Professional cuddlist Kan Seidel went viral in September for a video that displayed his unique professional abilities. The video has since gained over 20 million views, in addition to introducing people to the new-age (and completely non-sexual) therapy where people cuddle with a professional.
At the end of the video, fellow cuddlist Amaku Ukpong, said, “I feel like I matter. 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.”
However, despite being a professional cuddler in her own right, Ukpong’s name is not even mentioned in the video, something she says Seidel pointed out to her first.
“I wasn’t really focused on me. I was caught up in the conversation about cuddling and non-sexual touch that it took me [a] second to realize that they really played me, pretty much,” Ukpong told BET. “When I texted the producer, Manuel Lavalle, about why my name wasn’t included, his exact response was, ‘Well it wasn’t imperative that anyone knew your name.’ ”
Ukpong reportedly told BET that, “I understand that I was in a supportive role, but in any role you’re in, you’re supposed to have a name. Supporting roles are also memorable roles.”
She continued, “And a lot of the conversation, especially for women of color, surrounded the end part when I talked about feeling like I matter, especially in a world that tends to make you invisible. And there was a lot of conversation about that, so I just wasn’t a piece of furniture in the video. My input was very significant for certain people, especially people that look like me.”
In addition to administering cuddle therapy, Ukpong engages in many other forms of wellness in her professional life. She is an energy medicine practitioner and spiritual nutritionist, as well as a Higher Brain Living mastery facilitator. She specializes in body work where she is manually moving negative energy out of the body. Though she resides in Brooklyn, her wellness practice is in the Financial District of Manhattan, a very white and very male space.
Ukpong also understands why representation is important for her profession, which is still slightly on the fringe of what society deems “normal.”
“A lot of my girlfriends who are African-American that saw the video told me they watched it because they saw a woman of color and were like, ‘Apparently this is something that not just white people do. Let’s check this out,’ ” she told BET.
And this representation is important going forward in regard to who her clients are and how and why they choose her for these services.
“I’ve had two Black women book my services,” she told BET. “I actually just recently had a session with one of them, and what I’m beginning to understand is that women of color definitely need support in a place that’s safe because traditionally, women of color have not been safe in the arms of white men.
“You know there’s that history of rape and violence against all women of color and that energy is still there to a certain degree. It’s not even all historical traumas; just day to day cat-calling is disrespectful. So I feel like women of color are going to start to use this service a lot. And we need more women of color to provide this service because we feel safe with each other.”
This history of violence even affects how she does her unique job, where there are many ways in which being a Black woman in the professional cuddling sphere is different, and potentially awkward for Ukpong. For example, she has encountered more than one white man who has never touched a Black woman before. On that experience she told BET:
“I have been contacted by many white males that have expressed so many times to me, they’ve never had close contact with a woman of color. 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.”
And while that is not particularly surprising or odd, it does reach into that territory. Ukpong understands the ways in which she is treated differently than Seidel, her white male cuddlist friend:
“I had a guy who booked a session with me and I winded up not doing it because his motives didn’t sound clean. He mentioned to me something like, ‘I’ve never touched a Black woman before. I’m curious cause you know what they say about Black women.’ And I was like, ‘Well, I could only imagine, but since this isn’t a sexual service it doesn’t matter what they say.’ So I had to end that conversation real quick.”