In Summary
  • Sex pests, money con men, fake promoters and even pornography makers; these are some of the dangers that await young, naïve women looking to enter the modelling world.
  • Joan Thatiah speaks to a few women who have been scammed by them.

When Becca Wanjiku received an invitation for a modelling audition at a night club in the Nairobi CBD three years ago, she imagined she was well on her way to gracing billboards and television screens. She was 23 years old at the time.

“I was well toned and in pretty good shape. I was very positive about getting the job.”

The first part of the audition went well. She was chosen to join the hosting modelling agency alongside 70 other young women. She was supposed to come back the next day with Sh8,000 for the final part of the audition, which was going to be a photoshoot.

“I couldn’t raise the cash. I was so crushed. I thought I had missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime – until my friends who paid the cash came out with nothing. These people had no connections with the modelling industry; they were just looking to make some money from the photoshoots.”

Becca’s unpleasant introduction into the modelling industry is a sad reality for a lot of young Kenyan women looking to go into the industry.

Three or four short decades ago, international runways were the preserve of stick thin, white and blonde women.

When ethnic women started to carve their niche, Kenya was right at the forefront, with a number of supermodels such as Ajuma Nasenyana and Nicole Atieno opening the doors for more women to make it big internationally, and raising local modelling standards.

But while the cameras are still flashing, there’s still a lot going on in the darkness behind the scenes.

Despite the less than stellar start, Becca, now 26, went on to do a bit of runway and advertisement modelling. The environment, however, was toxic. “There was a lot of sexual favours given to agents by the female models, so the same people kept getting all the jobs. I stopped seeing modelling as something I wanted to spend my life doing. I am now in business. I model occasionally if someone comes directly to me with a job but I no longer go to auditions,” she says.

THE ALLURE OF THE FAME

The idea of strutting down an international runway or having your face plastered on a billboard can be very alluring. For someone on the outside looking in, models seem happy, glamorous and rich.

Scammers are usually intelligent people. The allure of this glamorous world, which to a third party seems like the preserve of a chosen few, is what makes it even easier for them to con their victims.

“When a good looking, sweet-talking photographer got into my inbox on Facebook a year ago talking about how I was just what he was seeking for a local magazine, I was thinking about the glamorous clothes, the make-up transformations, the celebrity status and of course the money that would come thereafter,” says Terry Murugi, who was a victim of a scammer.

Terry, a good-looking, lithe, 28-year-old marketer in a local firm admits that she had always admired models.

She had even considered answering casting calls that she saw advertised but had never had the courage. Then this man came promising that he could make it all happen.

He spoke about putting her on television. She was even flirting with thoughts of quitting her tedious marketing job, of course after the money and the fame came.

The photographer, who owns a photo studio in Nairobi’s central business district, easily made her believe that he held the key to her success.

So when he asked her for Sh20,000 for the photoshoot to make her the perfect portfolio, she obliged.

The photoshoot happened and when he asked for an additional Sh10,000 to grease some palms at the magazine, she gave in. Then began weeks and then months of chasing him trying to follow up.

“I was greedy. He preyed on my greed,” she says in retrospect.

“When nothing had happened after many weeks, I became suspicious and posted my ordeal on social media only to find out that I wasn’t the only one he had conned,” she says.

THE UGLY SIDE

Most scammers in the modeling industry are after the money that’s in your pocket.

There are a few, however who have more frightening motives, like one Cynthia, 31, encountered a couple of years ago. She talks fast, narrating her ordeal. She wants to get it off her chest quickly. She is still ashamed when she remembers, she tells me.

“I was going about my business when I saw an advert looking for models for a commercial. What caught my eye was that they wanted a curvy woman. I think I am good looking. I had thought about modelling while in my early 20s but everywhere I looked, they wanted thinner girls.

Then this man comes and after looking at my pictures says that I am it,” she recalls.

The man said that he was a model himself and going by his pictures, she believed him. He suggested dinner to discuss the business deal.

“That should have rung the alarm bells but I was in between jobs at the time and this man seemed like the answer to my prayers. He kept saying how beautiful I was. I thought I had the upper hand,” she says.

Dinner went well but not much business was discussed. So when he suggested they have a few drinks after, she again obliged. The discomfort, she decided, was worth the big job he was promising.

“The last thing I remember was sitting in the outdoor sitting space of a club. I remember flashes after that of a man lying on top of me on a mattress or a bed; he was either Asian or white. I remember a bright light, like it was being recorded.”

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