Nuul Kuuk ( Black is Beautiful) : Skin Bleaching in Senegal & Beyond

“Dipped in chocolate, bronzed in elegance, enameled with grace, toasted with beauty. My lord, she’s a black woman.”

Yosef A.A. Ben-Jochannan

       No one knows exactly when this tragic phenomenon happened. When did Dark skin and unattractive sit upon the same slippery slope? When and WHO decided that Black women, in our many varieties of toasted coconut, chocolate and copper must become slaves to a hierarchy based upon how deep the magical melanin on our skins shine.

Well, the time is up.

Black women everywhere are waking up. Sisters in the Caribbean are telling Kartel, “Mi nuh rub” while our sistren in Senegal are throwing their khessal away in exchange for coconut oil. Is it over? Of course not. Society’s beauty standards have been ingrained into us from years of  oppression, forced assimilation, slavery, exploitation,  and colonialism.

I won’t lie. I was flabbergasted when I realized the extent of bleaching  in Senegal. Going to weddings where the bride wore makeup literally 10 shades lighter than her own in order to appear light skinned for the pictures was initially hilarious but that soon wore off when friends were warning me about sitting in the sun too long or going to the market for shea butter but having every vendor try to sell me khessal so that I could become beautiful started to play a dangerous game with my psyche.

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You are not high. This occured in real life

Much like the Red Bone of the United States, and the Brownin of  the Caribbean, mixed race women in Senegal are set at the ideal face of beauty in Senegal by many people. Second place goes to the fairer skinned women, usually from the Fulani/Pulaar Ethnic group. Local media, like every else in the world,  perpetuates and feeds into colorist ideologies. This can be seen by  Waly Seck’s tendency to use light skin women as his love interest in literally every music video he has ever done ( *rolls eyes* ) or for every local soap opera to have a light skin leading lady.  Actions like this subconsciously send a message that dark skin WOMEN  is unattractive and this leads to self-doubt, low self-esteem, and unfortunately Khessal.

Khessal is a word used to describe skin bleaching products. It’s very common to find Women using  cheap products with uncontrolled amount of skin bleaching agents such as hydroquinone. Khessal  has been  connected to skin cancer, birthing complications, unattractive scars, and  bruised self-esteems. It really smells like death and those who abuse Khessal look like chickenpox  zombies rising from the dead but I concur. 

I strongly believe that we cannot discuss problematic beauty standards without including the men who perpetuate them. Although I would like to point out that here in Dakar, I’ve met complete male strangers who have told me that my skin is beautiful and aked me  to promise them I wouldn’t ever bleach.  On the same coin, I’ve had a male associate ask me to set him up with a mixed African American. After cussing his ugly ass, confused, and problematic discussing his problematic statements, he continued to deny the legitimacy of colorism and blamed it on preference. It was honestly a bit hurtful because I realized that he had no regard to my feelings around the matter.  It reminds of when Lil Wayne said the infamous and notoriously fuckboyisque ( new word y’all)  lyric stating,

Beautiful Black princess, I bet that bitch look better Red.

He not only disrespected the Black women who bought his music but also his own daughter, mother, and family. Sadly, he also gave a loud sermon to the young men listening to his music: IF IT AINT LIGHT, IT AINT RIGHT

How can we combat this? Unfortunately, it’s not an issue that’s unique to the African community. Black women in India recently launched a campaign called, Unfair and Lovely that aimed to showcase the beauty of dark skinned Indian women. Senegalese activists created the Nuul Kuuk movement as a awareness program about the dangers of khessal and to mobilize young people to reject the idea that Black wasn’t beautiful. There’s a long way to go but after meeting the young, beautiful, and dynamic women working to create change here I know that things will improve. In the land of beautiful women, I wish nothing but peace and love to those struggling with self-love. It is a long and crooked road, believe me, I’ve been there.

Peace and Light.

Meeka

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Fashion on a budget Dakar Style!

You probably came to Dakar and realized that 99% of everyone you meet looks like they’re on their way to an awards show and you’re tired of looking like the unloved step child.  Big shopping malls like Sea Plaza (okay..basically the only shopping mall in Dakar) can be pretty expensive and if you’re trying to ball out on a Peace Corps or Teacher budget, you will be broke fast. But have no fear, Meeka’s here and I’m about to show you how to stay cute without breaking the bank.

3. Numero Uno

Think of Numero like Zara’s baby sister who steals all her clothes. Numero Uno has tons of cute styles at a broad range of prices. Usually dresses range from 5,000 CFA to 15,000 CFA and shorts and pants range from 4,000 CFA to 8,000 CFA. There are multiple locations but I find the one in Liberte 6 to be the biggest. They also have a shoe store right next door at that location but most of the shoes I ‘ve bought there have not lasted very long…it could be the fault of Dakar sand though.

2. The Market

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If you’re feeling adventurous I would check out one of the many weekly or daily markets. I usually go to liberte 6, Marche Samedi (which happens every Saturday). I would go with someone who is familiar with prices and Wolof because you will have to do a lot of haggling. You may dig for hours through a crate full of  second-handed shirts for 200 CFA or you may spend 40 minutes convincing the seller to sell you a pretty second hand dress for 4,000 CFA instead of the 7,000 CFA that he refuses to lower. Protect your money and belongings here because it’s really crowded and the perfect place for pickpockets. Marche Sandaga also has a big range of items and most are new, not second hand like Marche Samedi. You can find club outfits, beachwear, and everything in between. It’s also a good place to buy fabric. If anyone tells you to go to Market make sure you bring a friend your first time because it gets very hectic. Marche Sandega and HLM are hella big and the aggressive  middlemen there will keep trying to bring you to their “father’s shop”.  You may want to learn a few curse words just in case 🙂

  1.  Local tailors

Not only will your style be unique but you basically do any style you’ve ever wanted. Get creative, go to sites like pininterest and Instagram to find styles that fit your style the best.

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6 Tips for Dating in Dakar

Dating in Dakar can be an amazing experience. It’s a beautiful city, with major romantic potential but let me be clear…..it can be a rollercoster due to cultural differences and expectations. Take this advice with a grain of salt, everyone is not the same and I know plenty of guys whose views on relationships and dating contradict one anothers so I will try my best not to stereotype.

5. Marriage Proposals Happen Alot 

Senegal is a predominately Muslim country and most people are at least outwardly observant of their religion. Dating as most westerners know it is not prohibited in Islam. But honestly,  a lot of people date. Especially in urban areas such as Dakar and especially among the middle and higher socio-economic class.  In my experience, most of the men who rush into marriage proposals are either A. Very Religious or B. Looking for a way out. Don’t fall for the faux Ibadou ( literally meaning a person who follows the rules of Islam but slang for a person who is a veryyyyyyy strict Muslim). These are the types who say they can’t date but have no qualms about going to the club or feeling on your booty.  Don’t fall for it sis. You’ve been warned.

4.  Dakar is reallllly small when it comes to dating 

Yup. Happened to me…more than once actually. Especially if you’re french is limited and you float around the anglophone  crowd. Family ties are strong and you are bound to meet the cute cousin of a guy you went on an ice cream date…or the brother of the guy you just blocked on your phone  *insert awkward true story of me almost getting caught up in some bs *

3.  Many cute date spots 

Don’t fall for the come to dinner at my house routine, be creative! The corniche (the beach strip along the coast)  is a great place for a romantic moonlight walk topped off with coconut water. There are plenty restaurants, including those in Point des Almadies for seafood, La Fourchette (expensive), or the American restaurant Mawa’s Taste of America (reasonably priced).  With all these beaches, you can even plan a picnic and enjoy the sun.atlantic-ocean-244538_1920

2.  Listen to your friends  

Now this, like many of my tips applies everywhere but living abroad makes it even more relevant. Love is known to be a magical potion that turns even the most wisest chicks into fullblown  fools. With that in mind, be open and honest with your friends. Sometimes it’s not jealousy..sometimes it’s a reality. You will meet sweet and genuine guys but there will always be 15 more sai sais (trickster/playa in Wolof) I’ve seen too many girls get a boyfriend and fail to pursue friendships. When something goes wrong, they find themselves alone with no one to lean on. Don’t ever to get too comfortable that you think it could never be you. Physical and emotional violence, cheating,  and getting taken advantage of happens everywhere.

1. Sex Sex Sex

binbine

bin bin are pretty beads used to beautify the body and turn your man on *wink wink*

Everyone loves sex, anyone who says elsewise is not to be trusted buttttt you must remember that culture here does not glorify premartial sex. Does it happen? Of course!  But you’re a grown woman, sexually liberated about what you choose to do with vajayjay right? Well you are right..you can do whatever you want to do with your vagina. I am not a fan of slutshaming at all but honestly…being too friendly with the vagina here might put you in some undesirable situations. Even discussing sex too much might attract wierdos. The concept of sexual liberation is honestly not a trend here. Virginity is still prized and you will find that even your most coolest guy friend will admit that he wants his wife to be a virgin before marriage. Married women discuss sex alot, there loads of sex supplements, lingerie, and toys to be found throughout Dakar but hearing unmarried women discussing sex is taboo. Foreign women have a stereotype of being easy here. Men will defiantly test you but personally, I believe you should wait at minimum 2-3  months and realllllly long conversations before you share some of the honey pot. You might realize that he doesn’t deserve you or you may be able to meet more of his friends and see the real him come out. It also weeds out the guy just looking for casual sex. Remember STDs are everywhere, and although Dakar has one of the lowest HIV/AIDS rates in the world, I have heard a story about a girl contracting HIV through a local boyfriend.  I’m not saying this to stop you from being who you are, I just want you to know the realities of reputation and sexuality in Dakar. In the end, you must be true to yourself 🙂

Electrafrique Dakar

House music, Angolan Music, Funk, Soukous …this party was lit af!! First the venue,Ngor Yaatouna was a dreamy spacious beachfront. Then there were so many interesting people, unique hairstyles,  and fashion. This was a great way to end my Birthday Month! The awesome lighting and electric vibes made for an amazing night with friends. Electrafrique always brings out a cool crowd and I was happy to see some familiar faces. The DJ lineup was the legendary  in itself. International club movers such as  CortegaJeremy Bellot kept everyone on their toes.   Boddhi Seva, hailing from the Central African Republic was the headliner and he lived up to expectations. I didn’t hear any Mbalaax/house blends but I think that would be really dope if mixed right. Either way, I speak for us all when  I say Come back OKAYAFRICA !!! Dakar needs you!

For more pics, check out OKAYAFRICA’s photo collection 

The photographer was the incredicbly talented Siakka Troare. You can see more of his work here. 

FoOkayAfricaaaaa