In Kenya, their top model, Ajuma Nasenyana is challenging such notions of beauty, and the growing practice of skin lightening. These days she is on a one-woman crusade speaking out against skin-bleaching. Ajuma says, “It seems that the world is conspiring in preaching that there is something wrong with Kenyan ladies’ kinky hair and dark skin.” Large advertising and modeling agencies seem to be promoting the light-skinned over the dark-skinned model, she says, singling out a Swedish cosmetics firm that recently entered the Kenyan market. Skin-bleaching products like Carol Light are now some of the fastest moving in Kenya. “Their leaflets are all about skin-lightening, and they seem to be doing good business in Kenya. It just shocks me. It’s not okay for a Caucasian to tell us to lighten our skin.” She says Europeans have natural skin and wonders why they want “us to bleach ours.” Various bleaching creams, soaps, gels and lotions such as Movate, Jaribu, Peau Clair, Betalemon and Mekako, which have long been banned in Kenya because of dangerous or harmful ingredients such as hydroquinone, steroid and mercury, are still being used on the “black” market. In speaking about her simple beauty regiment, Ajuma says, “I have never attempted to change my skin. I am natural. People in Europe and America love my dark skin. But here in Kenya, in my home country, some consider it not attractive.”
In Kenya, like other parts of Afrika, and the black world, many women use various cosmetic products to make themselves more attractive. Afrikan women straighten their hair then look down upon their natural hair often associating it with “village hair” similar to the way Afrikan American women of an earlier century associated braids and cornrows with country or rural hair.
Ajuma along with Iman, Oluchi Onweagba, Alek Wek, and Liya Kebde are among the few elite models in the world of Western high fashion. She has been a familiar face on the runways of Milan, Paris, London and New York, the fashion capitals of the world; has modeled for Victoria’s Secret, Alexis Mabille and Martin Grant; has also been a model for top clients of Ford Models like Vivianne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. (She even made a cameo appearance in the first Sex and the City movie.) She was crowned Model of the Year at the Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg, South Africa, last October.
Ajuma’s new campaign is grabbing attention, and the fight against discrimination in the modeling industry in general is also gathering momentum. Stay strong sister!