West African Models 56 Comments

Oluchi Onweagba, that is her name — she is no Alek Wek, I have always love Alek because of her skin color, but there is a whole girlish look to her. I know most of you guys will disagree, but we all can agree that she changed the way being black is looked at, at least commercially more so than the top black models of the 90′s.

I first saw Oluchi’s picture on a Gianfranco Ferré ad on some magazine, years ago and I looked her up because I was fascinated by her looks.

I have always been interested in the color of skin, at least for people African decent. I know for some we are all black, & yes I agree but there are a lot of different types of black people.

For most westerners, Kojo Nnamdi from Guyana is the same as Yaphet Kotto, who is from Cameroon. And yes at some point in history we were the same but we are not anymore; there are a lot of diverse types of black people with distinctive cultures and unique histories.

As a consequence our looks differ, and each culture appreciates beauty in divergent customs. But bias play a role in how  mainstream society views beauty and the proof is in the pudding. According to what I read at some point on Forbes; Liya Kebede is the only black model with earnings in the top 15, the rest are all white.

CBS, or Tyra approved for the use of the Americas Next Top Model brand for West Africa; I think somewhere West Africas Next top model is on air, featuring women from 16 countries in West Africa.

My point is to bust the idea that lighter skin is not necessarily better than darker skin.

56 Responses to “West African Models”

  1. 1 helen

    Lighter skin is not better than darker skin. Both the models you mentioned as well as Ajuma Nasenyana etc… are gorgeous! And I have always found dark skined men like Djimon Hounsou, Morris Chestnut (lord have mercy), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje etc very attractive but there is absolutly nothing wrong with Boris Kodjoe either. You are right though, black women particularly dark skined back women are not viewed by the mainstream as attractive or as desirable as their lighter skined or white sisters and are not signed to lucritive indorsement deals. What a shame because the public is losing out on so much beauty.

  2. 2 Dinich

    You really think these women are beautiful or affirmative action is getting the better of u?…lol.

    With West Africans, I ‘d say the men have a much better chance at modeling because they r good looking, manly etc…Sorry but I dont think so for the women and I dont think they r being discriminated. If Sara Nuru can do it in Germany, anyone can do it in America. You just have to be beautiful in the eyes of America. The people who voted for a black president, will definitely accept a black model. My problem with you Americans is that you guys play the race card a little too much.

    In terms of Liya being the only one in the top 15, I d say that is fair considering that the ratio of whites to blacks in the US is about 1 to 7 and that this is a predominantly white country. In Africa 15 out of 15 will be blacks. We don’t have to blame racism for everything.

    Also, I don’t buy the theory that colonialism bla bla has taught us to think that light skin is more beautiful. Not saying that light skin is more appealing either. But we have to accept the fact that not everybody is equally appealing. I am just saying that we should try and resist the idea of trying to prove ourselves equally beautiful as whites.

  3. 3 Nolawi

    Dinich wrote:

    Also, I don’t buy the theory that colonialism bla bla has taught us to think that light skin is more beautiful. Not saying that light skin is more appealing either. But we have to accept the fact that not everybody is equally appealing. I am just saying that we should try and resist the idea of trying to prove ourselves equally beautiful as whites.

    top 15 in the world not America…. i think black people are racist against black people…. darker is looked at as a negative…

    in amharic.. baria means slave… but its interchanged with being super dark… not if that is not a bias then what is?

  4. 4 Dinich


    If she is in the top 15 in the world that even serves my point better. Don’t count Africa because Africa does not pay its models in a comparable way. So we r really talking about the top 15 in USA and Europe. The ratio of blacks to whites when you include europe would even be higher because Europe is almost 100% white.

    In amharic Baria is slave because Baria (slaves) used to be southerners who happened to be darker than notherners. Hence, the word baria.

    FYI Teyim is considered very beautiful in Ethiopia. And I concur. White is too white. Black is too black. Teyim is beautiful. That is also why I think girls like Sarah Nuru and Liya Kebede are making it even in white dominated coutries.

  5. 5 tsedey

    nolawi i completely agree with u on this one. am a huge fan of Alek wek as well. and i agree that darker skin pple or models are discriminated as opposed to lighter skinned ones and it’s unfortunate!

    the reason is clear, beauty is defined with Eurocentric measures and the closer one gets to lighter, skinnier it’s automatically assumed they are more beautiful than others. to me, i’ll take darker skinned, original, clear skinned and pleasant looking with a well built body than a lighter skinned, anaroxic looking, miserable looking one…but then again, am not a casting agent so…

  6. 6 Aseffa,A.

    Nolawi,Baria is not only a term for dark skin people. But a name of ethnic group. Shankela, Baria all these are names of ethnic group since the Axumite era. Barya – people around north western eritrea. Shankela – people such as Benshangule/Gambela. Also, slaves were not all Baryas or Shankelas but POW of any color complexion. There were Gurages,Sidama and Gala slaves. Also Amhara and Tugrae slaves were shipped out to the middle east during numerious fights with arabs, islamic invasion such as ahmed the left handed and other conflicts.

    Regarding, the term ‘teyem’, people such as Menelik,Seyum Mesfen,Yemane baria, tsegaye eshetu,…maybe Mengae are Teymes.

    I think there is a song by Tilahun Gesese ‘Teyem nat, teyem meleke melkam’, dedicated to Teyem beauties than Keye beauties.

  7. 7 biskut

    I believe that “racism” or as i like to call it Preference is engraved in our genes.when we think black we think of dirty and stained .When we think white we think pure ,clean and good .
    Culturally people tend to want to be what they are not .Black people even during ancient times have been known to use herbal skin bleachs .A few years ago i was in geteritu Ethiopia .Adolescent girls,considered to be of age were groomed for marriage by undergoing a skin lightening ritual in the hope of luring eligeble bachelors.Lighter skin is usually associated with not having to perform manual labor or being a part of a wellbred lineage (royalty vs commoners).Same goes for the whites too .Otherwise the word “red neck” would have been politically correct .
    most of you here act like racism is a product of the history of american slavery and the white colonizers .We all know for a fact that we ,one shade of black is harsher on another shade of black or brown .we have made more damage to our own societies than an outsider could ever do .Don’t blame everything on the poor white man who risks his pale azz to cancer to be dark like you .

  8. 8 Nolawi

    Aseffa,A. wrote:

    . Barya – people around north western eritrea. Shankela – people such as Benshangule/Gambela. Also, slaves were not all Baryas or Shankelas but POW of any color complexion.

    dude i know that… but baria is used to describe dark skinned people…. that is what i was trying to say.. surely you cant dispute that… regardless of the fact that baria and shankela being an ethnic tribe or description technically..

  9. 9 totit

    I never thought skin color was a huge factor in our society…meaning the habesha society…

  10. 10 biskut

    the model in the picture looks deathly thin to me .I can literally count her flaoting ribs on the left one by one. black models are not exempt from looking anorexic too is my point .

    teyim is considered beautiful in ethiopia but they have to be exceptionally distict in their facial features .teyim is associated with being selkaka .ppl also say “key melk ayfejim ” .when you are key or key dama your color is enough .you don’t have to be selkaka is what i take it to be .as a result it concludes that key setoch get free pass again ….even here in the U>S high yellows is a whole different class in itself .
    all of you
    please watch spike lee’s school daze

  11. 11 SELAMT

    Alek Wek is beautiful.She has what we say “yedem gebat” yedes des. I think it’s sex appeal in English? Beautiful smile!

    The darker the better:Teyem asa mesayis is who most Abesha singers sing about.

    Keye melk ayfegem: can also mean that as long as she is lighter she doesen’t need to be beautiful. The color makes up fot it. You think???

    I always felt Abesha men prefer light skin women.

  12. 12 Seraqe

    Biskut is on point when you said for teyim to considered beautiful she has to have the selkaka features down to the T. Sad but true. The darker the skin, you almost having to compensate for it by having more Facial beautiful features. That’s why keye melk ayefegim eymebalwe.

  13. 13 Shah

    I think looking at humans beings and analyzing them for their skin color and features is treating them like a domestic animal.

    Beauty is all shapes and sizes and colors.

    Dinich is just wrong. There is no “RIGHT” color. Light or Dark. We are not dogs in a dog show.

    Be human. Dont be vain. Next topic please.


  14. 14 maria

    I think this culture is damaging and quite disturbing for the confidence of young women Ive been to Ethiopia and its like all the girls who worked in arab coutries have indulged in a little too much skin bleaching it shows insecurities and is very sad. Women should ignore the hateful sniggers from haters who say that girl is too dark, or a baria chances are the other person is very envious of the girls looks. And lighter women need to realise just because they are lighter does not make them superior its 2010 not 1900.

  15. 15 anonx

    I prefer dark skin, dark as in Sierra Leon, because I find it beautyful, and partly because I don’t believe or want to believe all the cultural beauty BS a lot of people accept without a question. Beauty is not in the DNA, its in the culture, and you may perpetuate dehumanizing culture all you want, be my guest…

  16. 16 SELAMT

    The model pictured here is too skinny “anaroxic looking”.

    In Africa east or west skin bleaching is a big thing.
    I also have seen Ethiopian girls in Addis skin bleached where their face is lighter than the rest of their body.
    It looks really bad.

    Beauty is not the color of skin it is more that that.

  17. 17 Seraqe

    Skin bleaching has become huge in addis. Some Of the Girls for the more powerful concoctions to try to bleach out completely with some freakish consequences. Ethiopia has now become ground zero for color complex, I couldn’t have guessed this a few years back.

  18. 18 anon

    @ Nolawi:
    Baria is a name of a tribe. Slave as it is commonly but mistakenly in amharic refers to darker skin but what is accurate is the subjugation/ownership of one by another.

  19. 19 anonx

    Baria is NOT the name of a tribe.
    They call themselve and other also call them NARA. May be few ignorants still call them Baria, thats possible…

  20. 20 anonx

    Nara people
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Jump to: navigation, search
    Nara Total population
    Regions with significant populations

    Sunni Islam

    The Nara are a Nilotic ethnic group living in Eritrea and make up less than 1% of the population.[citation needed] The Nara people are generally Muslim. The Nara are divided into four subtribes, the Higir, Mogareb, Koyta, Santora.[1] They are typically agrarian and today have settled mostly along the border with Sudan.[2]

    The Nara people speak the Nara language.

    The Nara people used to be called the Barya. [

  21. 21 Shah

    Its time to unite.

    Too much discussion about tribes and skin color.

    New blog post needed.

  22. 22 getu

    @ Dinich:
    I hate to say this Dinich, but u’re an opinionated and, at least as far as this issue is concerned, incoherent person.

  23. 23 Nolawi

    Both Anon, Anonx…

    are you guys acting like this intentionally. I clearly explained how words are being intermingled together…

    Baria = Tribe technically
    Baria = Slave untechnically…

    Shankella = Tribe technically
    Shanko = really dark…

    not official amharic… but used occasionally…

    thus I made my point for those of you that are so layman that can’t even understand clearly stated proof…

  24. 24 Dinich

    @ getu:

    Opinionated, I can be. Isn’t that what blogging is all about? Incoherent, I can be too.

    FYI, I don’t have a problem with being proven wrong. I am good at handling that. I just don’t like it when I am the topic instead of my ideas.

  25. 25 Getu

    @ Dinich:
    Isn’t one their idea?
    For instance, as you indicate, YOU’d be the one proven wrong.
    “I dont had a problem with being prove wrong….”

  26. 26 Dinich


  27. 27 ep

    Nolawi wrote:

    Shanko = really dark…
    not official amharic… but used occasionally…

    BesaQ!!! … it reminds me what my antes and uncles were calling me back home…i am not that dark though ..lol

  28. 28 Dinich

    lol…..shanqo is a word of endearment….something like ur favorite aunt will call you if u r a little dark…:)

    Na esti yene shanqla…samegn esti….lol

  29. 29 Aseffa,A.

    Both baritcho and shanko are words of edearments. Yena bariya, baritichyae,Bariaw. Regarding the Baria people, it is been written since the time of Aksumite like that, so there is no reason to bent out of shape about it regarding nara/baria. If it is not good to call’em like that now, then be it. Even the term baria started to associate with dark skin people around 17 and 18th century. If one is a POW, 90 out of 100 would be baria no matter what skin color. At one time, Etegae Menen, wife to Yohanes III,mother to Ras Ali Alula aka tineshu, had a dispute with the Papas from Alexandria and called him ‘you are just like baria, you just cost 1000 gold woket’
    When Tewdors II do his fukera, he would say Enae Ye’Selasie baria. Even in his countless corespondent letters he would describe himself as ‘yeSelasie/Egziabher baria’

    Regarding ‘skin bleaching’ as some comments on this blog, it is disturbing and a new phenamona in our society (even if it exist as some of you claim). I don’t know a lot about female stuff but even putting make up could mess up skin. I was looking at Tirunesh dibaba wedding picture and I was like what the phuck ? she look good on track without a single thing on her face, except the sweat of her hard work.

  30. 30 chomp

    what’s always facinated me is the subtle uniqueness in body shape and structure amongst people from differeing ethnicities.

    depending on which part of africa you are pointing to, the female’s body has it’s own characteristics. west african models tend to have sinewy, toned bodies on which you can bounces quarters. as opposed to your typical HOA model who has a much more delicate shape.

    and you guys would be gladly surprised to know how many professional working african models there are today. beverly johnson kicked open the doors for black women, Iman shoved it wider for black women of african decent and today many young african women are seizing and enjoying it’s fruits.

  31. 31 Selam2

    @tsedey,@biskut, & @ seraue are right…

    Seraqe wrote:

    Biskut is on point when you said for teyim to considered beautiful she has to have the selkaka features down to the T. Sad but true. The darker the skin, you almost having to compensate for it by having more Facial beautiful features. That’s why keye melk ayefegim eymebalwe.

    If you take away their teyminess, even Liya Kebed & Sara Nuru have the preferred Eurocentric facial features.

    When I saw May, 2009 Vogue magazine cover that featured Liya Kebede with other white models…the only difference between her and the other models were skin complexion.


    I don’t believe we Ethiopians embrace the true African facial feature as Konjo… until we accept the flat nose, full lips, and dark skin tone as Konjo…just like the rest of the world we are also white washed in our bias of Konjo criteria.

  32. 32 Aseffa,A.

    Selam, But most Ethiopians don’t have ‘flat nose’, ‘full lips’, ‘dark skin’ or whatever you call ‘true African facial feature’. Liya Kebede is not even beautifull by Ethiopian standard. She is just cute enough. A set without a kit is not preety by my standard. Now most Chineese people have ‘flat nose’ and ‘small eyes’.

    The whole world might be dominated by holywood standards, but the whole world has its own standards too. We Ethiopians, have a certain mainstream charctersitcs of ours too; even though we have a diverse mosaic of people.

    Africa is not full of only ‘flat nose’, ‘full lips’ people either. So, how do you say ‘true african facial feature’ ??

    I remember years ago, I was having this conversation of beauty with a co-worker of mine who was an Arab.
    “What is your ideal girl looks like ??” He asked.
    Without thinking I said “Ethiopian or anybody who looks like Ethiopian.” It came out naturaly to me. Aziz gave me a suprise look and described his ideal girl, “blonde, blue eyes…” I forgot the rest.

  33. 33 chomp

    ^^assefa, you make a great point!

  34. 34 Susan

    It never ceases to amaze me how colonialist and naive Africans often are in their thinking.

  35. 35 anonx

    Susan: here’s something that might shade some light

    The Exotic in the Eyes of African Beholders

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/16/arts/design/16african.html?pagewanted=2&sq=african art&st=cse&scp=1

    “Once upon a time black Africans saw white Europeans as supernatural beings. They were wrong. Whites saw blacks as savages. They were wrong. Flip those identities around. Still wrong. Shake things up, though, and eliminate the identities altogether, and you start to get right. Mr. Quarcoopome shakes things up”

  36. 36 Jessie


    Unfortunately, colonialism did teach us to think that “only” light skin is beautiful.

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