Women are now embracing anything thrown at them to increase the size of their breasts, hips and change their complexion to suit the community ‘standard of beauty’.
The Kenya Bureau of Standards banned cosmetic products containing hydroquinone, steroids, mercury and hydrogen peroxide elements which are harmful to the human body in the 1990s.
However, unregulated clinics offering backstreet skin-bleaching injections, butt- and hip-enhancement injections have become increasingly popular with Kenyan women — a trend that health professionals find alarming.
Nairobi’s River Road, a bustling area with a reputation for prostitution, black market goods and crime, has become a hub for illicit beauticians. They provide these injections, pills and creams that contain high levels of cancer-causing chemicals, such as hydroquinone, mercury, lead and cadmium.
The ‘beauticians’ often sit outside their booths, hissing at passing women to attract customers.
One says, “Sasa mrembo, mafuta ya kutoa pimples, blemishes na ya kulighten iko. Tuko pia na za hips na bust. Njoo aunty nikurembeshe upate jamaa wa nguvu (Hello beautiful, products to fade blackspots, make you smooth and light are available. We also have pills for enhancing your posterior and bust. Let me make you attractive to woo a ‘sponsor’).”
The star sort to find out some of the practices women are indulging in to change their appearance.
ARVs TO GAIN WEIGHT
We do these things because of men. Therefore, they should not make a big fuss over it
Jane Nyambura, hip enhancer
“My friend showed me a conversation from her private messages on a Facebook group, where women claimed to have used antiretrovirals (ARVs) to gain weight,” Monica Njeri* (not real name) says.
Njeri says she was hesitant, for the idea was risky and illegal. “I also wondered where I would get the drugs from,” she recalls.
Her friend convinced her that a pharmacist friend, who was HIV-positive, got the drugs and sold them to group members at Sh5,000.
Monica gave in to the idea. “I was willing to try anything to get my desired weight,” she says.
One year later, her general weight has increased. “I was 49kg before I started using ARVs. I am 60kg now,” she says.
She says she will only stop taking the ARVs when she hits a weight of between 70 and 75kg. This, she says, will attract a man of her dreams.
“A rich, tall, buff, light guy will get attracted to me and we get married,” she says.
However, HIV-Aids specialist Dr Patrick Gichohi cautions women on the use of ARVS to gain weight. “Some antiretroviral drugs like Efavirenz may cause psychiatric problems, while protease inhibitors (a class of ARV drugs used to stop the replication of the HI virus) may raise your levels of cholesterol,” he says.
Gichohi says people taking ARVs derived from a combination of drugs (from the nucleoside RT inhibitors (NRTI), which are used to stop the virus from multiplying, and protease inhibitor classes), will experience changes in the distribution of body fat, which women may mistake for weight gain.
Some of the long-term side effects, he says, include kidney, liver or pancreas damage, and Abacavir hypersensitivity reaction, which results in fever, vomiting, and/or nausea, high blood sugar, diabetes and high lactic acid levels in the blood.
CHICKEN FEED FOR SEXIER HIPS
“I started using growers mash and I have never looked back. The result is this great body you see here, ” Jane Nyambura says as she boastfully gestures at her broad hips.
She began eating it raw then graduated to seasoning it with milk and sugar. “It tastes great. In fact, just like any other cereal meal,” she says.
Although she has attained her desired figure, she says the practice is addictive. “You just want wider and wider hips. I’m so addicted to it and there is no way I’m going to stop, not even if my boyfriend confronted me with a court order and a jail term threat,” she says.
She says men should not be surprised that women go to such lengths. “We do these things because of men. Therefore, they should not make a big fuss over it. And by the way, this is just a tip of the iceberg. There are so many things we do just because of them.”
A pharmacologist at Garden Veterinary Services, Dr Joseph Mugechia, says the risks far outweigh any benefits. “Chicken feed is formulated with some antibiotics,” he says.
“When you eat it, your body ends up developing resistance to antibiotics, leaving you at the mercy of bacterial infections. This means that in case you fall ill, your body will resist the available treatment.”
SILICON FOR BIGGER HIPS, BUTTS
“I tried the injection,” admits Martha, a young woman we found at one of the stalls on River Road, “but after some time, I realised it was affecting my menstrual flow and my hips did not widen, so I stopped and returned to pills.”
The senior civil servant now imports herbal body enhancer pills from China. “It gives me a headache getting the ‘maca pills’ into the country because of costs and customs included,” she says.
However, she says she does not regret it as it keeps her sane. “Look, I have proper hips, a killer behind and breasts I am proud of, but I don’t spend evenings in the gym. Instead, I spend them looking hot and getting admired!” she boasts.
Rose, who owns a cosmetic stall on River Road, says she charges Sh25,000 per butt injection.
She says the treatment can require a number of visits before results begin to show. Once they are visible, she says, the results are permanent until old age, unlike pills, which you will be required to pop occasionally.
A good body will never be about hips and curves or a big bust and butt. It’s about self-assurance and being comfortable in your own skin
Naked Truth founder Robert Burale
Padded panties or bikers portray a larger than normal posterior and well-rounded hips.
“Imagine my horror when, after lusting after her hips the whole evening over a drink, I discovered I had been royally conned!” Alfred Mutua tells the Star.
Mutua was lured by a woman’s hips in a club to the point of taking a Tala loan to buy her a bottle of wine, as she had demanded.
“I love well-rounded hips, and I can do anything to have such a woman,” he says, adding that he spanked the woman only to feel a sponge. “I felt cheated and used. I wished I had not paid her bill.”
Moreen Wangari*, 27, uses padded bikers every day at work. “Padded underwear is now part of my daily wardrobe,” she says.
“Wearing it has boosted my self-esteem and work performance, so I wouldn’t give it up, even if a man called me out for wearing it.”
But when I ask her about how she goes out with men, this illusion quickly evaporates.
Moreen says she tells men she feels ticklish when touched to keep off men from touching her and feeling the sponge.
“If I’m with a man in the house, I quickly remove the padded bikers in the toilet and then quickly wear a loose T-shirt that I carry in my bag,” she says.
She gives an excuse to the guys the clothes she had won were too tight, and the guys can barely think straight at that time. She is confident that for the six months she has been wearing the padded bikers, no guy has ever suspected.
The bikers retail at Sh3,000 per piece on Jumia online shop. A seller says five are enough because they are easily washed, and the pads are removable.
Image consultant and Naked Truth founder Robert Burale says wearing padded clothes is a crutch that only gives a temporary boost, while failing to address the underlying body image issues.
“A good body will never be about hips and curves or a big bust and butt. It’s about self-assurance and being comfortable in your own skin,” he says.
“Wearing padded underwear means you have a no self-esteem and you need something artificial to get accepted.”
He says it gets worse if you are doing it to feel attractive to men, because for one, not all men are drawn by bigger hips and backsides. And even if they are, what happens when he discovers that the curves that attracted him to you were fake?
MERCURY/HYDROQUINONE TO BLEACH
“I’ve been black and dark-skinned for many years. I wanted to see the other side. I wanted to see what it would be like to be white, and I’m happy,” Annita Mureithi* says candidly.
Over the past two years, Annita has been using a mixture of creams bought from what she calls skin doctors on River Road. Her cream cost around Sh5,000, she says.
Separately, Mercy Wairimu* has for five years used lightening creams, and is trying injections in an attempt to get more dramatic results.
“My husband prefers half-caste women to darker girls, and he is proud to be mine when we go to the club,” she says. “I get far more male attention now I am lighter.”
MEN ALSO BLEACH
Congolese hair stylist Jackson Marcelle says he has been using special injections to bleach his skin for the past 10 years.
Each injection lasts for six months. “I pray every day and I ask God, ‘God why did you make me black?’ I don’t like being black. I don’t like black skin,” he tells BBC. Marcelle, known as Africa’s Michael Jackson, says his mother used to apply creams on him when he was young to make him appear “less black”.
“I like white people. Black people are seen as dangerous; that’s why I don’t like being black. People treat me better now because I look like I’m white,” he says.
Entrenched in his mind from a young age is the adage, “If it’s white, it’s all right,” a belief that has chipped away at the self-esteem of millions.
Medical professionals, however, warn the increasing popularity of these unregulated injections and creams could cause health problems in the long term.
The Kenya Bureau of standards stresses that it has not given approval for any of the injections in the market today.
“These products are potentially unsafe and ineffective, and might contain unknown harmful ingredients or contaminants.”
Some names have been changed for protection purposes.
Story by Lynday Nyawira