The Herald (Harare)

10 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Unheralded Mercy Mushaninga

Growing up in the dusty suburb of Glen Norah where she pursued her secondary education, she looked just like any other ordinary girl who wanted good grades so that she will be assured of a good job. But to her, that alone was not enough.

That was the time when she started toying with the idea of venturing into modelling.

It dawned on her that she could become one of Zimbabwe's best models and fashionistas who would rival or let alone surpass levels reached by the likes of United States supermodel Naomi Campbell.

Now, several years later, her name has become synonymous with a number of modelling pageants in Zimbabwe.

She is also credited for grooming a good number of fine models that have made it to prestigious modelling showcases in Zimbabwe and across the globe.

Her name is Mercy Mushaninga, a former model who rose to become the executive director of a unique pageant, Miss Curvy.

The beauty pageant is increasingly becoming popular because it promotes models that are sidelined because of their big size instead of the trim look that most modelling scouts are always after.

"I decided to come up with the concept of Missy Curvy because I realised that there were many good models who were being turned down by some agencies because of their bodies which were deemed as either too big or too small for the required shape and size.

She said they were sidelined despite the fact that they needed their chance and that they could still make it if something was created for them.

"This is what gave birth to Miss Curvy as the name suggests.

"It celebrates women with curvaceous bodies because being curvy is also another attribute of beauty, apart from a beautiful face and a slim body," Mercy said.

She said having a curvaceous body is typically African, and such women should celebrate themselves and express pride in their appearances.

"Modelling is in a person and how they look like, their poise, how well they are groomed, walk, sit and dress is not just about facial beauty.

"Everyone wants to look like a model and I believe giving curvaceous models their rightful place is the new trend.

"I also challenged fashion designers not to limit their creativity on designing materials only for trim models, even curvy women can look good. But sadly, few designers are designing for African women who look like this," she explained.

So passionate is Mercy taking the Miss Curvy pageant to another level that she now harbours a dream of coming up with the Miss Curvy World.

"Five years from now, I will be hosting the Miss Curvy World to promote such women. One just has to take a look at some of our prominent women like Vice President Joice Mujuru and the First Lady Mai Grace Mugabe in order to appreciate the beauty inherent in such women," she said.

Listening to her talk, one cannot wonder why she is the person behind the success stories of a number of young Zimbabwean models.

They include Malaika Mushandu, Miss Teen Zimbabwe 2012, Soraya Vallabah and former 2011 Miss Southern Africa Evelyn Gondo who represented the country in Zambia the same year.

She groomed these talented models on skills required on the ramp, including etiquette, and her efforts have not been in vain.

Youthful models have written their own success stories at numerous prestigious modelling showcases in and outside the Zimbabwean borders.

"I was groomed by Paxina Kalulu of the former popular agency Silhouettes who made it to Face of Africa in the 90s.

"I learnt one thing in life that nothing takes place in isolation. You have to seek for knowledge from those who have been there before you and one should keep on learning new things everyday since the world is one big college whose doors are open to everyone," she urged.

Together with Paxina, Mercy --who was Miss Harare in 1992 -- were instrumental in promoting the Miss Chibhanguza modelling contest aimed at promoting models at the hotel.

That development gave birth to Zim Gossip, in 2001.

"It was not an easy road, but I soldiered on until it began to take shape in 2007 before it spawned the Modelling Extravaganza pageant in 2009.

"The aim of this pageant was to promote young girls because I felt that there were some young girls in the modelling industry who have been abused either because of their looks or because of their desire to rise to their top."

"That is why I always speak firmly against rumours that suggest that I am involved in the racket of abusing these girls by linking them with rich men."

"Let me gladly and proudly announce that I am a mother of thousands of 'kids', girls who always come to me asking for direction.

"They come to me asking for guidance, counselling and some of them even ask for things like heels (shoes) and clothes.

"But I always remind them to stay focused and never allow themselves to be swept off their feet," said the single mother of two, 14-year-old girl Lesley and a son, Eugene (7).

Born on December 31, 1975 in a family of 10 -- Mercy described her father who is a sub-chief under Chief Mangwende in Murewa, as her role model.

"My dad is principled. He stands firm and resolute in whatever he believes in," she said.

She is also a proud owner of an Internet café called Gossip Link situated at Speciss as well as a project she calls Models Against Hunger in a bid to promote the modelling lifestyle.

"The curvy model said she looks up to Mary J Blige for the way she manages to keep her looks young, while she purely adores designs by Alice Knuth, the designer who dresses local music diva Chiwoniso Maraire," the Catholic concluded with a smile.

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