What you need to know:
- No one wants to be a strong independent woman anymore. Girls want to be 'baby girls', get pampered, or be the 'Kept woman'
- Many young men are going for older moneyed women. They are also getting ensnared to gay groups, as they admire the lifestyle led by those in these cliques
For the last three years that I have known Ashley, she has been living a high life. I met the 22-year-old back in 2019, and she was part of an event organised in one of the top hotels in the city.
As we got acquitted over time, it struck me as odd that despite being a student, Ashley leads a flashy lifestyle that many can only envy.
Hers is a life of opulence that she never shies to show off to her over 20,000 followers on Instagram.
Ashley has an appetite for the fine things in life, she loves to dine in 5-star hotels, shops at high-end stores, wears Sh100,000 wigs, invests in top dollar makeup, and will always upload videos and photos of her purchases. If it's not a Jimmy Choo shoe, then it is a Prada handbag.
Her Instagram feed is littered with images of her escapades in exotic vacations.
"You brag different when you bag me because I am a gem," read one of her recent captions.
On her Instagram bio, Ashely describes herself as a fashion travel lifestyle blogger. The young lass sells the idea that she finances her lifestyle from her clothesline business, but the truth is, it's yet to pick.
During one of our random chats, Ashley once confessed that she loves to go out with rich guys who in most cases are older men. She argues she is a 'baby girl' and needs to be well-taken care of. These are the people who finance her swanky lifestyle which she then boasts of on her socials, painting a picture of a successful lifestyle blogger.
Welcome to the #Softlife or #SoftLiving. The street-smart urban dictionary describes the Soft Life as 'an expensive lifestyle that requires no worry or stress but spending and looking good.' It's a hedonistic lifestyle, that is centered on conspicuous consumption, and amassing an envious social media following, whose crowd also aspire to lead a similar opulent life, devoid of years of 'sweat'.
A new phrase
The whole embodiment package of the so-called 'soft life'—a new phrase that has gained momentum lately in the country, is one of fame and fortune. A world in which one dines at five-star hotels, drinks expensive liquor, travels a lot to exotic and luxurious destinations, cruises in expensive wheels, wears expensive designer clothes, shoes and colognes, and shops in high-end stores.
"I am too pretty to suffer," Joy Waithera, a 22-year-old university student says of the trend’s motto. "What are matatus? You are either being chauffeured, driving, or taking an Uber," she adds.
In the local scene, socialites, influencers aka content creators, celebrities, social climbers, radio vixens, and 'flamboyant' businessmen, pass this as a tool of their trade. A show as to how beautiful their world is, the currency being in the hordes of online admirers they attract.
Scrolling through my socials one easy morning, I bump into a meme, 'May your life be as awesome as you pretend it is on Facebook,' it reads.
If you are to look at the world right now through the social media lens, it is incredible how perfect most people's lives are. This is a world with airbrushed and carefully curated profiles, posts about the good life, the great career, the perfect relationship, all in the name of hard work and meticulous life choices.
"It's a make-belief world where instant gratification is the only way. There is no struggle in the game. All you have to show is your images as you have Baecations, make-overs, and endless parties," says Wanja Mbuthia, a 28-year-old digital strategist who also labels the lifestyle as one of YOLO (You Only Live Once) or that of "Kuomoka".
While socialites have always been there in history, the advent of social media took it mainstream. In the early 2000s, It Girls, Paris Hilton, and her bestie Nicole Richie hit the scene as stars who were famous for being famous. Then, a few years later, Paris Hilton's one-time stylist, Kim Kardashian, made waves with a sex tape. Catapulted by the fame, the show Keeping Up With the Kardashians (KUWTK) started airing on the E! reality Television series. What followed was a furore of media attention, and thanks to social media, a following of millions to the family (The Kardashians and Jenners), keen on the lifestyle. The megabucks quickly followed the KUWTK family, rubberstamping the #Softlife trend gained from the notion of being famous for being famous.
In Kenya, many were paying close attention. The socialite trend gained root as young women like Vera Sidika, Huddah Monroe, Risper Faith among many others, carved an online brand out of their looks and that of projecting a glitzy lifestyle. Theirs was a world characterised by scandals, online show-offs, nudity, and excessive partying.
"Millennials and Generation Z who grew up mostly on social media were taking note and were ready to embrace the culture. They wanted in, urgently and badly," explains Wanja.
"It's a generation problem I think. I can call it a pandemic afflicting the young," Wanja adds.
In a recent survey conducted by Safe Skincare Initiative, a Non-Governmental Organization that offers mentorship to young girls in high schools, many of the students cited 'socialite' as a career.
"They erroneously believe that all it takes is celebrity looks and makeup to become rich and famous. A good number of girls have dropped out of high school to become TikTok stars. These high school girls start bleaching at the age of 14," the survey reported.
Joy, admits to feeling the pressure. "No one wants to be a strong independent woman anymore. Girls want to be 'baby girls', get pampered, or be the 'Kept woman'. The stars like @shornarwa are preaching it on TikTok," she says. "We all want an easy way out. Even the boys of our age are doing it—they want sugar mummies too. You know degrees are not helping and there are no jobs for us. Plus, you see peers who were not even as bright as you, posting all these images of their great life, and you feel the pressure to also get a slice of that life," she adds.
The competition to be a leader of the Soft Life has Joy rethinking her idea of dating a broke man. "My boyfriend is jobless, and he doesn't buy me gifts. I feel unappreciated, yet I have a line-up of admirers who would foot my bills," she says.
"There is this popular saying among my peers that 'why give it for free when you can make money out of it.' Either way, a broke or rich guy will still stress you.
At the end of the day, if I am living in a posh apartment, where all my needs are catered for, it doesn't matter how I made the money. I can tell you even working women are doing it. The end justifies the means," Joy says.
What many ask though, is who is supplying this money, and is the Soft Life one devoid of struggle?
On the money source, Wanja says, "Many young men are going for older moneyed women. They are also getting ensnared to gay groups, as they admire the lifestyle led by those in these cliques." Joy, on the other hand, says, that there are many pimps today who get younger women to date older men like politicians and business people for big money.
"It's called the 'No face. No case', scenario," Joy says of the source of the money. "In most cases, you see the girl's image, but not of the person taking the photo. The unseen person is the provider," she says.
"I have a college mate who is always dining at the English Point Marina. Do you know how expensive that place is? Then, her outfits cost more than Sh10,000, and she has different ones each time. Where do you think she gets money from yet she lives in the hostels?" Joy poses.
Socialites explain their lifestyle
Socialites Huddah and Vera have constantly tried to justify how they earn their flashy lifestyle with many of their critics being skeptical of their explanations. Many label them as social climbers thanks to the rich men they attract.
"I wish pu***paid as much as people assume because I wouldn't be hustling so much. I'd just be laying there. You can downplay my hard work all you want to make yourself look good. I'm still not revealing all my businesses to the public," Huddah defended herself online in a 2019 post. Vera has also branded herself as an entrepreneur.
But there is more. In 2020, Huddah became the first Kenyan celebrity to open an Only Fans account on Instagram. Only Fans is a paid service that people (mostly men) pay to see some explicit videos and photos of their favourite or popular celebrities, that they would not otherwise see anywhere else.
On the Only Fans account, Huddah set a charge of $10 a month (Sh10, 000) for any social media user who needs to access her never-seen photos. Subscribers will see her twerking videos, nude photos, have a one-on-one talk with her, share secrets and get to ask her some intimate questions.
By the end of the year, the founder of Huddah Cosmetics that has since closed its stores in Nairobi, claimed to have made over $45,000 (Sh4.9 million) from her Only Fans account.
A month later the currently pregnant Vera launched her Only Fans account charging Sh3, 000 a month for her explicit nudes and videos.
This is despite her claims of making good returns from her Vera Beauty Parlour, which she started in Nairobi but had to relocate to Mombasa due to financial difficulties.
Still, the two most popular socialites in Kenya continue to enjoy huge social media followings as they continue to show opulence.
As their fans, who are mostly young take to the lifestyle the effects are visible and devastating.
They can range from the tragic, "I know a girl who committed suicide because she felt like she sold her soul to the devil after she was forced to perform lewd sexual acts, and a number have been killed after not delivering their part of the bargain. Chances of contracting HIV and STI's is also high," says Joy who says she keeps off 'sex for money' avenues.
"The obvious one is depression because you are living beyond your means, or projecting a fake lifestyle," Wanja says. "Most young people today are also in debt; given that they can easily access money through mobile loan Apps. The unnecessary pressure is also fueling greed as many take to shortcuts to get fast money so they get into wash-wash businesses, gambling or crime," says Wanja.
Life coach and founder of Blended Family Network, Jackie Keya believes the current trend where the young are not ready to trust the process, is a result of social media peer pressure where everyone wants to be seen as successful.
"The kind of peer pressure the Generation Z are experiencing is very different from that of our time. We had to get out to experience different lifestyles. People didn't even realise that they were poor. Now, every time you go on to social media people are doing well and this affects many young people psychologically," Keya explains.
Keya emphasises that not everything that we see on social media even from peers is real.
"No one posts their failures on social media. There is no perfect life without its downside. Social media is curated, filtered, and sends a picture that deviates from the real world."
Fake it till you make it
Socialite Maureen Imbayi who came to the limelight as a cast member of the Nairobi Diaries socialite TV show sees social media as a life of pretense.
"Anyone, not just socialites have to go through fakeness. Social media is all about the glam. That is what everyone strives to show even when that's not the case," Imbayi popularly known as Black Cinderella notes.
19-year-old socialite Shakila Amin known to her legion as Shakila swears that her life on social media is as real as it is behind the camera.
"I am a socialite and have been involved in the trends and also been a trendsetter. Many people portray me as a bad influence to children and young girls but I know I'm real to myself," Shakila who says she doesn't care how her social life influences others, defends.
"I learnt to enjoy life without worrying about what people think of me."
"We are the most stressed generation but with the most beautiful photos online," Wanja draws out the irony.
Observing these trends, life coach Keya echoes both Wanja and Joy's sentiment that the quest for the Soft Life can fuel mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, and in extreme cases suicide.
"If you are not strong, you will fall. It will break you. Anytime you struggle to please or copy others, you invite trouble and you could easily fall into depression because you are being dishonest to yourself and dishonouring who you are."
Keya believes that we need to show the young that hard work pays and is fulfilling.
"There is no standard model of what we should be like because everyone is unique. You cannot be a counterfeit when you already are a masterpiece," the life coach surmises.
Additional reporting: Phyllis Nyambura
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