More Kenyan women are warming up to cosmetic surgery. Why?

More Kenyan women are warming up to cosmetic surgery. PHOTO| FOTOSEARCH

What you need to know:

  • Two decades ago, cosmetic surgery was a foreign concept to the average Kenyan woman
  • A boob job was one of those things that were done abroad and in secret
  • Now, the Kenyan woman is no longer hiding that she has gotten some work done on her body
  • According to the Kenya Society of Plastic and Reconstruction Surgeons (Kenya – SPRAS), the number of cosmetic surgeons practicing in the country has almost doubled from 10 in 2010 to 19 in 2021

This story begins with a post on Instagram. Body by Design, a Nairobi based plastic, and cosmetic surgery clinic is running a Christmas promotion on liposuction procedures. The post promises that for Sh435,000, in just four hours, you can transform your body. It carries a picture of a woman who through a procedure called Lipo 360 has changed her body shape from a pear one that carries her weight on her belly to an hourglass with a wasp-like waist and a full derriere.

The idea that you could walk into a clinic and walk out with your desired body without having to fast or spend hours at the gym huffing and puffing sounds too good to be true. What's the catch? When I call the number given on the website, a pleasant woman is ready to take my booking.

When I tell her of my intention, she tells me that the clinic is closed and the management staff who can answer my questions are on holiday. I scroll through their social media pages to see the array of procedures they offer ranging from vaginal tightening to breast lifts when I come across a familiar photograph. Risper Faith, a former Nairobi Diaries actor, and a socialite turned businesswoman has just undergone liposuction at the clinic.

The chase for a flat stomach

Risper who runs Risper Faith creations, a local manufacturer of skincare products is reluctant to share how liposuction has changed her life. She, however, has documented the whole process in intimate detail on her social media pages. In a video posted in November 2020, she speaks about gaining weight to a staggering 115 kg and trying various ways to lose it including enrolling in a gym and attempting to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Other than her health, she shares that she was worried about her brand on social media, worried that if she did not get back to a healthy size, clothing companies might begin shying away from working with her. When the workouts and healthy foods failed, she resolved to undergo liposuction, a surgical procedure that uses a suction technique to extract fat from specific areas of the body like the stomach, thighs, arms, or neck. Nine liters of body fat was extracted during her procedure.

"I am finally beginning to feel like myself again," she says in her final video on the experience shot about a month after the procedure. In it, she is donning a figure-hugging dress, showing off her newly found flat tummy.

Positive response

Interestingly, most of the responses Risper gets when she shares her transformation are positive. Most women are gushing at how good she looks while even more are keen to know where she did it and how much it cost to gauge whether they can swing it, a sharp contrast to the backlash aimed at Kenyan women who came out with their body modification stories not too long ago. Case in point, in 2014, when socialite Verah Sidika admitted to lightening her skin, there was a social media storm with people criticised her for not loving her skin. When later, she had cosmetic surgery to enlarge her breasts, she was berated for being a bad role model, and the men who dated her trolled her for loving a 'plastic' woman.

Something has changed these past few years because body modification has now become desirable. This change is connected to the increase in the time we spend on social media platforms. It is near impossible to spend hours poring over perfect faces, wide hips, full breasts, and flat stomachs on Instagram and not be influenced either to want to change your body or to accept it as is.

Who is doing it?

Devin Masase who had cosmetic breast surgery two years ago agrees. When I first meet Devin, she is like nothing I envisioned.

"She had some work done on her chest which changed her life. Talk to her. She will tell you," my source tells me when she gives me Devin's phone number.

When one hears that a woman had breast augmentation surgery to increase the size and change the shape of her bosom, one assumes that she is a woman who loves attention and is thus outgoing and chatty. 30-year-old Devin is the opposite.

She is a biochemist working in a medical government lab. She is soft-spoken, shy—almost timid. It takes effort to get more than 'Yes' or 'No' answers from her. When we meet, she is wearing Mom jeans and a loose-fitting bright yellow sweater. She shows me pictures of herself in a Bikini from a vacation she took during Christmas and the 'work' she had done on her chest is evident. When you look from the side, you can see what looks like a cone protruding from her breast skin.

"I had silicone gel implants placed in a private clinic in Turkey," she explains on the shape.

Until 2019 when she had the procedure, Devin says she had always thought her breasts too small. She began thinking that maybe she could do something about it when she saw the lengths that some of the celebrities she liked and followed online like the Kardashians went to attain that perfect physique.

"Someone will have a child and come home from the hospital with a flat stomach and perky breasts, who would not want that?" she poses.

When she looked it up, she realised the procedure would cost her an arm and a leg so she shelved the idea until she floated it to a man she was dating and he jumped at the possibility. Her perfect breasts cost him close to a million shillings excluding her flight and accommodation costs.

"I am so much more confident in my body. I am in love with it. I have no regrets," she says.

Botched surgeries

The internet is littered with clips of women who have had catastrophic results of cosmetic surgery gone wrong. The sad story of June Wanja who died of sepsis after a breast augmentation surgery at a local hospital, in 2018, is still fresh. Her intestines were punctured during the breast surgery leading to waste seeping and spreading throughout her stomach. Hearing of such a horror episode happen so close to home just months before her procedure, wasn't Devin afraid when she went under the knife?

"Don't believe what a cosmetic surgeon or a facility says about themselves. If you want to get surgery, get a recommendation from someone who's done it and got good results," she advises.

Nothing lasts forever, not even the results of well-performed cosmetic surgery. What happens to the self-image of a woman like Devin when these effects wear off?

"I'm happy right now," she shrugs.

What does the Kenyan woman want?

Two decades ago, cosmetic surgery was a foreign concept to the average Kenyan woman. A boob job was one of those things that were done abroad and in secret. Now, with the improvement of the Kenyan woman's socioeconomic status, the Kenyan woman is no longer hiding that she has gotten some work done on her body. Besides, she need not travel for that nip and tuck.

According to the Kenya Society of Plastic and Reconstruction Surgeons (Kenya – SPRAS), the number of cosmetic surgeons practicing in the country has almost doubled from 10 in 2010 to 19 in 2021. There are plenty of facilities looking to cut and fix her little bits and pieces.

At least 280 patients are reported to walk into the Karen Hospital yearly to undergo cosmetic surgery.

Changing beauty standards

Since the colonial period when the African man was wowed by whiteness, our beauty standards have been borrowed from the west. In the 80s and 90s came the rise of the supermodel which had all women wanting to be skinny with a thigh gap. Then came Beyoncé in the early 2000s and it was fashionable to be curvy. Advancing this trend was the onset of reality TV stars like the Kardashians whose pouted lips, sizeable bosoms, and curvy booties pushed the beauty standards in the new direction.

Today, with the Instagram generation, where everything is glittering and polished to perfection many women wonder if they shouldn't follow suit. Add on to this the influencer culture, that parade their procedures online as they post picture-perfect images, and the mindset towards beauty enhancements has shifted positively.

The influences

All through, a youthful look and lighter skin have been more desirable with some corporates and television stations refusing to put darker-skinned women on their screens and front office desks. Now, even as different body-positive influencers try to push for the 'we are all beautiful' agenda on different platforms, there is still a desire for a specific type of body.

A dipstick survey conducted by Saturday Magazine revealed that unlike the Western woman, the Kenyan woman is satisfied with the shape of her nose and lips. The study showed that given a chance and the means, there are still parts of her body she would change. She wants a flat stomach, fuller and perkier breasts, fuller buttocks, and lighter skin, in that order.

Costs of procedures

Insurance doesn't cover aesthetic enhancements but this has not stopped Kenyan middle and upper classes from queuing for the procedures.

The most common procedures include tummy tucks, boob jobs, Botox, and face-lifts. The costs range from Sh250,000 to one million shillings. Botox goes for around Sh16-20,000.

Out of 24 women aged between 21 and 45, only one has had a breast augmentation surgery and one a fat removal surgery on her belly. Three women admitted to having had permanent skin lightening procedures. Interestingly, perhaps because it is a cheaper procedure, half of the women surveyed have had or plan to get permanent eyebrow shaping procedures in the next six months.

"Body modification is here to stay. The Kenyan woman has taken charge of her appearance. If there is something she doesn't like if she can fix it, she will," says Christine Ntere owner of Microblading Kenya.

Non-surgical procedures

Her brow clinic which has been running for a year and a half offers micro-blading, micro shading, and ombre' brows, all tattoo-like cosmetic procedures to shape and enhance eyebrows. A session with her lasts three hours and costs anything between Sh25,000 and Sh40,000 depending on the procedure. She has two clients on any working day. The results last for between three to five years depending on the type of skin.

"Micro-blading is popular as it is affordable compared to other cosmetic procedures. Also, if you are looking to do something with your face, you should begin with the eyebrows. They can make or break your whole look,' she says.

The way she sees it, this is not vanity as how a person looks directly translates to how they feel, how they carry themselves, and even how they perform at their jobs and businesses.

As the Kenyan woman continues to make strides on the socioeconomic front, one can only imagine that the number of cosmetic procedures she undergoes will go higher. There are more professionals available to help women reach their desired outcomes safely which means that, hopefully, there will be fewer botched surgeries.