by her, Lil' Kim's MJ-style makeover speaks volumes about the pressures women feel to conform to mass-marketed beauty ideals. Any attempt to celebrate diversity is marred by the whitewashing of our cinema, our TV shows, our magazines and our advertising campaigns. Sure, a number of black women are beauty ambassadors (think Lupita N'yongo's dazzling work for Lancôme), but they remain the exception, not the norm.

Whether Lil' Kim's porcelain skin is the result of hardcore bleaching treatments or heavy Instagram filtering (most likely, a mix of both), it's rendered her unrecognisable from the star who shot to fame in the '90s (see a glimpse of her transformation in the gallery above).  It's all the more sad in the light of this interview Kim once gave, where she admits, "I have low self-esteem and always have. Guys always cheated on me with women who were European-looking... that left me thinking, 'how can I compete with that?' Being a regular black girl wasn't good enough." Someone find Lil' Kim a decent guy, stat.

Is Lil' Kim's shocking skin bleaching the sign of a broader epidemic?

A skin whitening ad

 

While Lil' Kim's skin whitening is on the extreme end of the scale, thousands of women spend a small fortune on whitening and lightening products, particularly across Asia and Africa, because they think their natural skin tone isn't good enough. While many beauty brands available in Australia have special whitening ranges they only sell to overseas markets, they're increasingly becoming available here too.

It's easy to judge Lil' Kim, but just think: how many of us have chosen the Valencia filter on Instagram because it made us look more tanned? Or spent hundreds a year on spray tans, gradual tan and bronzer if we're not buying up big on whiteners? We all want what we don't naturally have, and the beauty industry is worth billions because of it.  

Is Lil' Kim's shocking skin bleaching the sign of a broader epidemic?