Cleopatra had a beauty regimen she followed religiously and her beauty secrets, which included milk baths, are still used to date. Queen Esther from the Bible embraced a beauty treatment that included fine oils and cosmetics, to have an edge over the other girls in the eyes of Kin Xerxes who made her his queen. Throughout history women have been known to enhance various body parts to appear younger, fertile and more attractive.
Ken Ouko, a sociologist at the University of Nairobi, says that the modern woman is concerned with accumulating erotic capital over any other form of capital whether it is economic, intellectual or material.
"Erotic capital refers to the fact that every woman wants to look attractive and be (trendy, fashionable and/or goodlooking)," explains Ouko. However, he says that the twisted part of this argument is that women seem to be responding to the male definition of erotic capital. "Some women are more concerned about (other people) want instead of what's good for them," he notes.
We look at some of the leading issues that bother women and the rationale behind their thinking from a societal, biological and sociologist's point of view.
One of the biggest areas of concern for many women today is skin colour. In some areas and schools of thought, fair-skinned women are considered more beautiful.
Light skinned women are thought to get more attention and opportunities than their dark-skinned counterparts.
During the days of slavery in America, the light-skinned women were assigned lighter jobs in the house while the dark-skinned slaves were often assigned manual jobs in the fields.
Today, the skin care industry is awash with harmful products for skin lightening.
"The fact that Africa was largely colonised by white skinned people left citizens of the continent with a collectivised hang up about the supposed superiority of white-skinned persons. To most women, therefore, being light-skinned is a step up the superiority ladder. Light skin is an industry in itself; women who crave light skin strive for monetary access to the cosmetic facilitation methods that make fair skin a reality," explains Ken Ouko.
"When I'm done with babies, I will reward myself with a boob job to restore my sagging bust," says Sarah*. She is one of the many women today who would brave the knife for breast augmentation due to various individual reasons.
With Hollywood defining what beauty is, most women would do anything to increase their cup size. From a psychological point of view, saggy breasts are much derided – despite the fact that they are symbol of child nursing and a natural part of the ageing process.
However, with the taboo associated with the ageing process, many women feel compelled to find ways to lift their busts in order to stay young. Perky breasts also enhance one’s ‘marketability’ in the dating arena. "When a man shows up with beautiful women with perky breasts and a beautifully shaped body, he becomes the envy of the other men," reveals Ouko. But that’s not all; fashion is also favourable towards women who do not need industrial-strength bras to lift and shape their breasts, leading to further self-esteem crises that make surgery an option.
From Nicki Minaj to Kim Kardashian, today’s pop celebrities have made ‘bubble butts’ the most-sought-after surgical enhancement of the day. Adverts for Brazilian butt lifts abound on social media, and those who cannot afford one do endless squats and glute-building exercises to enhance their behinds.
""Big hips and a big bottom are usually associated with a woman's fertility," says Ouko. “Today most men are pre-occupied with what I call the 'buttock culture'. As a result, some women will (do almost anything to get one)," points out Ouko. African men seem to be obsessed with a big derriere.
"I read books and do squats to grow my mind and butt," says Nancy*. Like most women she says she does not understand men's fascination with a female's behind. She however, admits the girls in her circle have monthly squat challenges in an effort to increase the size of their butts. "We cannot afford to have butt implants so we are going it the natural way," confesses Nancy.
Many women are spending tens of thousands of shillings buying human hair pieces to enhance their looks. Most of them have no qualms investing in an expensive wig or weave as it changes her looks instantly. For a long time, this was symptomatic of the colonisation of the black race, the Hollywoodisation of beauty standards (only blonde-haired, blue-eyed women were considered beautiful) and the insecurities associated with nappy hair.
Only recently has natural African hair become a fashion trend, with black consciousness and pride growing both in Africa and the world. But for many years, only women with straight hair – and especially long hair – would be considered professional-looking and tidy enough to date.
A symmetrical face is perceived as attractive and gives the illusion of a good-natured person. In mate selection, most people prefer symmetry. From Botox injections to preserve their youth to nose and cheek jobs, women have altered their appearances to look beautiful and more youthful. The facial cosmetic surgery movement may not have caught on in Kenya yet, but many women now use make-up to contour their faces to give an illusion of high cheekbones and a pointed Caucasian-like nose.
WHY THE STRESS OVER LOOKS?
Ken Ouko, a sociologist at University of Nairobi helps clarify a few facts on why women alter or enhance their appearances.
"Dr Catherine Hakim, a sociologist at the London School of Economics, coined the term 'erotic capital', which she described as a combination of 'beauty, social skills, good dress sense, physical fitness, liveliness, sex appeal and sexual competence." She wrote a book called Erotic Capital in 2010, which advanced the theory that indeed, looking attractive is directly related to the success of a woman," says Ouko.
OPPORTUNITIES THAT COME WITH INVESTING IN EROTIC CAPITAL
When women invest in erotic capital, it opens doors for them. When looking for jobs, how a woman looks is likely to play a big part in landing the job, fortunately or unfortunately. An attractive woman is also more likely to get an advertising job or land a modelling contract.
The media exposure also works to her advantage and advances her brand. There are inverted opportunities which come with male attention, which comes with capital packages and the women are given various gifts.
When a woman is looking for economic opportunities or a better place to live, they are likely to get favours just because of how they look.
SOCIALISATION GONE WRONG?
I hear my campus students saying, "If you look hot you are not gonna float." This strongly implies that how a woman looks has a lot to do with how her life turns out.
Our society is like a common market place and everyone is like a stock in the shelf where various people pick up what appeases them. If you hit your 'sell by' date, you are thrown off the shelf. So one has to take care of themselves and keep looking as good as they can.
WHO ARE WOMEN'S ROLE MODELS?
Women are very imitative by nature. So if socialites or celebrities advance a certain trend, they are bound to copy it. On social media, especially on Instagram, about 94 per cent are females who take photos that accentuate their ample behinds and pose flaunting their figures.
This no doubt gets into the mind of most women who desire to look like them a sociological trend we hope would end but one that doesn't seem to have an end in sight.
MEN'S COMPETITIVE NATURE
Men are competitive by nature so when your peers, age-mates or business associates show up with beautiful looking women with well accentuated behinds and perky breasts they will seek to outdo them.
The visual nature tied with their masculinity and testosterone makes them look for the best and according to them, the best is what every other man oogles at. You might find a woman who appeases you in every which way but because no one gives her a second look it doesn't satisfy his ego.
Some men will want to be with that woman who's like a flower lapel on his expensive jacket. It's like a trophy catch. When he manages to hook up with one of those beautiful women on social media he becomes the envy of other males and he becomes a masculine icon because men oogle at his catch and that turns him on.