Photographer for Elle, Italian Vogue Glamorizes Women Who Performed Female Genital Mutilations

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By Jillian Kay Melchior | 4:12 pm, June 23, 2017

A Kenyan art photographer whose work has been featured in Vogue Italia, Elle, Vice, Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post and other major publications has chosen an odd group of models for his latest project: Kenyan women who once performed female genital mutilation on girls.

The women featured in Osborne Macharia’s new Magadi series “abandoned their former practice and took up ethnic fashion as an alternative livelihood.” Macharia notes that instead of cutting genitals, these women “now shelter young girls escaping early marriage, teaching them on fashion skills such as styling, fashion design, print work and modeling for both local and international runways.”

The photographs show the older women posing in “the vast salty plains of Lake Magadi,” clad in stilettos and bright prints. The editorial style is high fashion.

Though Kenya passed legislation in 2011 prohibiting female genital mutilation, it remains an ongoing problem.

Just a few months ago, the Guardian reported about how public ceremonies celebrating the practice continue to be held in parts of the country; according to the report, hundreds of girls who had been cut were paraded in the streets.

By deadline, Macharia did not respond to Heat Street’s request for comment. But according to Vice, Macharia’s Magadi series was meant to call attention to the problem of female genital mutilation in Kenya. His own mother is an activist who helps female circumcisers transition to new careers.

“It seems a good idea if all former [practitioners] could work in haute couture, as indeed they already well know how to cut and sew,” the Vice article cringingly noted, according to a translation from the original Dutch-language version of the article.

Still, there’s something fundamentally unsavory about Macharia’s decision to glamorize these women, portraying them as heroic. It’s easy to imagine a similar series featuring convicted pedophiles; if they stopped abusing children, would they, too, merit a high-fashion editorial spread?

One wonders how many young women Macharia’s models mutilated, sentencing them to a life devoid of sexual pleasure and full of pain, before their change of heart and profession.

Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.