Touch My Body? No Thanks…

by Stacia L. Brown

On Monday, the Crunk Feminist Collective posted a fantastic essay called, “Taking It All Off: Black Women, Nudity, and the Politics of Touch.” In it, blogger crunktastic opines on a recent experience baring it all at a day spa with friends and the uncomfortable memories and psychic revelations it revealed. She spoke of a particular discomfort some black women have with both nudity and with touch (sexual and non-sexual)–and how this discomfort is rooted in the vulnerability we feel when we open ourselves to body assessment and intimacy.

Though the piece is filled with profound and noteworthy insights, I found this paragraph to be particularly resonant:

We claim in Black women’s communities to believe in the power of touch—to believe in the “laying on of hands” a la Ntozake Shange. In many evangelical charismatic churches, there is still foot washing, laying on of hands, and anointing with oil. And a significant segment of Black women attend these churches. But I’m not so sure how effective these moments of touch are given the kinds of conservative theology that otherwise tell us to be at war with our flesh and its desires.

As someone raised in rather conservative churches, I can relate to this idea that our attitudes toward touch can be dichotomous.  In church, touch represents the presence of God by proxy. A hug by way of greeting is meant to illustrate God’s love and the laying on of hands, his healing. Likewise, foot-washing stands in for His calls to forgiveness and humility. Touch is readily welcome and expected in these contexts, but in sermons, any touch not intended as godly metaphor is treated with admonition or even disdain. Light affection is believed to be a gateway to deeper physical intimacies (hence some churches’ encouragement of abstaining from even kissing until marital vows are exchanged)–and those deeper intimacies, outside the context of marriage, are sin.

If there’s any doubt that the church’s stance on premarital sexual touch has changed, check out the comments section on this recent Ebony.com piece, “Single, Saved, and Having Sex.”

Even beyond the church, touch can be fearsome, especially when you’re part of a historically hyper-sexualized demographic, like  black women are. The back of the mind worries over what will be assumed if we are comfortable with semi-public nudity, hot and heavy public displays of affection, or sex without apology or shame.

But comfort with our bodies (and with others touching them) is imperative, if we’re too achieve positive body images and healthy intimate relationships. Though the author of the Crunk Feminist Collective piece had her positive gains at the spa underminded when one of the workers suggested that she lose weight in order to attract companionship, the idea that joining other women with positive body images and freedom of intimacy will encourage self-exploration is a good one.

Are you comfortable with physical touch (including hugs and massages) from strangers? Do you have any hang-ups about physical intimacy and the vulnerability it elicits? How do you cope?

  • iQgraphics

    OMG! I can’t stand to be touched. I hate it.
    PDA with a loved one is acceptable… but I don’t get massages at the spa, I don’t even like my feet rubbed during a pedicure.

    There was this one dude in my office… One of the only 6 black folk here, but I digress… He got a transfer from a location that I was formally at so I guess he believed we had an established report.
    While he was at the other location, he’d comment on my feet A LOT, earring him the nick-name “Toes”. I’d only see him about once or twice a week at that local so it was tolerable.

    Then he came up here. Toes would come to my cube… hang out for about 15 minutes too long, but that wasn’t the bad part… he’d greet me with these hugs… They seemed to get a second longer and longer with each day… then he started sniffing me.

    I had to tell him, dude, I’m not comfortable with the hugs.

    Then, he stopped talking to me altogether…

    Whatever.
    Freak show

  • COME ON PEOPLE

    we hear and read this article about how it henders us emotionally because black women don’t like to be touched. but yet we applaud black women when they go on the tagent of not wanting their hair touched. It saddens me that we close ourselves off to others because of hang ups and other issues that we have. one of my workmates is one of those less affectionate women. I hug her all the time, one because i am a hugger, two because it is good for the soul. We need to be touched. It could have something to do with black womens issue with breast feeding too. we close ourselves off to the people that truely matter to us.

  • Vatasha

    I was raised in the Church of God in Christ where laying on of hands was the norm along w/ hugging. As a kid, I didn’t think much about it. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized touch could be healing or destructive.

    This is especially true once you’ve learned of the doings of the hand layer. It would be one thing if everyone strove to live their best, but I learned quite a few things about the pastors of different churches over the years. I can’t say that I would allow them to touch me today.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    This was a very interesting read, and as such my comment will be very detailed and long!

    “Light affection is believed to be a gateway to deeper physical intimacies (hence some churches’ encouragement of abstaining from even kissing until marital vows are exchanged)–and those deeper intimacies, outside the context of marriage, are sin.”

    -Honestly, the church can kiss my ass on this point here. Who are you to dictate what I can and cannot do in my relationship with my sweetie?! I’m sorry, but a relationship that is intimate less, will lead me astray! What the hell are we going to do with each other honestly? Read the Bible and just meditate on the verses till Jesus makes his second ascent?! I don’t think so. Bye! I want to be held, kissed, and fawned over. Shallow much?! I don’t curr!

    Single, Saved and Having Sex
    -Oxymoron. Just indulge in sin! And stop justifying it by putting the saved in thurr. #whatev.

    Authors questions:
    A stranger hugging me, HELL no! I don’t do those. Stay in your lane homie.
    Hang ups on physical intimacy, yeah sure-is my booray a decent size for your hand to cusp it right?! Are my legs long enough to wrap around your neck…I mean.
    I don’t feel vulnerable, I just feel mighty honest. How do I cope?! With these hang ups you mean?! I watch mapouka,lingala, dance videos?! I learn how to increase the size of boooray, by dancing and now I’m gonna start to learn how to twerrrrk it!

    Listen, to be honest. I have no qualms with my body. I talk to it, it talks to me back. We are best of friends.

  • The Taker

    I don’t believe in all that. I loved to be touched. It’s comforting and soothing. Now I’m not talking about any ole joe schmoe on the street but people I’m comfortable with. I love getting massages (body,feet,head) when I can afford it, I loved being hugged, kissed, caressed, all that affectionate stuff.. I feel bad for some of you women. All that tension, anger, built up walls can’t be good for your mental health nor overall health. So emotionally blocked off, the thought of somebody touching you sends you into a tizzy. That’s why mental illness is on the rise in our communities. It’s one thing if somebody has done you wrong or hurt you and you don’t want to be touched by them but not liking physical affection at all, I think is disturbing. Dispute that if you will, I’m all eyes and ears, cause I don’t get it.

  • The Taker

    Test.

  • The Taker

    Let my comment be free, Lord.

    I don’t believe in all that. I loved to be touched. It’s comforting and soothing. Now I’m not talking about any ole joe schmoe on the street but people I’m comfortable with. I love getting massages (body,feet,head) when I can afford it, I loved being hugged, kissed, caressed, all that affectionate stuff.. I feel bad for some of you women. All that tension, anger, built up walls can’t be good for your mental health nor overall health. So emotionally blocked off, the thought of somebody touching you sends you into a tizzy. That’s why mental illness is on the rise in our communities. It’s one thing if somebody has done you wrong or hurt you and you don’t want to be touched by them but not liking physical affection at all, I think is disturbing. Dispute that if you will, I’m all eyes and ears, cause I don’t get it.

  • Zaza

    ‘It could have something to do with black womens issue with breast feeding too.’

    Whuh? May be different for me because I’m coming from a African/British perspective not African-American, but all the women in my family breastfed, please don’t put that on all ‘black women’.

  • http://method2hermadness.blogspot.com girlformerlyknownasgrace

    I have issues with physical touch from strangers when it is intentional and unwarranted.

    –Crowded subway car where everyone is touching each other–unintentional and unwarranted. No one (usually) wants to fall all over each other, but it happens.

    –Doctor’s performing a breast exam–intentional, and semi-unwarranted. Never fully felt comfortable.

    –Creepy former teacher touching the slight of my back–intentional, unwarranted!

  • T.F.

    I think this is a bit lame. I don’t like being touched. Particularly by men. That is my choice. My preference. Everyone doesn’t have to be the same. My differences do not reflect a deficiency. I am very affectionate with family. Our level of intimacy determines how much touch I am comfortable with. I am not cold or unkind if I don’t want to touch you. Often people that touch you the most are those that feel they are superior to you. Don’t feel the right to hug me or massage my shoulders. I don’t belong to anyone. I have a healthy body image and I can love you without squeezing you.

  • Yb

    Petting someone’s hair as if they are a baby, animal as they has ownership over your body =/= PDA, hugs, hand shakes

  • Yb

    Petting someone’s hair as if they are a baby, animal, as if they has ownership over your body =/= PDA, hugs, hand shakes

  • T.F.

    … and I breastfed all my children. Coworkers don’t have to feel obligated to hug me when it’s my birthday. It’s just another day. If we don’t hang out, share intimate information, value each others opinions then we don’t need to hug. Save that job for those that truly love me for reasons other than the fact that I’m human. Stranger whose child just passed and I was the person to tell you, you will get a hug. Boss on birthday, your kids and wife will hug you. Hahaha!

  • Introverted Leo

    I despise being touched or hugged by others, especially strangers. I do not even like for people to stand close/sit close to me.

    As someone who isn’t often/rarely physically intimate with others, I can only speak from how I believe I would feel, so yes, I probably do have hang-ups with physical intimacy and the vulnerability it would elicit.

    Let me tell you a story – At my first job, there was a female coworker whom I became friends with, who liked to give me hugs. I told her more than once that I did not like to be hugged or touched, but she would do it anyway. I would angle my body in a way that would make it difficult for her to hug me because of how uncomfortable hugs made me feel. One day we were at work and she tried to hug me. I forcefully pushed her away and could tell that she was hurt by it. I told her that it was not my intention to offend her, but that I mentioned several different times about not liking to be hugged. I remember one day she told me she had another friend who was the same way but that she would touch her and hug her anyway to make her get used to it. I don’t think the friend got used to it. She probably just tolerated it, like me.

  • Introverted Leo

    You hugging your coworker who doesn’t openly demonstrate affection goes to show how much you respect other people’s boundaries.

  • Introverted Leo

    I despise being touched or hugged by others, especially strangers. I do not even like for people to stand close/sit close to me.

    As someone who isn’t often/rarely physically intimate with others, I can only speak from how I believe I would feel, so yes, I probably do have hang-ups with physical intimacy and the vulnerability it would elicit.

    Let me tell you a story – At my first job, there was a female coworker whom I became friends with, who liked to give me hugs. I told her more than once that I did not like to be hugged or touched, but she would do it anyway. I would angle my body in a way that would make it difficult for her to hug me because of how uncomfortable hugs made me feel. One day we were at work and she tried to hug me. I forcefully pushed her away and could tell that she was hurt by it. I told her that it was not my intention to offend her, but that I mentioned several different times about not liking to be hugged. I remember one day she told me she had another friend who was the same way but that she would touch her and hug her anyway to make her get used to it. I don’t think the friend got used to it. She probably just tolerated it, like me.

    FREE MY COMMENT!

  • BFDuster

    I don’t like to be touched. I can barely stand it when my cats nuzzle and lick me, it would be worse if person did it. I suppose part of this is from me not being “trained”, so it’s all fairly new and uncomfortable to me.

  • lw

    Great post. I think there has to be a distinction made between being touched by strangers, and loved ones. I don’t know anyone who particularly wants affection from a stranger. If it happened, I’d slap a beatch quicker (and harder) than Will Smith did that photographer.
    I grew up in a family that showed NO physical affection, ever. I never knew I was missing anything until I became an adult and met a best friend who was very affectionate. At first it freaked me out, but over time I began to indulge her hugs and slowly began to “thaw”. My husband was the same way. When we first net he had no real concept of non-sexual touch, and couldn’ t understand my need for hugs & whatnot. Over time he began to thaw. And now he will often go in for the hug before I do. All humans need touch. It just feels goooood.

  • binks

    I am just not a fan of others in my personal space, especially if I don’t know you like that and depending on the context of the touches. I don’t mind showing affection to love ones and friends when it is warranted or when it counts but in general I am not touchy feely person which is odd for some people to understand since I am usually bright and happy go lucky but if you touch me in a way that makes me uncomfortable I will go cold in a minute.

  • apple

    Gimme a hug hehehe

  • Crys

    +1

  • Jinx Moneypenny

    I’m very particular about the people I hug. It’s not everyone you should share that with, especially if you find yourself becoming uncomfortable.

  • Lady P

    With my loved ones, I am very affectionate. We hug, kiss and touch each other. It is actually second nature. If I don’t know you well, I don’t want you in my personal space at all.

  • Gigi Young

    This and the comments are fascinating, particularly when you see white girls hugging each other all the damn time! I also don’t like being hugged or touched by people I don’t know or feel comfortable with, and as I move in a field dominated by white females (publishing), I dread the “I don’t do hugs” speech.

  • Candy 1

    I only like to hug people who are close to me in relation. My husband, children, parents, my siblings, family, closest friend, and some church members (not you, Brother Pervy). I simply do not wish to share my personal space and body with people who have no real connection or contribution to my life. I feel like many forms of touching is intimate on some level, and I don’t need to be intimate with strangers. Shaking hands does not bother me. But I don’t want to be caressed, hugged, back-rubbed, or stroked my a stranger. Plus, I come from the school of thought that not everyone has a good spirit/energy and is not well-meaning, so that keeps me from wanting strangers hands/bodies on me unnecessarily.

  • Candi83

    With close friends and family, I am affectionate. We kiss and hug each other. If you’re a random stranger, stay far away. I’ll tolerate being in close quaters (with strangers) on the bus or train because I have no choice. Men, it’s a whole other story. If I’m dating you and I like you, I’ll slowly let you touch me. It’s those nasty men at the club that want to dance and they think that’s a license to rub and thrust like they want to have sex on the dancefloor is unacceptable.

  • LemonnLime

    Unless it is my family member, close friend, someone I’m involved with I don’t like being touched and I don’t like touching others. Hell it takes me a while to be comfortable touching someone I’m involved in just because, to me it is intimate.

    I have worked with 2 white girls that are just OVERLY touchy. I work in international offices at universities and study aboard companies do you are already dealing with different cultural ideas of personal space and touching but they were extreme.

    One would pop up behind you and start rubbing you back as she asked you for files or was just chatting. It freaked me out! One day I just straight up asked her why she does this all the d*** time and she said after living in Scotland for 4 weeks 5 years ago she picked up European ideas of personal space (what does that mean??!!!???) and that most Americans were to closed off to appreciate it. I was like there is a difference between standing lose to someone and caressing their back in the middle of an office AND considering Americans are considered one of the most touchy feely to strangers doubt that is the case. What it really is is that they don’t want randoms sneaking up on the rubbing them and touching them without their permission.

    The other doesn’t even care. She just justifies her actions with (I’m a hugger!) and then proceeds to nearly suffocate you against your will. I once told her “well im not a hugger” to which she replied “well I’m gonna change that!” before she went in for the kill.

  • OSHH

    I don’t have a problem with touch or hugs but I don’t like random men who are trying to holla touching me or getting too familiar as they are strangers and that is reserved.
    As I have grown in my walk of faith in Christ I find myself touching folk more when talking to them like a hand on the arm or back of the hand to emphasize a point or to make folks feel at ease or comfort them in all sincerity.

  • OSHH

    Like Vatasha’s this is a good point, because you cannot allow ungodly people to touch you, and there are unglodly folk up in the church. It’s a spirit thing and you can sense these things, not to sound kooky but it is true. Spirits can be transfered to you through touch.

  • sassy_memphis

    I totally agree.. the men that are approaching me with the touchy feeling is a major turn off. Even if i’m feeling the conversation a little it can quickly change!
    Hugs are awesome and so necessary these days!

  • Introverted Leo

    I don’t like touching people either.

  • Chloe

    I’m sorry but I don’t want strangers touching me. I don’t have a problem with nudity or being intimate, but I don’t want some unknown individual touching me in anyway.

  • MsQuita

    If I don’t know you, DO NOT touch me. Unless, of course I am at the spa, lol. In business settings, a handshake is quite enough. My loved ones, I am affectionate with, anyone else not so much so.

  • sholla21

    I’m very affectionate and touchy feely, LOL. I have a friend who hates people touching her and I respect her boundaries. It makes no sense to let strangers touch you, but family, friends and boyfriends? I’m all over that!

  • sholla21

    I mean strangers who aren’t paid to touch you like massage therapists and so forth.

  • Leo the Yardie Chick

    “I once told her “well im not a hugger” to which she replied “well I’m gonna change that!” before she went in for the kill.”

    And this is how people end up in court saying, “I swear, your Honour, I just snapped!”. I imagine she’s one of those folks who’s climb into a bear cage to hug it because ‘it looked lonely’.

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