Saddening tale of Tanzania’s modelling industry

Monday July 26 2021
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Niler Bernard. PHOTO| COURTESY

By Lilian Ndilwa

The beauty industry in Tanzania has painted the illusion of glitz and glamour for many years and we have witnessed a number of models who have over the years taken it all in their elegant strides but has anyone ever wondered what life behind the curtains is like for the models.

What are the realities that run in the veins of the modeling industry to date?

Why did some of the renowned names in the industry decide to quit the industry after exploring it for a while?

Former beauty queen, Sophia Byanaku, current Managing Director and Co-founder of Doctor’s Plaza heart clinic was once quoted in an interview with a local media saying that “the beauty industry does not pay in Tanzania. If I was still a model to date, where would I be eating?”

Sophia rhetorically posed a question during this interview and left room for thought and exploration on the inner workings of the beauty and modelling industry.

Life & Style brings to you detailed discussions with ex-beauties who partially or fully changed their career courses for various reasons.


Diana Laizer

Diana, founder of Tanzania Consumer Choice Awards became a beauty contestant after she won the second runner up title for Miss Tabata and a year later, decided to take part as Miss Morogoro and became the crown holder for the region.

This then paved a way for her to win the eastern zone crown. When she made the entrance for Miss Tanzania, Diana was able to make it to the semi-finals, top fifteen.

“After that, I did not directly change my career course because a year after being one of the top models, I became a trainer for models in Morogoro zone. I had to start life from the scratch and do all the things that I had paused to give space for my beauty career. I went back to school in 2014 where I was pursuing human resource management at the University of Tumaini and finished in 2017,” Diana recalls.

According to her, there is a lack of awareness on how to actually conduct the industry in comparison to other countries.

Diana says the society still lives with the notion that modeling walks hand-in-hand with prostitution.

“It is an Industry that is overlooked; this starts from the society, stakeholders to the models themselves because had it been given the respect it actually deserves, we could have noticed advancement on national and international levels. Both models and organizers drive the industry without making any positive impacts and changes in the society,” Diana says.

She says that this industry is aligned with confidence boosting as well as connecting the beauties in the contests with the society in a way that pushes for societal changes influenced by different activities curated by them.

“One of the best examples is the modeling industry in South Africa where almost all people involved have studied the industry through academies and courses because this automatically leads to perfection in every corner of the industry due to the fact that models have knowledge about what they do and organizers and trainers understand and know in the detail things they couch models,” says Diana.

She says that it is due to the lack of education on modeling that stakeholders still employ several tactics that have been used for ages.

Despite being engraved with life lessons and challenges, she confesses that the runway life was one of the best moments of her life.

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Latifa Mohamed

A former beauty queen and founder and director of ‘Wezesha Binti na Mama Mjasiriamali’ (WBM) joins hands with Diana as she says that education is the only thing that can reconstruct the beauty industry in Tanzania because of the lack of changes over the years.

Latifa, the first runner-up in the Miss Tanzania 2013 competition, says that during her university days at the Institute of Tax Administration (ITA), she always wanted to be self-employed - and still be of assistance to society at large, so by using the beauty platform Latifa was able to start a modeling agency namely Jordan Modelling Agency.

Latifa’s aim was to nurture her talents and use her experience from the beauty pageant.

“With the experience I gained after being a beauty contestant, I believe that it is a professional industry that can create icons and people who can represent Tanzania on international levels. Of course we have witnessed the likes of Flaviana Matata, Nancy Sumari and Millen Magese on international platforms,” says Latifa.

“The stakeholders have to review the payments to all models as well as consider an establishment of a beauty academy or college that will teach all people in the industry more than the itty bitty details they already know and have been using for years,” she adds.

She stresses that receiving education will help these models to be more marketable on international levels.

“Despite my parents’ understanding of my involvement with the beauty pageant, my relatives were on a whole other page because from their point of view; they see the modeling as less of a job. They claimed I will be immoral and this notion has to change,” says Latifa.

Niler Bernard

Niler fully embraced the modeling industry in 2013 when she was 21-years-old. At first, she wanted to become a psychologist, a vision that was expeditiously changed after her first casting to walk on the runway during the Zanzibar Fashion Week.

“I was chosen among the girls who were to walk for the fashion week. I was naïve. So I had to learn right away and what I did was to let other girls walk before me so I can see how it’s done. I was picked and from there everybody was like insisted that I should be a model,” she says.

When she later went for the audition for Tanzania Top Models, the 29-year-old model won and had plenty of chances to go places across Africa but wasn’t prepared for the industry just yet.

It was after her stint in Egypt where she met top models from across Africa and the world that she arrived at the decision to pursue modeling as a career of choice.

Addressing the modeling arena, Niler says that for the modeling industry to be valuable, it all starts with the models themselves.

“For change to finally occur, all models have to know that this industry is more than the momentary privilege, spotlights, fame and all the unimportant stuff. It is a money making business like others and it should be treated as such,” says Niler.

Niler who is now working under a modeling agency called Boss Model and is based in Cape Town in South Africa. She says all models have to know and understand their capacities in this industry because it is more than the temporary favors and fame; it is a profession.

Lucy Tomeka

“If I were to talk to an aspiring model, I would tell them to have clear goals of how they want to use the modeling platform because they have the power to bring about development in this industry. It all starts with them,” says Lucy, a former beauty contestant who is currently a sub-editor for The Citizen newspaper. She was the third runner up in Miss Tanzania after winning the Miss Dar Indian Ocean and Miss Kinondoni crowns in 2013.

Lucy started eyeing the modeling industry when she was a sixth grader, but it was all cemented for her when she saw Nancy Sumari being crowned Miss World Africa. “I want to be like that,” Lucy told her mother.

“When I became part of the industry, the journey was truly thrilling but it came down with life lessons that have made me the person I am today. I earned confidence from being a beauty contestant because we were groomed with it. Among the many lessons that will forever live with me is the importance of having a support system; people you can rely on when things get too hard for you and who will check you when you seem to be going off the rails,” Lucy explains.

Having done modeling in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Tanzania; Lucy acknowledges the vast differences in terms of respect for the profession in Tanzania. From models entering for instant celebrity status, not understanding their rights or how to negotiate for their worth and working with employers that would rather milk the cow than feed it, Lucy says the power for change lies with the models.

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Latifa Mohamed and Lucy Tomeka. PHOTO | PLUS TV

She advises models to develop confidence, vision and courage through their work because the trio will take them places and earn them their due respect.

“Whether it’s a phase, hobby or an actual career, models should not let the industry compromise their worth, dignity and personal values. You should not walk out of the industry or stay in it feeling less than when you entered,” Lucy says.