IN NEIGHBOURING Kenya, socialite Vera Sidika hit the headlines when she opened up to the media about her 50 million Kenya shillings (about Rwf 350million) skin lightening procedure. In a series of interviews she said it made her feel ‘more comfortable.’
As if that was not enough, she recently got breast implants to have the ‘ideal’ bust size. All these have earned her a cult following especially on social media.
Back home, some women are jumping on the bandwagon of acquiring beauty at any cost including expensive measures to enhance their body parts. These range from bleaching, plastic surgery, bust, hips and bum enlargement.
It is increasingly becoming common to spot girls on the streets of Kigali who look like they might have used a little help to enhance their looks, mostly in the form of skin lightening creams.
But for people like Rita Kamikazi, a copy writer and mother of one, women who go for extreme procedures to get a lighter complexion or enhance certain body parts are only damaging themselves.
Closer scrutiny at pictures of some of these girls on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram betrays them; the light skin is not all natural.
What is even more alarming is talk that some of the well rounded hips or firm breasts under the tight tops are results of pills taken to enhance curves.
The substances used for these procedures are increasingly becoming easy to find locally. Some are marketed and sold on social media platforms and delivered to the client’s home at affordable fees.
The New Times has since discovered that most of the products in use are ordered online from Nairobi, Kenya and Tanzania and delivered via courier services to the end users. A search on Google leads to numerous options for buyers. From these sites, clients get testimonies from previous users on the advantages of using the substances.
The prices of some these skin lightening creams, bust and hip enlargement pills are not out of reach or elusive as you would imagine. Creams imported from Kenya will only cost as low as Rwf 8000 for a 100ml tube. Depending on what the specialist refers to as better quality, the prices appreciate. Pills that promise to take away excess body fats and enlarge the right places (busts and hips) that are said to come from Asia cost around Rwf 8000 a dozen. The pills of course come with a no-side effects tag.
Speaking to girls, most of them fresh into campus, societal pressure and influence seem to be the greatest motivator to the girls who turn to such options.
“Society is to blame because when they see brown women they drool. People talk about black beauties but let’s be honest; the brown ones get the most attention. I’m actually dark skinned and have noticed that light skinned women get noticed first,” Kamikazi says.
Pauline Wanjiku, a counselor based in Kenya, has experience in dealing with teenage girls. She says the media fuels the urge for girls to use pills and creams to ‘up’ their looks.
The media, she says, has a clear cut definition of what is beautiful and ‘hot’ which cuts out most of these girls. In an attempt to be regarded as beautiful, they turn to pills and creams.
“Most of the girls who resort to pills and creams are at an identity crisis stage in life, they want to be like those they see around them, they are easily influenced by the faces media portrays as pretty. So as long as we have the media in its various forms glorifying light skinned women or curvy women, girls will still be tempted,” Wanjiku says.
According to Wanjiku it was not until Lupita Nyong’o, the Oscar award winner of Kenyan descent was named the most beautiful woman by People Magazine that people warmed up to the darker shade.
“It may not be the final solution, but it is probably time the media showed that dark skin is not less prettier, it is time society put less pressure on girls to look a certain way for them to feel pretty,” Wanjiku says.
According to Dr Kayitesi Kayitenkore a skin care expert at Kigali Dermatology Clinic, most people who turn to various body altering procedures do so because they see it as trendy.
“They think that the lighter the skin, the more beautiful the person, without realising the adverse effects. Unfortunately when they realise the effects, it is at times too late to turn back,” the dermatologist says.
Some even end up there unknowingly. “For the case of Rwanda, we have a lot of girls who end up using lightening creams without knowing, some of them are usually advised that it will take away acne or hide scars and before they know it, they have bleached skin. And once they begin they find it hard to stop,” Dr Kayitenkore explains.
Although it is a fashion phenomenon, Dr. Kayitenkore sees it as lack of character. It is done by people who are not comfortable with themselves and lack conviction that they are beautiful, she says.
Otherwise they would not need to undergo body modification. Other than the creams bought from cosmetics or imported, Dr. Kayitenkore says that others use artisanal concoctions, and these people, she says, ought to be arrested.
“They have no training of any kind and they have no specified quantities of ingredients when making the concoctions, mostly they mix all these components and these are more dangerous than the cosmetics,” Dr. Kayitenkore explains.
The regulation of the substances in the Rwandan market is an issue that has for long dogged the authorities.
“They enter the country easily because there is no regulation and there is no laboratory testing to set standards at the level of the Rwanda bureau of standards. It is also difficult at the level of our market to regulate them because some of them are prescribed as medication for skin ailments which makes it easy for them to be abused,” Kayitenkore explains.
The doctor says that though these procedures are not a common topic in the country, they have lasted for ages; in West Africa women try to enlarge their buttocks, in Europe they try to increase their breast size as it is considered fashionable, in Congo, Nigeria and most west African countries skin lightening has been there for ages with men too resorting lightening their skins.
But she is optimistic that the tide is turning now that we have Lupita Nyong’o.
“Black beauty is coming into fashion, we need more people like that, they will make girls of a darker complexion feel comfortable and pretty in their skin’s shade,” she says.
For girls with a dark complexion, Lupita Nyong’o did more than just prove to them that their dreams are valid. She proved to them that their dark skins are not a disadvantage.
In her acceptance speech of the Black Women in Hollywood award early this year, Lupita chose to tell of her own struggle and a near attempt at body modification. She too had walked around feeling like a lesser person partly because of what was regarded beautiful.
“I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. Every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before. I tried to negotiate with God: I told Him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if He gave me what I wanted; I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if He just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened,” her speech read.
Just as she is reaching out to girls who share her former ‘plight’ someone else unconsciously reached out to her, Alek Wek, a Sudanese model, who she described as dark as night. She saw herself in the model; she realised that her skin’s shade shouldn’t validate her.
Faith Mbabazi, a journalist and the president of the Association of Female journalists, says that the media is partly to blame for influencing girls to modify their bodies.
The media, she says, at times fails to show the two sides of the promise of fairer bodies and fairer skins; the media at times fails to give the pros and cons.
“People considering taking on such procedures should be equipped with enough information for them to make informed decisions, they should be informed of the potential dangers and side effects of these procedures,” Mbabazi says.
Odette Uwamariya, a 50-year-old mother of two girls, also agrees that things would probably have been better if there was less pressure from the society on girls. Though the media cannot be blamed for all of the body modification problems, Uwamariya says they shape society’s opinion.
Giving a media blackout to light skinned, curved women is not the solution, she says. The solution is featuring those that defy the definition of beauty; featuring dark women who may not be as curvy but have gone places.
Broadcast journalist with the Nation Media Group, Fatima Kayitesi, partly defends the fourth estate, for her it is about having morals and character that are not easily swayed by popular opinion. The conversations should be about how we can build women who do not go by popular opinion, she figures.
“You should always have in mind that media practitioners are in business, you do not have to go by everything they preach or promote,” Kayitesi advises.
The reasons for undergoing body modification may not be one hundred per cent clear now, but self hate and lack of confidence have a significant role. And with each passing day comes new ways to change one’s appearance, leaving us with only the hope that we can all learn to be confident in our own skin. No one has the right to say who is beautiful and who is not because even though it does sound cliché, real beauty lies within.Follow https://twitter.com/ByCollinsMwai