Think

The Skill of Survival Through Touch

I jump when I’m touched. Not like a startling jump when caught off guard by a lover with their arms
around your waist, or thrown out of focus when a stranger roughly grazes you. But jump myself into
shock, like my nerve ends lay on top of my skin, and the other person is the match that sets them on
fire. Sort of like a flashback, but to no reference in time or space.

Touch, the simple act of skin on skin contact, and in this context non–sexual, has become a growing
tug of war between right and wrong, and the “wrong” is winning (but I guess that depends on what side
you are on). When you live in a world where kids can get suspended from school from hugging one
another, it’s time to reevaluate who we, as women, let regulate our bodies.

During a recent conversation with three other women, we all sat around discussing the our relationship
with touch and affection, and the notion of cuddling. Yes, cuddling, remember that? Snuggling up
against your boo, or a friend or even a family member, in a non-sexual way, all with the purpose of
consensual affection. The way life is supposed to be. It’s amazing what happens when simple concepts
do not seem so simple anymore.

Us, four women of color, sharing the same fears and process of relearning about what touch meant
to us and what we want it to mean. Stories about the lacking the ways to prevent “skin hunger”, the
phenomenon that humans needs to be touched 8-10 times a day in order to stay alive. Stories about
not getting enough, and stories of how touch was violent and abrasive, and at times, these were the
times that laid the foundation of our relationship to touch today. For me, I was always scared to touch
people. A young girl still shifting through who she was and who she loved, adored to be touched,
hugged and kissed by all. Affirmation with pats on the back were heaven, and to bury my head into
someone’s chest and enclosed in their arms surpassed the bounds of the Universe. But as I grew older,
and who I was grew more and more complex and was eventually too much to hold all the confusion,
instead of letting it release from my hands, I buried it in my soul. Let’s not even talk about my budding
breasts and widening bottom; all man, woman and child avoided touching me. No one wants to be
responsible for inappropriately touching a teenager, except child molesters. It was as if as I got older,
the more I grew, the more I buried. After my adult experience with sexual violence, of someone
reversing all of my understanding of good touch was, I had found unhealthy ways to quickly let the
confusion all out.

But as I learned that day, touch is about slowing down. Taking in a person’s warmth, and engulfing
yourself in their intention and safety. Think about the last time you were touched. In a hug that was a
simple hello, or someone running their fingers through your hair because it felt good. We deserve to
have healthy bodies and as women of color, we must find safe ways to regain control of what touch is
and what it can do for us. Could you have a daily designated hugger? Offer to rub your partner’s, or a
friend’s hands with lotion. Taking some friends and getting a mani-pedi. Have someone brush your hair.
Hold a baby. Or a simple exchanging energy by shaking hands or giving them a high-five. We must use
these, and more strategies to not only reverse society’s message that we are not worthy to touch, but
take back the power and control of who regulates our bodies—ourselves.
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