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Publication: Women's Feature Service
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 59130
Journal code: WNFS

Nairobi (WeNews\WFS) - Leaving a trail of French designer fragrance behind her, a woman clicks across the floor in four-inch heels while flicking strands of her long mane back into place with French-manicured nails. She struts into her corner office in an impeccable suit and sits down in her leather seat behind a mahogany table.

The woman, Anne, 40, who declined to give her last name to protect her privacy, is a civil service professional. But despite a successful career and a happy home, she says her self-confidence plummeted after the birth of her third child. "My belly bulged, and it was hanging," she says. "I did look bad." Her mother too didn't spare her saying that her big breasts would suffocate her baby, while friends commented on her weight gain. She tried going to the gym, but says it wasn't working fast enough.

Then a man at a car dealership in Nairobi, Kenya's capital, recommended cosmetic surgery - or aesthetic or plastic surgery, as surgeons here refer to it. Though initially Anne had reservations she soon found herself visiting Dr Stanley Khainga, one of only seven certified plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgeons in Kenya. Between 2008 and 2010, Anne underwent two tummy tucks, a face-lift and a breast reduction. It all cost more than $11,000. Now, she wants a fifth procedure to eliminate her "love handles".

Surgeons say there are no statistics on cosmetic surgery in Kenya, a country where half the population lives at or below the poverty line - according to the World Bank - and where women such as Violet Odalo, a domestic worker, are more the norm.

Odalo's weekly earnings of $11 are barely enough to support her three children, let alone indulge in beauty luxuries. "I wish I could afford to make my hair regularly," she says as she touches her head, which is wrapped in a scarf. For Odalo, it's her children who come first. "The money I get goes straight to rent and feeding my children," she says.

However, among the higher-earning women here, tummy tucks and breast reductions are on the rise, according to surgeons. "The average plastic surgeon will get five requests a week," reveals Dr Audi Tanga, a cosmetic surgeon. "I get about two to three requests for a procedure a week."

Adds Dr Loise Kahoro, another cosmetic surgeon, "Women are educated and have more money - their own money. And those who have conditions that affect them to the point of lowering their self-worth now can rectify their condition and boost their self-worth."

Sue, who also declined to give her last name to protect her privacy, is in her 40s and has one child. She says that after years of emotional abuse from her husband, she had a tummy tuck and a breast lift to boost her self-esteem. That was in 2007. She paid $5,500, for the surgery in Kenya, which was cheaper than it cost in the United Kingdom, where she used to live. "When I came home, it was cheaper to have it done here," she says

According to Christine Nguku, who works in the media, most women who take advantage of the beauty industry here are in their mid-30s to early 40s. "Women at this age tend to be more conscious that they are ageing," she says. "They are extra sensitive on taking care of their skin, hands, nails and legs."

If they can afford it then they feel they need it to stay competitive. "They have their retirement set up," she says. "They own private businesses outside of employment. They need that extra look and edge over younger counterparts in business to be taken seriously by their clientele."

Joyce Owiti, a hair-weave specialist, says she earns $440 a month in commission on weaves that can cost $500 apiece.

These trends are part of an ongoing argument about whether westernised beauty ideals are undermining African women. "Western beauty [has] popularised tall, lean bodies," says Dr Pius Mutie, a sociologist. "And there have also been attempts to blend it with what people consider as 'African beauty' - nice legs, hips."

But Nguku feels African women are merely evolving their own look - both absorbing and influencing global fashion sensibilities. Thanks to increased exposure to global fashion through travel, the media and the Internet "women now have more information on how to put on makeup and piece their outfits together".

"You'll see women keeping their hair natural, kinky with a style, a natural afro that is styled," she says. "The usual African print is not just fabric put together as 20 years ago. Right now there are designs and a lot of accessorising."

By arrangement with Women's eNews.

(Adapted from original content published by the Global Press Institute. For original story, log on to:

(© Women's Feature Service)

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