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Worldcrunch

Congo's Changing Beauty Standards

Article illustrative image Partner logo Nastou

MATADI - "I used to be ashamed of my small breasts, but I have finally fulfilled my dream of making them bigger," says a cheerful woman from Matadi, southwest of Kinshasa, the Congolese capital.

In this region, big boobs have become the new standard for feminine beauty. "It is sexy and so feminine. Men love it," the woman explains. In Matadi, cosmetic surgeries are always packed with customers. "Over the past six months, we've had a dozen girls come here for boob jobs," says the manager of one of these clinics, which offer a wide range of local and imported products as well as dietary supplements for customers who want to see their breasts grow in size. They sell herbal teas, creams, suction cups as well as pills – whose contents and adverse effects are unclear.

Big breasts have been fashionable in the Bas-Congo province for the past four years. "Back in the old days, we would get picked on for having big breasts. They would make fun of us and call us names. Out of embarrassment, many girls were forced to hide their breasts under loose-fitting clothes,” recalls Carine Makwala, a local grandmother. "It was hard to be constantly subjected to mocking looks." Some women even deformed their body trying to hide their breasts. Mothers would bring their daughters to the village elders who would try to "cure" them with plants.

"How mentalities have changed!" says 70-something Madeleine Nzuzi from Matadi. Every day, many girls would come to her for help in reducing their breast size. "Nowadays, I hardly see any," she says.

Buxom zeitgeist

Popular television series like “Ma famille” (My family) have played a major role in this trend reversal. The show’s star, Nafissatou Traoré, also known as “Nastou,” is an actress who is no longer shy about showing off her exceptionally big natural breasts. When she was younger, she was picked on by classmates and would try her best to hide her body underneath large dresses. But now that she is famous and her films have been seen all over the world, she is no longer embarrassed by her boobs, and wears them with pride. In the Bas-Congo province, the word “Nastou” now refers to the trend of wearing tight, low-cut dresses that highlight a woman’s neckline.

Thanks to this new trend, shops, naturopathic doctors and traditional healers have found a new market. They all advertise the quality of their products in the media. "If you want nice-looking breasts, visit us," says an ad for a cosmetic surgery in the local paper. "After a first consultation, customers get a massage and then have suction cups applied to their breasts. Results come three or four months later depending on body types," says an employee. Customers are also given natural dietary supplements “free of adverse effects," she adds.

Yet the composition of these products is not clear. "Everything that has to do with hormones is dangerous for your health. People should be cautious. This is why breast-enhancing products are forbidden in some countries," explains Emmanuel Nzuzi, a pharmacist and local health official. He says that the authorities intend to crackdown on these products, and to test them. "Women may end up with breast cancer, they need to be careful about the origin and the composition of these dodgy products."

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