NAIROBI, Kenya (WOMENSENEWS)–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 successful civil service professional. But 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 said her big breasts would suffocate her baby, and 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. Anne had reservations but soon found herself visiting Dr. Stanley Khainga, one of only seven certified plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgeons in Kenya.
Ready for a Fifth Procedure
Between 2008 and 2010, Anne underwent two tummy tucks, a face-lift and a breast reduction. It all cost more than $11,000. 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 says her 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," Odalo says as she touches her head, which is wrapped in a scarf.
But she says her children come first.
"The money I get goes straight to rent and feeding my children," she says.
But among higher-earning women here, tummy tucks and breast reductions are on the rise, according to surgeons interviewed for this story.
"The average plastic surgeon will get five requests a week," says Dr. Audi Tanga, a cosmetic surgeon.
Women Have Their Own Money
"Women are educated and have more money–their own money," says Dr. Loise Kahoro, another cosmetic surgeon. "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 paid $5,500 to have a tummy tuck and a breast lift to boost her self-esteem.
Christine Nguku, who works in the media, says that 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 aging," Nguku says. "They are extra sensitive on taking care of their skin, hands, nails and legs."
Nguku says they can afford it and 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 here about whether westernized beauty ideals are undermining African women.
"Western beauty is popularized–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 says African women are merely evolving their own look–both absorbing and influencing global fashion sensibilities.
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Rose Odengo joined Global Press Institute’s Kenya News Desk in 2011. Through her writing, she aims to help the world understand Africa better.
ATTRIBUTION: Adapted from original content published by the Global Press Institute. Read the original article here. All shared content has been copyrighted by Global Press Institute.