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?

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  • 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.

    • Introverted Leo

      I don’t like touching people either.

    • 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’.

  • 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.

    • 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!

  • 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.