Sunday, 31 October 2010


Many women prefer not to attend their school re-unions because the pressure to be successful - and look it - is immense.
Not only do they have to be at the top of their chosen careers, they also have to have the perfect family, live in the ‘right’ neighbourhood, have their children enrolled in the ‘right’ schools and have a good, romantic rich man to cap it all.
It is not beyond the extremely competitive women to rent expensive cars in order to make a grand entrance at a reunion. Getting to the venue of the reunion in a matatu or a taxi is just not an option for them.
Jennifer Mugendi,28, has skipped several of her campus reunions because of her weight. “I used to be really small in campus but after having my son I gained a lot of weight, the last thing I want to hear is people saying how big I have become,” she said.
Last month she skipped her college reunion because of this. She feels pressured to go back to her previous size because she does not feel attractive among her peers.
“Nowadays having kids is not an excuse to be big, women go to the gym as soon as they have them,” she says.
She intends to lose as much weight as she can before she attends another reunion. “Then I can go and show off my body to the envy of my girlfriends.”
For Mugendi, what her girlfriends have achieved and how they look is of utmost importance. She cannot be ‘upstaged’ as she puts it and that is why she will not be seen at any reunion in her current size.
She says there are some women from her class who look like they are 28 going on 50 and she has no intention of ever joining this group.
“Even when I get to 50, I do not want to look it so you can imagine how they are castigated because of how they look,” she observes.
“Women are very competitive, we peg our achievements on those of our peers,” she explains. For Mugendi as with other women, success is only achieved when other women envy her.
Life does not treat everyone equally after high school and there is bound to be a group of those who are very successful and others who will struggle financially for a better part of their lives.
Bottom of class
In high school, the girls rate themselves according to how academically gifted they are. There is no guarantee in life that the academically gifted students are the ones who will make it in life.
The ones at the bottom of the class might just marry into money or be good at business while the gifted ones are pursuing their studies. Once they complete their studies, they enter into an already crowded job market and have to fight with other equally gifted people for the same opportunities.
Pauline Makokha has experienced this, “I got married very young, the year after I completed high school.”
She did this because she had failed her high school exams and “school was just not for me.”
She married a man 11 years her senior, she was nineteen at the time. “I went for one of the reunions and felt like an outsider,” she recalls.
The girls were talking about college and their boyfriends while she was thinking about her son whom she had at twenty.
“Five years later, the roles were reversed, the same girls who were having fun in college were now looking for jobs and my business was up and running.”
She felt good going for her last reunion two years ago. “They were now looking up to me for advice, me, the girl they had dismissed as a failure,” she said.
Laura Kenyani has also had unpleasant experiences at reunions. “High school reunions make me feel unaccomplished because I am yet to find a job,” she says.
Kenyani has been studying law. She recently completed her post-graduate studies at the Kenya School of Law and is awaiting admission to the bar.
These accomplishments fade into the background when she is around her high school girlfriends. “My high school has produced many high profile individuals who are always in the media for one accomplishment or another,” she says.
She went to State House girls high school. From her year, two of her classmates have won the Miss Kenya title and others are TV presenters.
Another one of her former classmates Lydia Maina agrees that reunions come with a lot of pressure.
Her good friend from high school recently got married and had a baby. “I was very happy for her but I started feeling like I was missing something,” she says.
Margaret Kagendo, another one of their friends agrees. “We are at that age where we are expected to be thinking about marriage and babies and at reunions everyone comes with pictures of their babies,” she laughs.
“When our friend got married we all felt a bit jealous because she looks so content and happy.”
“Those without children have to smile through detailed accounts of baby stories from proud mothers,” Kagendo said. “ If you do not have kids, then you have to justify this by being a high achiever in your career,” stresses Maina.
This has made many women go back to school for post-graduate studies just so they can feel as if they measure up in the eyes of their peers.
“I see our generation as that of superwomen we are expected to go to work and also find time to build a family,” Kagendo observes. “ I am yet to go to a reunion where one of my friends from high school or college has become a stay-at-home mum.”
According to Kenyani, nowadays success is measured by the amount of money you have in the bank. It does not matter whether you have a good, hardworking husband and healthy children. If you live in a low cost estate you are not successful.
Carol Wambui was with the girls in high school but she transferred at the end of her first year to go to a school in South Africa.
She stayed there until the end of her undergraduate studies. She studied law at the university and getting a job here has been an uphill task. Just like Kenyani she gets uneasy when she listens to people going on about their careers.
“The fact that jobs are hard to come by, is no excuse at these reunions,” she says.
Men are another issue at the reunions. Kagendo says that women will always ask each other about the men in their lives, woe unto you if you do not have a man to talk about.
“Some women will stay with abusive men just so that they can say they have boyfriends when asked about their love lives,” she said.
Psychologist Dr Christine Mweu who runs a clinic in Hurlingham says that the competitive nature of women makes any kind of reunion a very unpleasant experience.
“It does not matter whether it is a family or school reunion, women will always want to out shine each other,” she says.
This is brought about by the need for belonging. “Every woman wants to belong to a successful group of women and that is why they will go to any lengths to belong,” she points out.
“They want to to be in on the secrets of the group and women can be very mean; they will cast you out if they feel that you do not measure up,”said Dr Mweu.
She advices women to be comfortable in their skins as this will make other women want to belong to ‘your’ group regardless of your social status. 

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