Is that ALL of your hair? Can I touch it? How do you get your hair like that? You don’t mind if I feel it, do you? And then there is the infamous, your hair looks so soft, followed by a foreign hand caressing my curls.
Multiple times a week I am faced with at least one of the previous questions. At first, I was flattered. My hair must look soft, shiny and irresistible for friends, coworkers, and even strangers to be so curious. The flattery then turned to confusion. Does my hair look like a wig or weave? Is my hair so much different than those around me? Those feelings quickly turned in to disgust when strangers would place their hands in my curly mane without asking. Am I an animal? Is my big, luxurious natural hair the latest petting zoo? If so, I didn’t get that memo.
Earlier this year, the natural hair world was buzzing. A public art exhibit was hosted in New York City titled “You can touch my hair”. Black women from all walks of life and with various hair textures lined up with black and white signs reading “You can touch my hair.” Brave strangers were able to touch the ‘living exhibits’ hair without any repercussions. In turn, the ‘exhibits’ could engage in dialogue with the audience regarding their hair. This unique experiment sparked much debate.
The purpose of this social experiment was to start dialogue regarding the curiosity of black women’s hair. It also divulged in to the history of black women’s hair and feelings that it was unacceptable in the past. Women of other cultures expressed similar frustrations with strangers inquiring about their long or short, curly or straight tresses. For the most part, the event received positive feedback and sparked many of the difficult conversations regarding black hair.
Despite the positive feedback, the event also received negative backlash. The negative backlash incited a counter movement with women proclaiming that “You CAN’T touch my hair.” Touching one’s hair (especially without asking) is offensive. It involves violating one’s personal space. The social experiment was even compared to a slave auction block. Many of these women felt that this was not the proper way discuss this issue.
After learning of about this event and reading about all of the controversy surrounding it, I was left asking myself two questions: 1) Is it okay to touch black women’s (or in fact anyone’s) hair? 2) Why is there so much curiosity surrounding the texture of black women’s hair? While I think there are a number of societal and historical implications surrounding the controversy of the exhibit I will attempt to answer these questions from a personal perspective.
So, you’re probably wondering. Can you touch my hair?
In all honesty, it depends on the situation and our relationship. If I am in a professional setting, it would be inappropriate for someone to ask to touch my hair. Therefore, my immediate answer would be no. Also, if a complete stranger asks to touch my hair, then I would probably smile and politely say no. I wouldn’t want a stranger to violate my personal space and it is simply awkward.
Outside of those previous situations, I am open to allowing friends and family touch my hair. However, there are four rules associated with touching my hair. First and most importantly, please make sure you ask permission. If I like your purse, I am not going to reach inside of it to feel the material and see how spacious it is. Secondly, make sure that your hands are clean. I’m sure you would be offended if I touched your face after licking chocolate off of my fingers. Thirdly, there is a difference between petting my entire head and gently touching my hair. Curly hair tends to tangle easily and a heavy handed touch can lead to a world of tangles. Lastly, if I do decline your request to touch my hair, do not be offended. It could be wash day and I am sparing your hand from the deep conditioner and oils in my hair.
Overall, this controversial experiment made me contemplate the curiosity surrounding black women’s hair. Does our hair seem that much different than our female counterparts of other cultures? Is touching my hair going to demystify the stereotypes you may have about me?
Time for you to weigh-in: Can I touch your hair? What factors go in to you deciding if someone can touch your hair or not? Is it acceptable to even ask to touch some ones hair?
About Tia :
After losing over 30 lbs and experimenting with various new products and hair styles, Tia decided to document her healthy lifestyle journey with the world to motivate, inspire, and encourage others. Naturally Fit and Fab was started November 2012 to promote natural hair, healthy living, fashion and beauty. Tia is constantly researching and trying new products in order to provide quality product reviews, hair techniques, and the latest news in the natural hair community. Check out the blog at naturallyfitandfabulous.blogspot.com