Have you ever had someone come up to you and ask if they could touch your hair? I have. Lots of times. I’m not like many others. My response is actually, “Sure.” And then I lean in, so they can get an easy feel.
Let me start at the beginning.
I think about my my years growing up and how everyone wanted to touch the other person’s something or other, because it wasn’t like ours or the texture looked different from ours. (Appropriate items, of course). We saw nothing wrong with asking if we could touch someone’s such and such or thus and so. We just asked. Then we touched it. It’s how we learned about new things. What’s even more important about these scenarios is that we asked to touch it, because what we saw was something different, nice or cool and simply beautiful.
Even as adults, we are driven to touch things that are pleasant, attractive or appealing. So, I was surprised when I was in a natural hair session two years ago and the ladies there said how much they hated when people asked to touch their hair at work.
It appears that society’s new found fascination with the professional naturalista has made us uncomfortable with touching or even the thought of touching. We also use the excuse that it’s childish to even ask for a tiny little touch or a closer look. Not sure where that came from. I wish I would touch something without asking as a child. Better yet, I wish I would even ask without being thoughtful about what I was asking for first. But I digress. My goal is to keep this blog positive.
Some of us fail to realize the benefits of touch. Again, we touch things that are attractive. We touch because of curiosity. (And no, curiosity is not a bad thing. If you’re not used to seeing it, touching it and you don’t understand it, wouldn’t you be curious?) Once we touch whatever it is, we understand more–no matter how small it may seem–about what we’ve touched. We hope to find affirmation of its reality and safeness.
Speaking of safety, we often touch what we feel is safe, like a baby reaching for her mom or a partner reaching out to another partner when exploring new terrain, or very much like a sleepy person in the dark reaching for that familiar wall as he shuffles his way to the bathroom. Touching helps us feel safe. And when we feel safe, we are more likely to make connections. Don’t believe me; google it. Research has shown that positive touch builds connection. As a matter of fact, appropriate touching is encouraged on sports teams to promote and build connections. Whether that connection is small or large depends on the situation.
Back to the session involving the ladies with the, don’t touch my hair at work, rule. I informed them that the person asking to touch their hair likely isn’t being demeaning; they were actually attracted to what they saw and driven to examine it more closely. So, they should take pride in knowing that others felt compelled to enjoy the beauty that is naturally theirs. Touching builds that bridge toward connection and eventually understanding. The more people understand, the more comfortable they are with you and who you are. They appreciate the brand you bring and make no assumptions about your intent.
Shying away from this kind of connection could lead to you feeling “othered.” Othered has the connotation of being an outsider. It suggests marginalization, and there aren’t many people who want to feel “othered.”
Why not allow EVERYONE to realize and celebrate your beauty with you? Avoid letting your hair be a total mystery or a boxed up item not to be touched or acknowledged. Otherwise, that it may promote separatism, and even perhaps a sense of elitism that communicates that you’re just a pretty little ornament that is to be looked upon and objectified. That’s no fun.
Oh, yeah. So the rest of my story is quite nice!
After others have touched my hair, I’ve gotten, “It really is yours!” (from an African American woman, by the way).—do you think it’s important to specify that the woman is African American—I think the comment leads the reader to make the assumption that she is.
“Oh, its sooooo beautifully soft!”
My all time favorite is, “It makes me see that you’re a lil’ edgy with a briefcase. Nice!” (That is exactly what I was going for.)
In essence, people’s impressions shift. They engage with a greater sense of ease and knowledge. Afterwards, those who touch my hair often have more questions for me, and, of course, I have more questions for them. We exchange our efforts to “seek to understand” person to person, not YouTube to YouTube or Book to Book. (Though I love YouTube.)
After all, we, naturalista or not, are not just faces on a screen or tweets on social media. We are real. We are human. Most of all, we are beautiful. For me, to have the opportunity to talk about myself and the connection to history I share with so many people is an honor and a catalyst to my and the toucher’s growth.
I know I’m different. My voice is not the voice of every, a few, or even most women who choose to wear their natural hair. Some women, at work or not, don’t like to be touched in a work environment or sometimes they don’t like their hair to be touched at all, whether it is kinky, curly, straight, blue, black, grey, or green. I can appreciate that and I hope you can too.
So wait! Let me share a universal rule. First understand the disclaimer that certain touches may bring negative memories back to the person being touched, so touching her/his hair may not be best for them right now. As for me, of course, I know my ancestral history. I know my life journeys. Even more so, I know I have more control of what people can and cannot touch.
Now, some rules and observations:
- ALWAYS ask. It’s common courtesy.
- FEEL honored if the person says, “yes.”
- DON’T be offended if the person says, “no.”
As for the person who’s being asked, understand the intent of the request. You may be impressed.
Has someone at work asked to touch your hair? What did you do? Share your story with us!
Hope LeNoir, Owner of Rise and Fly © LLC
Career Coach, Speaker and Author