My Hair Is Off Limits

by admin on April 18, 2017

Reading the stories about people touching pregnant bellies reminds me of some unwanted touching that is rather common for me to experience.

I’ve never been pregnant so never experienced unwanted belly rubs but I have been blessed with thick healthy hair and that results in people wanting to touch my hair. Some will come up and state, “Your hair is so pretty, mind if I touch it?” Others will just come up and start petting my hair or twirling it in their fingers. And these are complete strangers!

Usually my response is an indignant sounding, “May I help you?!”. To which they’ll say something along the lines of, “Oh your hair is just so pretty I had to find out is it’s as soft as it looks.” At that point, I’m not really certain what to say. I usually just pull away from them. But it still mystifies me that someone would want to touch a random stranger’s hair, especially without asking permission. Usually I’m a big and imposing enough of a figure that people stay away from me, but something about my hair makes every other thought leave them.

One occasion I remember off hand involved me being in a audience at a nice, elegant theater location (for plays, not movies). We were doing a lot of sitting and standing (up and down). At one point, a young lady behind me started stroking my hair. I turned and looked (glared really) at her and she said, “Oh, there is gum on the back of the chair and I didn’t want your beautiful hair to get into it.” As I said, this was a high quality location, and not a place where you’d expect gum stuck to the back of chairs. Also, my friend looked and there was no gum in sight. And, my hair was not hanging over the back of the chair and she didn’t brush my hair aside, she stroked it five or six times.

I suppose a, “Please don’t touch me,” might work but that seems rather light for someone who thinks intimately touching a stranger is totally fine. Any thoughts on responses? 0113-15

I think the first time the response should be a firm but polite, “Please do not touch me.”   The second time, it’s OK to get stern and take more deliberate actions to stop the touching.   I had a situation in the swimming pool of the fitness center while water walking in the designated lane.   While there is posted etiquette rules for sharing lanes, for some it appears to not apply to them.   As the first person in the lane, others who came later are supposed to ask me if they can share the lane with me and as the first person in the lane, my choice of which side of the lane to travel along takes precedence.   I happily share the lane with many people as we dodge each but in this case, one woman wasn’t yielding right of way. She blocked my path and placed both her hands on my upper arms and turned me 360 degrees during which I responded, “Stop. Please don’t. ”    I reported the incident to management because it was evident the woman was invading my personal space and ignoring my rather obvious statements to stop doing what she was doing.    The second incident happened a few months later when the same woman repeated the previous action only this time I forcibly broke free, stepped away from her and very firmly (and loudly) said, “Don’t touch me. Don’t ever touch me again.  That is rude.”    I reported that incident to management as well and the result was that the woman was restricted to sitting on the pool deck until I exited the pool.

Other forms of touching, in my opinion, deserve an immediate and strong reaction.  Goose my rear end and I will (and have) slap you so hard I’ll think I broke me hand and you’ll have a hand print on your face.   In the Victorian era, women used their rather long hat pins to jab men who got too fresh.   I confess to using a corsage pin years ago to fend off a creep.

{ 113 comments… read them below or add one }

Anon April 18, 2017 at 7:38 am

If people start giving you excuses as to why they are touching your hair (why? I have thick hair too and no one has randomly touched it so far? Not sure why it’s so hard not to do that) I would tell them that it’s rude to touch people without their consent and move away from them as much as you can. And definitely report it the first time. Don’t wait for a second time for them to do this. If you don’t report them, they are only going to think of you as the mean person who got angry because it shouldn’t be such a big deal to touch people randomly! /eyeroll

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Dee April 18, 2017 at 11:29 am

Why not just yell, loudly, “Don’t touch me!” for all to hear? Brings negative attention to the toucher and is the best lesson they could be taught. They already know they aren’t supposed to touch people without permission but they do it anyway; shaming is really necessary in that case.

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Anon April 19, 2017 at 8:26 am

Have to agree, though I feel some people feel that they need to give the person a nice warning first or something.

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Amanda H. April 19, 2017 at 4:09 pm

It gives the hair-toucher a chance to realize their wrong and back off without fuss, rather than jumping immediately to an antagonistic situation. It’s when the initial polite warning fails that the big guns should be pilled out, not before.

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Victoria April 18, 2017 at 7:57 am

I think one “Please stop” is all they get. Anything after that will be very loud and attention getting that will include a “I asked you to quit touching me!”. Public shaming seems to be the only thing people like that understand.

Admin, someone grabbing you by the arms and spinning you in a circle is extremely bizarre. Was she all there?

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admin April 18, 2017 at 9:52 am

Due to HIPAA management could not tell me anything and to be honest, the state of her health was irrelevant. Even if she did have dementia or Alzheimers or some other cognitive disorder, that meant she needed a caretaker to make sure she did not behave in a way that potentially could do damage to others. Her hands on interaction did set back my physical therapy by 10 days to 2 weeks. When you have a rotator cuff problem, the last thing you want is someone grabbing you by the upper arms and torquing you.

That’s not the only bizarre interaction. One woman believed that 1/6th of the therapy pool was her personal space and if you ventured into that “zone”, boy, she let you have it verbally. “Why are you in my personal space?,” she would demand every time I came within 3 feet of her.

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Victoria April 18, 2017 at 10:12 am

Wow. I’d leave off the “Please don’t” and go right into the public shaming.

I’d hate it, because it feels like giving in to the horribly rude, but have you looked at other times or other pools?

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UKHelen April 18, 2017 at 2:45 pm

You have my sympathy over the rotator cuff problem.

During several bouts of ill health, I’ve been temporarily disabled in various ways, and I’ve realised that etiquette actually makes it easier for disabled people.

e.g. when I had a shoulder problem I couldn’t open heavy doors, so I really needed someone to hold a door open for me. If they let the door swing back in my face, I was in all kinds of difficulties.

e.g. when I had appalling back pain I couldn’t get out of the way quickly, so if I managed to get out I was worried about people knocking into me, and it was important to me that people treated my personal space with respect, were aware of what was around them, didn’t let their children charge around out of control, etc.

If people obeyed the rules of etiquette, I could go about my daily life and it wouldn’t even be apparent that I was temporarily disabled. I think what I’m trying to get across is that even if we look around us and think everyone we see is the same physically and can look out for themselves, they may not be. If we obey the rules of etiquette then we may be enabling others, not just being polite to them. Maybe this is one reason why the rules of etiquette came about in the first place.

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Michelle April 18, 2017 at 8:04 am

What I would like to know is why these people think it’s ok to touch a complete stranger? I can be fascinated by a great many things but I would never touch a complete stranger and I would certainly not pet/touch/stroke their hair.

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Phoebe161 April 18, 2017 at 8:05 am

Women are not the only people who have this problem; those with dreadlocks (men and women) and men with beards have the same problem. I saw a gentleman (with full beard) with a T-shirt emblazoned with the following: You touch my beard, I’ll touch your b—. Although I don’t agree with with it, I do respect his personal space. Beard, hair, pg belly — it’s personal space, not for touching.

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Dee April 18, 2017 at 11:31 am

What was wrong with the t-shirt? That man has a perfect right to touch back, if he is being touched without permission. The t-shirt just puts it in plain English.

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Madge April 18, 2017 at 11:59 am

Yes I compleatly agree, I have rather think, rather long, very curly hair. My husband has a rather neat but sizeabl beard, between the two of us we recive rather a lot of unsoliced touching. I am also pregnant so I can see it getting worce in the near future. (Apologies for any spelling/gramatical errors, I am dyslexic).

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Nicole April 18, 2017 at 8:11 am

I have had this same, on going, problem with a coworker (she is female, as am I). I have told her repeatedly not to touch me, but she always grabs at my hair or will walk up behind me and rub my shoulders. It is extremely inappropriate and I have repeatedly asked her to stop. She is also known as a bad idea to invite out at work as she rapidly becomes a stage four clinger.

If she was a man, I would have her in HR for harassment. Unfortunately, even I can see it is not of a sexual nature… it is just really creepy.

Good luck getting strangers to stop, I can’t even get a coworker to!

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stacey April 18, 2017 at 10:12 am

If she’s a repeat offender and you can’t get her to stop, then you should visit with HR or her manager. It’s completely a form of gaslighting. She bullies you into submission because she counts on the fact that you won’t escalate the issue. Try speaking VERY loudly the next time she does this. “WHY ARE YOU TOUCHING ME?! I”VE ASKED YOU REPEATEDLY TO STOP!” Lather, rinse, repeat as needed. Obviously, you can vary it with other responses that suit your context. The key is to persist/ insist that this isn’t negotiable.

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Victoria April 18, 2017 at 10:13 am

Harassment doesn’t have to be sexual. Report her anyway. Maybe a talk from HR will get her to cut it out. Unwanted touching is unwanted, whether it’s sexual or not.

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Kat April 18, 2017 at 11:09 am

I just wanted to point out that this is still harassment. You have already asked her to stop, she has refused to comply. It doesn’t need to be sexual to be a management / HR problem. Talk to your manager, her manager, or if that doesn’t work, HR.

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Kat April 18, 2017 at 11:12 am

(Also, if she literally GRABS YOUR HAIR I would be seriously tempted to react with an ear-splitting “OW! Oh my god, why did you pull my hair?!” loud enough for the entire office to hear. Every time, until she gets the point.)

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clairedelune April 18, 2017 at 11:45 am

You can still talk to HR about it. I hope you do! Even if it’s not explicitly sexual, it’s unwanted touching, and she’s refusing to comply with your requests to stop. It’s a disciplinary issue, no matter how one classifies it.

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Ripple April 18, 2017 at 12:25 pm

You can still file a complaint with HR. It may not be sexual harassment, but it is harassment. You’ve asked her multiple times to not do it and she won’t comply. Talk to HR immediately.

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Anon April 18, 2017 at 12:37 pm

I think it would still fall under harassment though. I would definitely tell them, even if she can’t be charged for anything. There’s a reason people let things go on too long, and that’s because they think it’s not worth it. It is! Please do so as soon as possible! They can at least talk to her about it!

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Kat April 18, 2017 at 1:11 pm

Nicole, you can still report this as harassment. repeated, unwanted physical contact is highly inappropriate in the workplace. The fact that it isn’t sexual doesn’t change that.

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SJ April 18, 2017 at 1:54 pm

Even if it’s not remotely sexual, you should report her anyway. You’ve asked her to stop,but she hasn’t.

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JenM April 18, 2017 at 1:56 pm

You can still go to HR about her. Just because it’s not sexual harassment doesn’t mean it’s not harassment at all. If she keeps touching you even after you’ve told her to stop, she’s not only harassing you but assaulting you.
Go to HR and report her. Not only is what she’s doing wrong, but she’s opening your workplace up to a lawsuit. If she harasses other employees in that manner, then one of them may go after the company for allowing her to continue working there, even though they may not know what she’s up to.
Please report her so that her behaviour gets nipped in the bud.

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jokergirl129 April 18, 2017 at 2:36 pm

Even if it isn’t sexual in nature if she refuses to stop touching you even after you’ve told her more than once to not do so you can still report her to HR. Her touching you is clearly making you uncomfortable and it is kind of creepy. Maybe if HR has a word with her it’ll finally get through her head that what she is doing isn’t right and she’ll leave you alone.

Does she touch other people at work too? If so they should also report her so something can be done about this. Don’t let her continue to make you uncomfortable at work just because it might not be considered sexual harassment. It’s still inappropriate touching and it needs to be addressed.

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Lisa Sonne April 18, 2017 at 2:47 pm

As an HR Manager, I can tell you that you should be reporting her to HR for harassment! Unwanted touching is harassment from ANYONE, especially if the person has been asked to stop at any time! Harassment is not just sexual and not just male/female!

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Cathy April 18, 2017 at 3:41 pm

This is still considered a form of harassment. It doesn’t have to be sexual in nature, you have asked her to stop and she hasn’t. I would report her to HR the next time she touches you. It is unwanted and makes you uncomfortable.

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Amanda H. April 18, 2017 at 3:53 pm

It could still possibly be considered a form of harassment if she refuses to stop despite being asked repeatedly to stop. Harassment doesn’t always have to be sexual in nature.

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Lex April 24, 2017 at 7:24 am

As others have pointed out – harassment is harassment regardless of intention. The fact that you have asked her repeatedly to stop and she has failed to comply is without a doubt harassment and should be taken to HR or her line manager at the earliest opportunity.

I realise it can be difficult because you don’t want to risk being the one that sticks their head over the metaphorical parapet in case of blowback on you, but you shouldn’t have to ‘put up with’ something that makes you uncomfortable.

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Jessica April 18, 2017 at 8:42 am

I have also heard black women (and sometimes men) have this issue when they have their hair natural (not relaxed or wearing a weave). Apparently styling your hair big and curly is an invitation for others to touch it. I don’t understand it. I guess I’m lucky to have boring hair that nobody tries to touch. Why do people think it’s okay to invade a stranger’s personal space like that? I have had a classmate ask to touch my hair because it’s baby fine, but at least they asked!

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Karen L April 18, 2017 at 4:24 pm

Jessica Williams did a “story” about this on the Daily Show years ago. Basically she walked up to women with fine, straight hair and said “Oh your hair is so straight, mind if it touch it” and then started stroking and pawing people’s hair. The point being that if it is weird when doing this to people with regular hair, why would it be OK to do it to people with unusual hair. It was hilarious.

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Noodle April 18, 2017 at 7:32 pm

I’m a Pacific Islander and also have big, curly hair. People in the US usually don’t touch it but while I was living in China it was a free-for-all. I ended up putting my hair up before setting foot outside my little apartment.

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babs April 20, 2017 at 1:43 pm

My twin sister and I lived in Japan with our military family when we were in elementary school. The Japanese children, all with straight black hair, were fascinated with our blonde hair, and couldn’t help touching us everywhere we went (sometimes adults, but mostly the children). The replies on this story are mostly about rude adults who can’t keep their hands to themselves, but your post reminded me of our experience in Japan.

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April G. April 18, 2017 at 8:59 am

Sigh. I wish I could say I’ve never had this happen, but it has. I have naturally curly red hair and I’ve lost count of the times someone has come up and “pet” me or pulled on a curl. One lady even insisted that I tell her who had done my perm and could not be convinced that I’d never had a perm in my life and it was natural. (I finally walked away from the crazy.)

I usually just tell the individual not to touch my hair. Most are embarrassed and apologize. The crazies? I punctuate the request with walking away.

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many bells down April 18, 2017 at 11:38 am

Another naturally curly hair woman here. A couple months ago I was walking out of the post office and an older man passing me said “Great hair!” and reached out and “boinged” a curl. It all happened so fast I didn’t even have time to react.

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at work April 19, 2017 at 5:56 am

Ugh, that makes me remember when I was 12 and the boys would snap the back of my bra. You don’t even see it coming. Suddenly someone has stepped over the line and it’s like a mini assault.

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admin April 19, 2017 at 10:59 am

One of my very first smacks was at age 12. I hauled off and slapped the bejeebies out of a guy who put his hands where they were not supposed to be. His left cheek was red from the imprint of my hand but worse, I had publicly humiliated him in front of his peers. I promptly got nicknamed “Slapintheface” which stuck until my early 20’s. I also elbowed a few males in the groin when they pulled that stunt of coming up behind you and “tickling” you so close to your boobs.

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Lex April 24, 2017 at 7:27 am

I was sexually assaulted in a park near my school – a guy rode past on a bike and groped me. I didn’t have the time or ability to defend myself or retaliate, but the next time someone groped me I turned around and hit them as hard as I could – it was definitely an ‘I-broke-my-hand’ type of slap. I will NEVER allow someone to take liberties with my body EVER again.

Susan May 5, 2017 at 11:17 am

Oh, did that bring back a memory from junior high: “north, south, east, west….equator,” and, SNAP.

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LovleAnjel April 21, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Ugh, I also have “boingable” curls. I once had a coworker chase me through the back room trying to get a hand on my hair to boing it.

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DGS April 18, 2017 at 9:34 am

The hair thing has happened to me many times – I have long, thick, naturally curly, auburn hair, which apparently, is an invitation for random people to reach out and touch my head (when I was a child, a boy who sat behind me in elementary school would play with it incessantly, until I had finally given up on asking him to stop or my teacher preventing him from touching me, and just asked my teacher to move my seat). None of my children are fellow gingers (red hair is double recessive, and there are no red heads in my husband’s family), but all have thick, curly hair, and they also get randomly touched by strangers in line at the grocery store or at a checkout at a coffee shop, etc. The front desk receptionist at the pediatrician’s office (who really should know better), would reach over across the check-in desk and pet my daughter’s head when she was sitting in the stroller. I have had to cultivate a “witchy” demeanor and sternly ask people, “Stop. Please, do not touch me/do not touch my child”. It boggles my mind that touching strangers, including children, is considered appropriate by some people.

This also happens frequently to people of color, as oftentimes, Caucasian people find it fascinating to touch or fondle more textured or coarser hair or more elaborate or African-style hairdos. It is never appropriate to touch people without their consent, and certainly someone’s hair should be off limits. It is perfectly reasonable to communicate that this is unacceptable in a stern and firm way.

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Jazzgirl205 April 18, 2017 at 11:51 am

I was one of 2 white children in a Black neighborhood. My hair is blonde and super fine. The other children would crowd around me and pet my hair. This happened almost every time I was on the sidewalk or walking to the corner grocery. I guess it was the only time they felt a white person’s hair. I never saw them do it to anyone else and my friends thought it was funny.

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Kirsten April 18, 2017 at 12:00 pm

My Kenyan friend doesn’t mind people touching her hair if they’re polite, genuinely curious in a positive way, and they ask first. My hair is the complete opposite of hers – very fine and dead straight – and she was fascinated by it when we first met, and I was happy to let her touch it, because she was polite, interested and asked first.

I have a tattoo on the top of my back which is sometimes visible if I wear a strappy top. One night in a pub a man licked his thumb and rubbed my tattoo, and when I asked him what the hell he thought he was doing, he said he just wanted to see if it was real. I told him to keep his hands off me, and he said I must have wanted people to look at it if I was showing it. I pointed out that we look with our eyes, not our hands, and told him to get away from me. I’m certain that to this day he has no idea what he did wrong.

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Yasuragi April 18, 2017 at 6:13 pm

*horrified face*

My goodness, you have more restraint than I do. I would have slapped anyone who put their spit on my skin.

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SS April 19, 2017 at 8:22 pm

I don’t know what was in his head….. If he felt it might not be real, he was deliberately trying to ruin it by smudging it.

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Shoegal April 18, 2017 at 3:55 pm

I had a black girl come over and stroke my hair because she had never felt Caucasian hair before. I didn’t stop her but found it quite uncomfortable.

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Dyan April 18, 2017 at 9:42 am

i am sorry but I can not understand this I would never ever touch someone …belly or hair or anything to me that is just RUDE …

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Ajay April 18, 2017 at 8:37 pm

I think I was bought up toooo polite sometimes, my pregnant friends have to invite me to touch their cartwheeling bumps – one friend dubbed me the baby vampire, I have to be invited first, then the wee person adores me beyond normality, I say it’s because I’m almost as short as them, so they can relate to me better… ;-D

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Mustard April 18, 2017 at 9:46 am

I just wonder what the hair-strokers would do if you turned the tables and touched their hair. ( Not that any eHellion would, because it’s rude…)

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Anon April 19, 2017 at 8:30 am

There was a submission where someone who was pregnant did that to someone who was touching her stomach.

The offender/toucher was quite offended and angry that the pregnant person dared to touch them!

People were saying the OP shouldn’t have done it, but I wonder how these people are going to learn otherwise.

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AppleEye April 19, 2017 at 9:53 am

When my sister was pregnant, she used to do this when strangers touched her belly. Not that I approve, but oh, their faces…

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NostalgicGal April 19, 2017 at 12:01 pm

I would add “But I thought that was a new style of greeting, instead of shaking hands? No? Well you did it to me.”

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Lex April 24, 2017 at 7:29 am

My thoughts exactly! They can’t ‘feel you up’ then get angry when you do the exact same thing to them! That is hypocrisy!

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stacey April 18, 2017 at 10:05 am

This is so manifestly a “no-no” that I’m surprised it’s an issue in this day and age. People who touch your hair or put their hand on you should be prepared for whatever reaction is coming their way. An acceptable excuse might be that the person in question is a young child or is a special needs person (with a relevant diagnosis…. if your executive function is just fine but you’re still crossing boundaries, you aren’t excused). Notwithstanding, a parent or caregiver should be close enough to immediately intervene, apologize profusely and redirect such exceptions. Otherwise, if we do as we were told in our earliest years and “keep our hands to ourselves”, we’ll all get along fine.

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NostalgicGal April 18, 2017 at 11:05 am

When I was small my hair had never been cut, was really long and people would mess with my braid. (I could sit on it). Later years with metabolic issues, I look 8 months pregnant IF I let my body hoard in the bellyfat it loves to build. I used to wear a 6″ button at events that said “I AM NOT DUE I am not pregnant, thank you” And still the hands. I would grab hands at about the wrist and lift them with the words ‘Please keep your hands OFF me I am NOT pregnant’. They usually looked shocked that I dared to touch THEM.

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PJ April 18, 2017 at 11:18 am

I think “please don’t touch me” is the right response. If they choose to escalate, then you can do the same.

I also have waist-length, natural, very thick blonde hair. I get compliments on it at least once a week (and I really don’t get out much). I can only remember four or five times that an adult stranger has touched my hair. I can’t imagine having someone do that on a regular basis!

Side note: with little kids it’s more frequent, and the parents are typically embarrassed and apologetic. I usually let the kid play with it then. I’m not always a fan of random kids but their fascination and gentleness is pretty sweet, IMO.

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JD April 18, 2017 at 11:39 am

My hair now is what they used to call “dirty dishwater” blonde, but as a kid, I had waist-length, wavy, golden-blonde hair, and other kids would walk up behind me and touch, stroke, gather, or play with it. My response was to jerk away because it usually startled me, and I learned quickly to say, “I’d rather you didn’t touch my hair.” I would get the usual excuses, but I would pull it back and hold it in my hand and repeat, “I’d rather you didn’t touch my hair,” but with more emphasis. Being a kid, I also threatened to punch the boys who kept trying it 🙂 OP, my suggestion is to make it clear with your expression that you are startled, put out, not amused, or whatever emotion fits here, while saying, “Please don’t touch me,” and repeating it ever more loudly as necessary.

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Kat April 18, 2017 at 11:42 am

I’m a big fan of public shaming. Women and girls are socialized to “never make a scene,” but I keep in mind that I’m not the one who instigated this scene, and I have no obligation to protect people behaving badly from the consequences of their actions. If they don’t want to be embarrassed in public, they can avoid doing embarrassing things in public.

When strangers touch me, it’s mostly men — a dominance thing, I presume. If the first invasion is non-sexual (for example, had some rando walk up behind me in a coffee shop and start squeezing my upper arm), I’ll pull away and he’ll get the Death Glare along with an “Excuse YOU.” If he persists after that, the ENTIRE ROOM will know that what he’s doing is unwanted. My responses then can be something like “I said STOP” or “There’s this thing called CONSENT, you know.” I especially like reminding them about consent, and that it applies to ALL touching, not just assault. It’s a message that (clearly) needs to get out there into public consciousness.

(Above-mentioned rando was ultimately ejected from the coffee shop by staff under threat of calling the police.)

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Lex April 24, 2017 at 7:31 am

I love using ‘trigger words’ to make a point. ‘YOU ARE TOUCHING ME WITHOUT MY CONSENT’ is a surefire way to make your point.

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Harry April 18, 2017 at 1:09 pm

Miss Manners states that the ONLY reason to touch someone is if a spider or some such thing is about to attack them.
That said, this isn’t the first pool story I’ve heard…some strange phenomenon happens when people enter into a pool; they suddenly feel that the whole thing belongs to them. Be it water aerobics or lane swimming, I’ve seen it get quite ugly (see Admin story) more than once.

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Ashley April 18, 2017 at 1:59 pm

My husband and I have both had this happen.

The comment I usually get is “oh your hair is so straight, what kind of straightener do you use?” I don’t my hair is genetically straight as a pin, and even if I did, why on earth would wanting to know what kind of straightener I use require you to TOUCH my hair?? I’m honestly so over it that whenever it, or any other sort of unwelcome touching occurs, I say loudly “You do NOT have permission to touch me”. I know it’s not exactly taking the high road but it’s the only thing I’ve found that actually STOPS the attention immediately. Hopefully makes them think more about whether or not to do stuff like that to someone else in the future too.

My husband gets it more than I do. He’s got long, thick hair that has just the right amount of wave to it. He’s like a well maintained viking. Honestly I’m even jealous of it. He gets people telling him they want to braid it, to straighten it, touching it, pulling it, asking him to take it out of the ponytail so they can see how full it really is, all kinds of stuff. And we’re both just standing there like “can you not?”

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Anon April 19, 2017 at 8:34 am

Telling someone to stop touching you isn’t rude or anything. You are technically being assaulted, you are allowed to tell someone to stop it.

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Ashley April 19, 2017 at 1:08 pm

I just also happen to have this deeply ingrained fear of being perceived as a “rhymes with witch”. I’m slowly trying to get over it but calling someone out on their bad behavior still sometimes makes me feel like I’m a “rhymes with witch” and isn’t the most eloquent solution to the problem

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Anon April 20, 2017 at 9:14 am

Unfortunately, if you’re a woman, you’re going to be called the word whether it’s deserved or not. Didn’t reply to a man when he tried to talk to you even though you were reading and wearing headphones on the bus? Apparently you’re the *-itch word for not responding! Sorry that you have that.

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Gamer Girl April 18, 2017 at 2:07 pm

This has happened to me before too, tho my mum tried to tell me it was probably a cultural misunderstanding.
I was 13, we lived in Germany and I had typical American late 80s hair. Tight permed curls, frosted streaks, mile high bangs, the works. AquaNet was my friend.
My family had gone camping and my mother and I to a restaurant on site to get something for dinner. We were waiting at the bar/counter and a guy sitting at the bar with his friend leaned over and started petting my hair and bouncing his hand on my bangs to see if they’d lay down.
I was a sheltered, shy girl and I’d never had someone touch me before without me knowing them. I screamed in the restaurant like someone cut my arm off.
The bartender translated and tried to tell my mum that they just wanted to see how my hair got that tall and if it was even real, but I was too freaked out to care.
To this day, if you touch my hair unexpectedly, I’ll freak out, and I’m 40 now.

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Anon April 19, 2017 at 8:35 am

I doubt it was a cultural misunderstanding. Especially since it was a guy at a bar. I think it’s okay for you to freak out. At least it gets the message to them (hopefully) loud and clear.

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UKHelen April 18, 2017 at 2:33 pm

Ugh! I’ve had this, too. I’m caucasian and have straightish brown hair, but it’s very thick and used to be waist-length. That, apparently, was enough for people to want to fondle it. I remember two particular occasions. One was at a church home gathering. I was talking to someone when I felt something going on behind me. I turned round to find a woman dreamily fidddling with my hair. I think she was making a loose plait in it. Yuk!

Another time an elderly foreign lady came up to me in a department store and asked my permission to touch my hair. I was taken aback and said yes. So she did, while I just stood there. Weird. Since I had my hair cut shorter, it hasn’t happened.

On a slightly different topic, I was once in a crowded shop when a self-obsessed man wanted to get by me and instead of saying, “Excuse me,” he put a hand in the small of my back. I instantly reacted and straightened my back away from his hand: he looked shocked and embarrassed and apologised. Yay!

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Lacey April 19, 2017 at 3:26 pm

Ugh, I find that men do this ALL THE TIME in crowds. Hand on the small of your back, or sometimes even one arm around you and the other on the shoulder, while “just getting by.” I flinch and tell them not to touch me.

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Lex April 24, 2017 at 7:32 am

I bet you usually get all kinds of body-shaming abuse in response, right? I know I do…

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Gizmo April 18, 2017 at 3:19 pm

I came down to comment and find myself commenting right after two other fellow red-heads!

I have long wavy red hair. have never had someone touch my hair here in the USA. I used to teach abroad, and when I lived in VietNam and China (China especially) people would touch and pet my hair literally every time I was out of the house almost. Couldn’t do much more than stare and move away because of the language barrier.

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Lanes April 19, 2017 at 9:33 pm

I visited China and was somewhat warned about my red hair being a thing of notice for the Chinese, to the point where they’d want to take selfies and such.

I left disappointed. Not one selfie, not one question asked. Just a whole lot of staring.

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Amanda H. April 20, 2017 at 3:10 pm

My family was in Florida, of all places, and had some Asian young adults ask to take a photo with my children, two of whom were blondes (and one of those two blue-eyed at that). It was funny because I’d always heard of the whole “light hair = novelty” thing, but this was the first (and so far only) time it’s happened to anyone I know personally.

(I did give permission for the photos because they wouldn’t have any other identifying information about my children, and even if their phones/tablets had location data turned on, we were on vacation away from home so people still wouldn’t be able to do anything nefarious.)

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Miss-E April 18, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Once I was at a this big work event with a bunch of my girlfriends. Since everyone there worked for the same company we were all wearing the same shirts. One of my friends walked up behind a short girl with long black hair, wrapped her arm around her shoulders and lightly stroked her hair…she thought the girl was our friend when it was actually a stranger.

She realized her mistake immediately and apologized. The girl was very kind and laughed it off and it remains one of my favorite stories to tell about this friend.

Not exactly relevant to this story but I thought I’d share something funny! And just keep in mind – sometimes the touch is accidental!

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Rose April 18, 2017 at 8:30 pm

This has happened to me my whole life. In my ethnic group and culture, women typically have very thick, dark hair, and generally grow it quite long. We also, as a rule, don’t allow outsiders to touch us. This makes for some awkward moments. My own hair is long enough to sit on, and I wear it in a braid or a huge bun most of the time. When people try to put their hands on it, my standard response is to gently but firmly grasp their wrist and hold it away from me, all the while sternly saying “NO. No. No-no,” as you might scold a dog, until they get embarrassed enough to leave.

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UKHelen April 19, 2017 at 3:27 am

Oh, I love your way of dealing with it!

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at work April 19, 2017 at 6:00 am

I really like the way you advise speaking as you would to a dog. This is really helpful.

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Pixi April 18, 2017 at 10:19 pm

I remember clearly the first time that ever happened to me. I was in my early twenties and was working at the customer service/returns counter of our local office supply store.

My hair at the time was about waist length both front and back (no bangs) curly/wavy and colored red. But I colored it in a way that it still had variations in shades (highlights and lowlights)

This woman reached across the counter and took my hair in her hand exclaimed about how beautiful it was and fanning it out to point out the colors (light red, dark red, some blond)

My manager was standing right next to me while this happened and we were both in such a state of shock that we never said anything about it until she left.

To be honest the times I have had someone grab my hair it’s usually when I’m working (retail). I’ve come to the conclusion it’s because a lot of people view retail workers as not really human. We’re not allowed to object to people touching us.

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Vee April 18, 2017 at 10:24 pm

Ha. I live in China. Every day is me asking people to stop touching my hair, staring at me, or touching my possessions.

You think it’s bad when someone touches your hair? Try chasing after a little old lady in the grocery store because she took your food out of your cart and ran off yelling “This foreigner is eating vegetables! Foreigners don’t eat vegetables!”

O_o

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stacey April 19, 2017 at 8:04 am

Okay, you win for “most unique tale of unwanted contact in a public setting”. I’m spewing coffee just thinking about this little old lady taking off with your vegetables. You maverick, you! Eating vegetables just like the locals….

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NostalgicGal April 19, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Or just have someone take stuff out of your cart because they don’t think you should be eating that. “The only one that can get on my case about what I eat or what I weigh is my doctor, and you sure don’t look like him.” then take it back.

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Noodle April 19, 2017 at 8:49 pm

Yep. When I lived there I went through all of that plus not being allowed inside of businesses (in Shanghai) because my brown skin meant I was “dirty”.

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Maria April 19, 2017 at 1:30 am

Everyone I know has amazing hair and I have never heard of this happening. If such a unique experience has occurred more than once, perhaps you should reexamine the people you speak to or surround yourself with. This is not a normal request and I would be similarly creeped out.

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Anon April 19, 2017 at 11:05 am

I’m not sure how one is supposed to avoid random strangers.

Do you suggest they live under a rock or shave off of all their hair first?

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Kate April 19, 2017 at 1:36 pm

You can’t really choose the people you surround yourself with in public spaces, whether that’s a small town or a big city. As with the LW’s example, you can’t control who sits in the same movie theater as you.

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Rebecca April 19, 2017 at 2:19 am

1) I have huge, thick, long, curly hair too and I’ve had a lot of random compliments from strangers but nobody has ever just come up and touched it. I don’t know what I’d say, because I’d probably be too surprised and taken aback to respond appropriately.

2) The pool where the admin swims sure has bizarre swimming rules. I’ve never heard of having to ask to share a lane – it’s assumed everybody has to share the space. I can’t imagine why they don’t just do circular swimming, ie everybody up one side, down the other, keep right except to pass, and lanes designated for fast, medium, and slow swimmers. If the lane I’m swimming in gets too full I move to a different one, and/or pick one where most people swim at the speed I want to go. This system works well no matter how many people are swimming. When entering a lane with existing swimmers you wait for an appropriate gap in the circle and follow. I’ve done a lot of swimming and the only time I’ve ever heard of the system the admin describes is right here on this forum. Definitely the person the admin describes should not have touched her and instead if she had an issue she should have approached a lifeguard. I’ll give her a pass for not seeing the signs with their bizarre system description because generally people have to take their glasses off to swim and can’t see a thing.

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Julidu April 19, 2017 at 7:46 am

I had something similar to this happen to me at work. I have a tattoo on my shoulder. During work hours I made sure it was covered. One day I wore a dress with a light jacket. During lunch with a group of co-workers I took off the jacket. While waiting to pay for our food 2 men decided they wanted a closer look at my tattoo. The tattoo is nothing weird, just a cross. One man move my hair out of the way and then the other traced the tattoo design on my back with his finger. It was one of the most creeping and violating experiences of my life period I’ll never forget that feeling of a stranger touching my back in that manner. In a loud voice I said “What the he!! is touching me!” Two of my male co-workers turned and saw what was going on and placed themselves between me and the men. The older gentleman promptly apologized and explained he just wanted to get a closer look at my tattoo. The younger one just shrugged and told me I had a nice back. I told both of them to stay away from me and to never touch a woman they don’t know again. They started arguing with me that it was nothing and I was over-reacting. When I threatened to call the police they called me a drama queen. I still get chills when I remember…

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Ashley April 19, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Oh gosh I’ve had stuff like that happen with my tattoos!!!

I have two hummingbirds and flowers on my chest, and most of the time they can’t be seen, but sometimes my shirt shifts a little and then you can tell there is something there. I’ve had complete strangers notice this, then move my shirt to look at the rest of it. And it’s SO DUMB because I would gladly show people if they ASKED so that I was in control of my own clothing…

The worst one actually involved the tattoos on my wrists. The color and design is such that a lot of people don’t notice them right away, and when they do they think that it’s henna. I was at a convention and chatting with some people I was in line with. I used my hand to shift my purse and somewhere in the motion of swinging my arm up and down, one of these people noticed my tattoo. She GRABBED my arm, brought my wrist up to her line of site, and then LICKED HER FINGER to rub my tattoo. When it didn’t come off, she said “OH MY GOD IT’S REAL I THOUGHT IT WAS HENNA” and I was just like “?????” because there were no words. Some guy working at the booth saw it and said “Did you just basically LICK a stranger?” and she got embarrassed and left. Thankfully the people at the booth had just gotten lunch delivered so they had wetnaps and they also had sanitizer and freely offered me plenty of both. Ugh.

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Amanda H. April 20, 2017 at 3:16 pm

First, if you thought it was henna, why would you try to ruin it by rubbing it off? Some people’s children….

Second, I’ve found that people’s concept of personal space frequently breaks down at conventions (at least of the fandom variety). I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the forum for one I vend at reminding people that tackle-hugs are NOT allowed (can break costumes or hurt people who aren’t expecting it), and I’ve had someone come up and just start touching me before while I was walking around in my own costume. I gave him a stern Mom look, took his hand (which he was rubbing up and down my arm) very firmly, and then very pointedly removed it from my arm and pushed it back toward him. He then made some comment I don’t recall (he and I were wearing costumes from the same game), and I added the Mommy Voice and told him to leave me alone. It worked, thankfully, because had he continued the next step would have been getting con security and possibly making a scene.

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Lacey April 19, 2017 at 3:28 pm

Gross.

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Lanes April 19, 2017 at 9:37 pm

I HATE it when men use that excuse!!!

Man does something dumb/offensive. Woman correctly complains. Man says woman is “over-reacting”. Somehow, woman comes off as the one in the wrong.

Makes me so mad!!

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Stephbwferni April 19, 2017 at 7:58 am

People that try and touch my baby when we are out and about!
I know they are just well intentioned old ladies, but it is not ok! What can I say to them that won’t offend and upset them but still be assertive?
My older two sons get really upset when a stranger touches their brother (and, I swear, I am trying my best to teach them to be polite, respectful and empathetic, but kids just say things sometimes) and shout “Don’t touch my brother!”.

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stacey April 19, 2017 at 2:37 pm

I think you can worry a little less about being perfectly polite and be a little more focused on being perfectly proper. It’s perfectly proper to resist unwanted contact and perfectly acceptable to back away from those approaching too close. Pull the baby’s stroller or pram in towards you and look quite severe as you assert yourself with “strangers don’t touch my children” (or something similar). If they keep coming into your personal space, don’t be afraid to body block them or turn around, while raising your voice. If you’re wearing the baby in a sling or carrying him in arms, you can step back and grab the incoming toucher by the wrist. Only a crazy person would go through a parent to get to a kid, no matter how cute.

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Amanda H. April 20, 2017 at 3:19 pm

[LIKE] — (borrowing NostalgicGal’s Like Button Creation Tool)

Children can’t defend themselves. It’s up to the parent to do so, so far as the parent sees the need to. I agree with the statement that only a crazy person would try to go through a parent to get at a kid. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with strangers.

I let strangers interact with my children in public. I don’t want them scared at the world, after all. At the same time, I never push my children to allow strangers to touch them or get too close. If my baby’s in the stroller or sling, I don’t push her closer to the stranger, even when encouraging her to say hi. I tend to position myself near to my children while talking to strangers so my kids know I’m there for them. And goodness knows if one of the strangers we met on a day-to-day basis ever pushed that boundary, I’d push back.

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PWH April 19, 2017 at 8:48 am

I can’t imagine the gall some people have, or lack of boundaries, to touch a stranger. The only time I ever experienced the hair thing was when I got it cut short. It went from long (down to the small of my back) to an angled bob with the hair shaved at the back of my neck. In my case it was someone I knew who ran his fingers up the shaved part to feel it, but it still felt very awkward. My hair is long again (nearly to my waist) and the only people I allow to touch it are my Mom, my husband and my hair dresser.

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Rose Lloyd April 19, 2017 at 12:01 pm

My family tells the story of my kicking a local television personality on camera when he grabbed my hair. I was 4 and it was a local children’s show. He grabbed one of my ringlets and asked if he could have it. I gave him a swift kick to the shin. My grandmother was mortified. I do not remember the actual incident, just the story told repeatedly while I was growing up.

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sillyme April 19, 2017 at 1:00 pm

See, now, I’m at that “certain age”, and state of physical nature average for my “certain age,” that if someone sneaks a little touchy-feely, I’m not sure if I’m going to object or not. 😉

Okay, that was a joke. And not intended to be at the OP’s expense. So I need to state that I totally support the OP in her objections. It is very offensive when people treat you like you’re public property just because you’re in public. I’ve read about the Victorian hatpins before.

I had a social worker for my family who felt entitled to touch my knee, or arm, or hand, or shoulder. I felt very uncomfortable with it, and saw it as a control tactic.

In more casual situations with strangers, I live in a region of the U.S. where people are too terrified to smile at each other, let alone touch total strangers. I commute on public transportation safe in the knowledge that if I get “bumped” or feel something in the subways, the offender is probably more horrified by the incident than am I.

That said, when very tall people (usually men), don’t see average-height me (I’m not in their line of sight) and elbow my in my middle-chest area (yes, breasts), I do let out a sharp “excuse me,” and usually get rebuffed as if I’m far too arrogant for objecting.

When will men realize that those parts of our “nether regions” are just as tender as their “nether regions”?

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Wendy April 19, 2017 at 7:03 pm

In regards the the social worker I think it’s a matter of context. I work in a hospital and our social works provide family support it is not a control thing for them (or any medical profession) to provide a gentle touch to knee,shoulder ect we are taught to provide comfort with small touches of course we are also taught to recognise when this is either not appropriate or welcome.

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sillyme April 20, 2017 at 9:18 am

I agree it’s about context with the social worker. When we caught her complaining about us (repeatedly) to other professionals involved in the case, that was the context we needed.

Your point is well taken, however, some people aren’t receptive to those gestures from people they know casually or professionally. I’m one of them.

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Wendy April 20, 2017 at 9:23 pm

In your case it does sound odd, even if she hadn’t been complaining she should have picked up that you were uncomfortable with the touches we are taught that. I had though before your response maybe she was just clueless

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stacey April 20, 2017 at 10:46 pm

Professionals need to be careful not to assume. You should NOT be touching someone without their express permission. You have absolutely no way of knowing whether you might cause trauma because you cannot possibly predict how they will react in the moment. Especially when they are ill and out of their comfort zone in hospital, hospice or skilled nursing. Sure, it’s tempting to play “mom” and it generally goes well. For survivors of abuse, neglect and combat (or for those on the Autism spectrum, those with anxiety disorders etc…), your little touch of comfort can be a trigger. Seriously, DON”T.

Lydia April 19, 2017 at 1:23 pm

I tend to let my hair get really long, like, past my waist long. I had a Filipino girl stroke my hair once, admiring how long and pretty it was. I didn’t say anything, but was definitely uncomfortable. Another time I was waiting in line to get into a dance, and a couple guys were standing behind me. They had obviously gotten a jump on their St. Patrick’s day drinking. One of them went “She’s got really long hair. It’s too long. She should cut it.” then he slipped his fingers against my hair and made the scissor motion, “snip snip.” and giggled at his buddy. I whipped around and pretty sure I gave him the most angry look I’ve ever given anyone. They backed off, but I kept an eye out for them throughout the evening, because they gave me the creeps.

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NostalgicGal April 19, 2017 at 9:47 pm

Hair weaves. At least a few feet of hair is worth money. I had heard of it before, of people stealthily or held up with a weapon and their hair taken–then in the early 90’s it happened to a friend of mine. She had a waist long braid, thick thick hair, and had flipped it over the back of the seat in a movie theater to watch the show. She sat up suddenly part ways through the movie and her hair felt funny so she reached back and found her braid was nearly severed!!!!! She turned around and nobody was behind her. They apparently tried to slice her hair (I’ve been told a nice sharp straight razor does this well) and take it and missed a tiny bit, and she may have sat up before they could try for the last bit. She went to a hairdresser to get a short evening out cut and was devastated over losing years of hair growth. So no laughing matter.

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o_gal April 20, 2017 at 6:15 am

There was a story posted e-Hell long ago that I think is now lost. A woman (Cindy?) had very long hair and another woman at church was somehow offended by this. At a church dinner, the woman actually had scissors in hand, and was about to cut Cindy’s hair off when she was stopped by others. The story got more and more bizarre, so it may have been one of the fictional stories, but if it wasn’t, it was horrifying.

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admin April 20, 2017 at 7:19 am

Back in the early 80’s I had a “pigtail”, a small piece of hair at the base of the neck that was longer than the rest of my short hair. I did have a woman in my church approach me with a pair of scissors asking me if she could cut it off.

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Amanda H. April 20, 2017 at 3:24 pm

Oh man, now I want to read that.

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NostalgicGal April 21, 2017 at 9:37 am

Somebody trying to take scissors to my hair I’m afraid I would have gotten very physical. When I hit high school my mother had joined the ‘cult’ of very short hair and thought I should wear mine at under an inch long too. I wanted about three inches, and yes I did have issues with oily hair but headNshoulders to the rescue. One day she decided I needed a hair cut and was setting up the kitchen to give me this haircut, and my hair was just getting to the length *I* wanted. I didn’t slow down, out the door, across the back yard, jumped the fence and went to my friend’s house. And stayed until curfew. I came home to see the chair still sitting there on the dropcloth and a furious mom. Next day I made an appointment for a ‘trim’ with one of the town beauticians (she did hair at home as well for half price of the salon she worked in). And for the next four years, had my hair cut by someone else paying with my own funds, and kept it how I liked. You want to take a scissors to me and I don’t want you to, it could get ugly.

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Elynns April 19, 2017 at 5:49 pm

I have long strawberry blond hair and have had to deal with random people touching my hair without consent also. Less so as I get older, I guess I don’t look as approachable as I used to. Or maybe the gray strands make it less appealing. 🙂

So, anyhoo, my daughter (adult) showed me this video last weekend and I thought it was a hoot. It might make a good feel good Friday video.

Consent Tea: (I hope this link works!)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQbei5JGiT8

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Lerah99 April 20, 2017 at 4:02 pm

Yes! I love consent tea! It makes it all so obvious and reasonable.

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Gamer Girl April 19, 2017 at 7:00 pm

These other unwanted touching stories reminded me of one more.

My son was 18 mo. at the time and really big for his age (his height made him look closer to 3, but one look at his face could pretty much tell you he was still a baby). He had his pacifier in his mouth and was happily sitting in the shopping cart while we were waiting to check out. The lady in line behind me saw my boy, saw his pacifier, reached around me and TOOK IT OUT OF HIS MOUTH, saying “Oh a big boy like you doesn’t need that!”

Before I could even react, my son fixed the situation by biting her. Hard.
She got all flustered and glared at me like “Are you going to discipline your child?” and I said “Lady, you just stole a pacifier from my 18 mo old baby’s mouth. Go away before I hurt you.”
She tried to defend herself by telling me he looked older than he was but I was all “It doesn’t matter! Don’t ever touch my child!”

The cashier, who happened to be a friend of mine, asked her to leave. I wiped my son’s mouth out with a baby wipe. Some people have no boundaries at all.

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Amanda H. April 20, 2017 at 3:32 pm

If it had been me, I’d be asking the woman, “What was your hand doing near my baby’s mouth?” or possibly, “What made you think it was all right to touch a child that isn’t yours?”

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Jelly_Rose April 23, 2017 at 12:53 pm

I have one of the many popular styles of hair running around where half of my head is shaved to the near scalp while the other side reaches my chin. I work at a mechanic’s shop so a lot of customers don’t give me a second glance but every once in a while I’ll get a weirdo that wants to rub the ‘fuzzy’ side of my head like I am a good luck charm of something. I try not to make a scene since I am at work, but usually a step back and a really weird look gets them to stop.

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Lex April 24, 2017 at 5:28 am

I don’t understand this. I really really don’t. Is it a culture thing or a just-plain-weird thing? Surely in this day and age people should know better than to touch others without consent! It would never ever occur to me to touch a stranger without good reason (you know, to get their attention with a gentle tap on the shoulder or to help them in some way – such as to help someone who has fallen), let alone to touch such an intimate area like the stomach! Perhaps as a Brit I see this a lot less frequently because we’re generally a more reserved bunch, but if someone did that to me I’d scream blue murder. Sad thing is, I would be the one that would be condemned as ‘overreacting’. I’d like to think I’d respond by doing the same thing to them that they just did to me, but in reality I’d end up having a panic attack and freaking out entirely.

Why can’t people keep their hands to themselves?

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Wendy April 21, 2017 at 10:21 pm

Here is where we may be having a miss understanding. I am a nurse if I am looking after you, you will be touched there is no way to avoid it if I’m doing my job correctly. Nurses and other health professionals are taught to provide touch to comfort and I do this often however it is normally blindingly obvious when this is either not appropriate or unwelcome and you stop.

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Lex April 25, 2017 at 2:41 am

Context is key, though. In hospital when you are sick or in pain, comforting touch is not the same as violating someone’s privacy in the street. A Nurse patting my arm or brushing my hair is totally different from a stranger coming up to pat a pregnant woman’s belly. When you are being cared for by healthcare professionals, there is an expectation that they will touch you – either as part of your care or treatment, or in general. To a degree, there is already a level of implied consent. Although many healthcare professionals still explicitly ask for consent. To come up to someone in the street and touch their bodies freely in whatever way you want, for what is arguably your own gratification (such as the satisfaction of curiosity, or the desire to feel a baby move) is a violation.

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