By Steven Tendo and Ogova Ondego
Published July 6, 2004
Are women in urban Africa taking to exhibitionism, not considering inner-wear a private affair but choosing to glide along streets and hang around shopping malls and eateries baring their inner-wear for anyone with eyes to gawk at?
We are at a Nairobi fast foods cafÃ© when a gawking group of young men and women draw our attention to a woman seated on a high stool with her white nylon panties and blue jeans trousers slipped down her butts leaving the parting between them exposed to the elements. She appears unconcerned as she munches her lunch and washes it down with a soda.
A similar scene is re-enacted at a cyber cafÃ© a short distance away from this eatery. Here, another woman sits, her butts exposed, browsing the Internet without a care in the world.
At another time, while we are flying from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi, we sit next to a woman who appears to be dead-set on flaunting not just her underwear but butts as well. And so she does lots of leaning forward to draw our attention to her behind.
All kinds of womenâ€”young and old, full-bodied and slim, more educated and less educatedâ€”appear to have been swept off their feet by this fad.
It boggles the mind that just a few years ago, most of the urban people in East Africa’s Kampala, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, for instance, were still largely prudish and would not have been easily persuaded to bare their under clothing. But now, it appears, young women all over the region appear to have gone out of their way to wear more revealing clothes every day and one canâ€™t be wrong to assume that it is more than just a fad. It is no longer enough to peg the trend down to the African disease of aping everything Western.
â€œI think it is more to do with a stagnant perception that it is cool,â€ Diane Nanziri says. She is a student of art majoring in fashion design and winner of the Student Award at the recently concluded Kampala International Fashion Week. â€œGirls are stuck in the past and I wonder what they will do when suddenly they wake up to realise that the times have long since changed. It is not a smart thing to move around with underwear showing any more.â€
Could it be that women in Africa–Nigeria has more pictures of ‘indecently’ dressed women online than any other country in Africa!–are being manipulated to wear clothes that are structurally a misfit and that the fashion belief in exposing panties is sheer ignorance among them?
Many of the women with exposed underwear are not necessarily those with a wider mezzanine section but even those with slimmer bodies regarded as ‘beautiful’ according to western judgment. The reason for this exposure, therefore, may be deliberate and not out of ignorance. Perhaps this explains why, years into this practice, some of the women still feel the embarrassment and are forced to cover their backs with lesos or khangas, sweaters, scarves or mere hands as they stride along the streets, board or alight from a public service vehicle, or bend over to pick something from a street vendor. Some are in the constant habit of pulling up the trousers or skirt, which appear to uncover unwanted parts with each step they make. You are reminded of those days when boys used to sag their trousers, but without exposing their bodies. In all, showing off of panties seems to lend an air of uneasiness both to the wearer and the â€˜viewerâ€™.
There have been instances where such women are forced to remain seated in public transport vehicles until everyone is off so as to avoid â€˜being seenâ€™ as they bend their way out. Boarding vehicles causes similar uneasiness. At some social places and churches, some, if they donâ€™t have additional material to hang around, are very specific with their sitting point, which must be with their backs to the wall or at the back rows. Matters are made worse when that particular woman, lost in the confusion, does not know what she is expected to show off! Such women wear equally sparse panties or simple thong that disappears somewhere below the cut leaving the ass widely uncovered. Whereas those sympathetic to the wave would argue this is the intention, they fail to enlighten the leave-my-ass-alone trend-setters in this region that such expositions are only trendy and more appealing if they revealed a catchy tattoo from under.
Call it backwardness if you like, but majority of people in this region, men and women alike, have refused to come to terms with the acceptance of this as fashionable. Along the streets there is endless exclamations and lamentations:
â€œIsnâ€™t she shaming women!â€
â€œDoes she have parents at home?â€
â€œShe needed to have powdered her back!â€
â€œCanâ€™t she get a better pair of panties?â€
â€œWhat makes her think she is cute and trendy in that?â€
â€œIt is unfair,â€ Sandra Ntege says. â€œWhen women try to be trendy, men will always find a reason to water down our efforts. Right now, I have to first look out to see if my dad is out of the house before I can go out with hipsters. Of course they ride low and they expose my underwear.â€
Sandra Ntenge is one of the many girls who are taking their freedom very seriously in Kampala. When she is at school at Makerere University, she is transformed from the meek ‘daddy’s girl’ she is at home to a naughty vixen who is not afraid to flaunt her sexuality. But there are those who think it is not a problem and the young women are not guilty of any crime.
Julius Asiimwe, a Kampala fashion designer, contends that society should cut the girls some slack
â€œThe girls are only trying to look good. It is not their fault that the Jeans that come down to us from the West are not designed for the African womanâ€™s form. Of course the Jeans will always slide down and the panties will peak,â€ Asiimwe says.
Other women take the trouble to whisper out to their friends, or even to strangers, to â€˜sit properlyâ€™ or â€˜cover your backâ€™.
A woman literally threw herself behind another, covering her with all she had â€“ a purse and a small scarf, as they alighted from a vehicle in Nairobi city centre. With a very small binding top, a pair of trousers that whatsoever the case cannot go high above the hipbone, and a thong which had slithered upwards only to adhesively stick above her waistline, the would-have-been fashionable woman continued to seek the assistance of that â€˜Good Samaritanâ€™ as they looked for a place to straighten things up.
But why does a person wear what embarrasses her despite the fact that other people are either oblivious of her predicament or do not care a thing? As one thinks of that, it is important to note that the exposure of underwear is not restricted to the rear.
The mass media have been a strong purveyor of this most disturbing trend. It has become a staple of our newspapers to see womenâ€™s underclothing.
A few years ago, the runaway hit, Sisquoâ€™s The Thong Song, caused a major stir all over the world. Sales of womenâ€™s underwear leaped ahead. Although it has not been known to happen in East Africa, nightclubs in New York gave free entry to women who came with thong panties. In East Africa, that would have been considered scandalous and it could probably have caused a major socio-political battle then.
Nonetheless, the enthusiasm for the trend has not diminished. On the contrary, young women seem to be taking to the freedom of flashing their panties with a passion.
A Kenyan woman living in Germany says a woman who wants to reveal her panties to the public should ensure she has quality and expensive inner clothing to impress and not cheap second hand underwear many exhibitionists are wearing.