Amaka Ukpong gets paid to cuddle - no, seriously.
You may have heard about professional cuddling before; Elite Daily's video on the topic went viral a while back, and while Upkong was featured in the video, she went unnamed until BET hunted her down to hear what she has to say.
"I feel like I matter," Ukpong says in the original video. "That might have been a little bit too deep, but that's how I feel. That's how I feel. I think cuddling can do that… make you feel like you're a human being especially when you feel invisible to the world."
Her short statement on professional cuddling resonated with many, and in her interview with BET, Ukpong - who's an energy medicine practitioner, spiritual nutritionist, and Higher Brain Living mastery facilitator, as well as a professional cuddler - speaks on what life is like for her as a black woman in the business of hugs.
For starters, she encounters many clients who have never touched a black woman before.
"I have been contacted by many Caucasian males that have expressed so many times to me, they've never had close contact with a woman of color," she told BET. "And so for them it's new, it's interesting. I get a lot who say, 'I've never touched a Black woman before,' because maybe it was something that wasn't encouraged, or allowed growing up. And they think somehow it's supposed to be different."
One thing that professional cuddlers - who undergo training before they can offer their $80/hour services on cuddlist.com - like to make abundantly clear is that it's not a sexual thing. It's a type of therapy and way of fostering healing through touch. Despite that, Ukpong is used to having to deal with people looking for more than just cuddling.
"It's not even a mistake, they know. But they want to push boundaries and see how far they can get. They don't understand 'No' or 'Can you keep your hand here?'" Ukpong said. "In my work as wellness practitioner working with masculine emotionality and sexuality in general, I've seen that there's not a lot of respect for women of color in a position like mine. They see on the website that this is a non-sexual service, but they'll test their luck and try it anyway."
Ultimately, what Ukpong wants is for cuddling to serve as a catalyst for greater acceptance and tolerance of each other's differences.
"What I really want is for it to be normalized that people coming from different cultures can have moments of caring, nurturing, and intimacy without having to focus on the fact that we're different in certain ways," she said. "Professional cuddling is also really a way to reprogram our beliefs on touch and how it should be exchanged between the opposite sex. There has to be mutual respect and touch is great way to initiate that."