In Cameroon, some girls go to extremes to look wealthy, including having multiple financially rewarding relationships with different partners.
Brigitte Euralie E., 26, comes from a modest family. Her father is an office worker and her mother runs a small retail business. Her elder brothers are unemployed and the younger ones are in high school or university. The whole family shares a small three room apartment in the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé. Yet, Brigitte, who studies international business, looks like a girl from a rich family.
She only wears designer clothes and shoes, carries an iPhone and has Brazilian hair extensions. Depending on the length, these extensions can cost up to 400,000 CFA (611 euros), which is twice her father's monthly salary.
The young girl's luxurious life style is maintained by many rich old men she dates simultaneously. "You have to give yourself a chance at success. The poorer you look, the less opportunities you get. Plus, I don't want to remain poor my whole life," explains Brigitte.
Most Cameroonian women wear artificial hair commonly known as weaves. "Black hair is frizzy and difficult to style, especially when you have to quickly get ready for school or work," says Marie Hélène Aboudi, an office assistant at a Yaoundé company.
"I prefer Brazilian hair extensions because they look like natural hair and last longer. After two months, the hair is still soft and can be worn easily. Chinese hair extensions, on the other hand, usually become hard and stiff after ten days. It makes you look as if you are carrying a bag on the head," she adds, without explaining how she can afford the expensive extensions on a monthly salary of 70,000 CFA (107 euros).
Close to prostitution
Etienne Ngandeu is a well-known retailer of hair extensions at the Yaoundé central market. "Until earlier this year, I used to sell mostly Chinese extensions, which cost between 2,000 and 5,000 CFA francs (3 to 8 euros). But when Brazilian hair extensions hit the Cameroonian market almost four months ago, they became the new sign of financial well-being among young girls," says Ngandeu.
He adds that most girls put down a deposit and pay the rest in many instalments. "I often overhear girls talking when they are in my store. There are girls from rich families who get money from their parents to buy the extensions. But there are also girls who practically sell their bodies to raise the money."
Brazilian hair extensions are considered a symbol of financial well-being because you really need a lot of money to be able to spend 600 euros on an accessory that will last for only two or three months. "The fact that a person is prepared to do anything to be someone he is not clearly indicates a personality disorder," says Vincent Ayina, a psychologist working in one of Yaoundé's high schools. "Unfortunately this mental condition often goes undiagnosed, as the line between personality disorder on the one hand, and ambition or the desire to realize a dream on the other, is very thin."
"Consider, for example, someone with very modest revenues who takes numerous loans to buy a luxurious car. Is it a person trying to be someone he is not? Is it a person determined to please himself or realize his dreams? More in-depth sessions with this person are needed to pinpoint his problem."
However, Vincent Ayina explains that these personality disorders are often rooted in traumatic childhood experiences such as, for example, the frustration felt around friends who had everything they wanted. "The way one is brought up also counts," he says.
Fend for yourself
Brigitte exactly knows exactly of her behaviour: "When I asked my father for some money, he always said: 'Don't you see girls your age buying cars for their father? You are sitting here at home asking me for money, instead of going out to fend for yourself.' That is how I started going to upmarket places where I can meet rich men. In a few months, I will buy a car, the accessory that will complete my look of a girl from a rich family," she concludes.