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.

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 ass out  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.


nuul kukk

.entry-date {
display: none;

Share this article:

– read more –

Related stories