Stories have been told of female Kenyan ‘celebrities’ who, despite being public figures, nobody knows their actual age. The few who tell, lie through their teeth and they do it without even bating an eyelid. Take, for instance, the case of a well known female Radio presenter cum musician who celebrated her 26th birthday for almost four years consecutively at the beginning of this millenium! She is remoured to be in her 40s but she still creates the impression that she is in her 20s!
Even today, by any standards, she looks young enough to hold true to her claims. Her ageless looks serve well to obscure the truth. However, the big question is, even if women revealed their real age, would men believe them?
Jacky Wanjiku says when she celebrated her 24th birthday, her Facebook friends asked her how old she was and when she disclosed, one of her male friends laughed and commented: “Siamini, hio lazima niongeze tatu (I don’t believe that. I must add three more years on that figure)”.
When asked why women never reveal, and lie about their age baby faced Nelly Shilaku says: “Not all women hide or lie about their age. However, men tend to be very judgmental and we don’t like being judged. We’d rather keep them (men) guessing. You see...for instance myself...I am in my 40s but when I tell people my age, they seem not to believe me”.
Some women are very secretive about their age so much so that tales abound of men who don’t know exactly how old their girlfriends or even wives are. Journalists get to interview many people. I, for instance, have interviewed hundreds of men and women since I joined the trade. And from experience, I can absolutely deduce — with zero margin of error – that women have a problem divulging their age (real or otherwise) or even talking about it.
Here is an excerpt from a conversation I had with a lady and a gentleman from a local university as I interviewed them last week over a gadget they had invented.
“Chris, how old are you?” I asked. “Twenty two, and in third year at the university,” he answered without fidgeting or acting queasy. “And you Joan?” “Mmmm! Let’s skip that part. I am a girl,” she answered. She is a girl. Whatever that means. As much as I found her response unwarranted, it didn’t come as a shock. She isn’t the first female interviewee who clung to her age like a tick on a cow.
Age, for many women, is the conversational equivalent of touching the third rail. You can talk about her greatness; her stature in society as the CEO of a blue chip company; her beauty; her life story, but never the number of years she has been a citizen of the planet Earth. Sitting opposite me last year, Alice Kamande, a high-ranking officer of a reputable company in Nairobi, retorted back when I broached into the topic of age. Immediately, she stonewalled and protested against my line of questioning.
“What has that got to do with my success in life?” she roared, visibly inundated with angst; and in no mood to mention numbers. “You are supposed to ask me who I am and what I do but not how old I am. That is private information.”
For precaution, I mollified her with an assurance that I won’t ask questions related to her age. Plus, I was afraid that her age was one of those ‘classified information’ CID officers use as caveat whenever journalists ask questions pertaining national security.
Women have always shown an obtrusive affinity around how old they are. And it has nothing to do with that cruel joke we were told decades ago that girls don’t like anything to do with numbers – including arithmetic. According to Catherine Mbau, a psychologist at Arise counseling centre in Nairobi, women want their age remaining mysterious as it gives the illusion that they are young. “The society loves young women,” she says.
“There is a general notion that younger is more beautiful and also innocent. Looking at demographics, men naturally go for young women. It is difficult to site a man in his 40s or fifties looping around a woman in her forties. They woo those whose assets are not succumbing to gravity... because they are ‘young’.”
That explains the current obsession with perky chests and taught derrieres. Who invented the phrase ‘sixteen till I die’? We don’t know for sure but a good guess would definitely unmask a feminine figure.
My friend Brenda Atieno, a successful sales manager at a Nairobi based company, warned me not long ago that I should never dare tell anybody her age – especially men who swoon around her with lecherous intent. “Why?” I enquired. “I don’t want people guessing at me weirdly as I pass the streets. I also want to be identified for who I am – not the thirty something unmarried woman,” she says. On that, I realise that Catherine may have peaked well into the female psych.
She says: “A woman who is over thirty, and yet to be married is considered to be hiding something about themselves. Many will look at them with skepticism. The feeling is that either she has hypersexual tendencies or she is barren; there has to be something deeply ‘wrong’ with her to be going through life without a husband.” “Forty is the new thirty,” claims Maurine Akinyi. “We women, want to stay young and look young and be perceived as so. If a woman is 40, and you ask her how old she is, she may likely lie to you by a factor of 5. In many cases, a woman looks younger than they truly are. That is how we want to stay, without the truth coming out.”
But another lady, Nina Luvonga, reveals that among women, there is a cohort that looks at age as a vignette which preempts the reality of menopause. In other words the biological clock ticks loud, she says, and the reminder of a youthfulness waning below wrinkled skin takes away the zest of life. In her explanation, Catherine says that women can be weary of nature’s abrupt interruption of the one thing that is recognised worldwide as the true symbol of womanhood: the ability to bring forth new life. In some instances, Nina points out, young women, especially those who are still in school, would love to appear older than they really are to gain respect and to be treated maturely.
But as they gulp down the years, they revert and present with the demeanor of a young woman. “The time around adolescence is quite tempestuous. We want to be viewed as mature and ready for independence. But when we do really get old, we wish the years would slow down because we want to look beautiful, young, and attractive forever,” she offers.
Forever young is not just a beautiful song to serenade the ears of the aging: it is an aspiration. Visit a gym and you will discover this and even more. While keeping fit is good for her, Agnes Wanja, a gym enthusiast, works the treadmill like her life depends on it. Her vital signs, BMI, size and shape would come across as ideal but she is not about to relent on her workouts.
She admits that beneath the veneer of fitness, her true aim is to shed age and remain young. From the look of things, she may have succeeded in shading 15 or so years. Except for those who are close to her, she has managed to deceive everybody else into thinking she has just began her thirties. Her premise is that the hard work she displays at the gym pays off as it keeps young men pining over her. To maintain a similar look, Wanja’s peers invest heavily in cosmetics to airbrush contours off the forehead. “Thankfully, I don’t have to seek Botox. I will remain young as long as I can attend the gym. But never expect me to tell you my age... just look at me and guess,” Agnes says whimsically. Lying about ones age is not exclusively a preserve of women. Some men, too, lie and keep their real age a secret, especially Kenyan footballers and politicians. However, it gets me wondering: for how long will such people keep the cat in the bag?