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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