Let’s face it, we can’t control all people who break social standards. We’re not raised in the same homes, communities, schools, etc. Therefore, it’s only natural you will encounter someone who doesn’t share the same courtesies you do. Once we rolled over into the year 2000, I noticed women of color wanted to showcase their natural hair. No more relaxed, permed hair, but big natural curls, or dread locks. Unfortunately, the natural beauty of the curls and the uniqueness of the dread locks lure in strange fingers and unwanted breaches in personal space.
I joined the no perm movement in 2012. I’m use to watching those anxious hands stutter before reaching out to feel my hair texture. However, over the years I developed habits like tilting my head, or ducking away from curious strangers. I’m not rude by nature, so it’s difficult for me to excuse the person, because I don’t want to be rude. Is there a right way to express how uncomfortable I am in the situation? I needed some new techniques to avoid unwanted hands in my hair.
Hair is intimate territory. Do not enter, unless invited. We allow men to stroke our hair intimately or pull on it when the mood is right. Like Maya Angelou said, “A woman’s hair is her glory.” Therefore, it’s only natural to react with shock, or anger when a stranger invite themselves into your hair space. I decided to ask women from different ethnicities to explain how they react to strangers touching their hair. I know women of color fight the good fight because of the uniqueness of kinky textures, but I wanted to know if the reaction is universal for all women. Besides, I needed some new material to keep fingers out of my own head.
The next time a stranger is lured in by your perfect twist out, power to the people afro, soft waves, or flawless iron out, try some of these reactions to prove your point that the situation is uncomfortable and inappropriate:
The first reaction examples are from black women. There’s the polite response, “Um, excuse me. I’m not comfortable with people fingering my hair.” If that doesn’t work try, “Back up Felicia!” While tilting your head, and walking away. Then there’s the not-so-nice approach like my friend with dread locks in her hair. She will stop mid-sentence to say aggressively, “Don’t touch my hair if I didn’t give you permission. You can always ask me, first!”
Some women have nonverbal responses to unwanted fingers, like “swerving” or ducking their necks to dodge intruders, titling their head from side to side, stepping away, or the “stank eye” stare. I asked white and Hispanic women the same question. Their response was much more direct and intense. For example, “Why are you in my space!” and “Didn’t your mom teach you to keep your hands to yourself?” All of which is said with the “stank eye” stare and anger. I’m working on my “stank eye” stare. I’ll try to use it more often.
The overall conclusion is that women genuinely prefer strangers to complement their hair with their mouths and not their hands. It’s not just one race of women, it’s all of us! I like the “swerve” technique while quoting, “I’m not comfortable with people’s fingers in my hair.” May be there’s a combination you can use from the examples the next time a stranger danger approaches with intent to touch.
Rese Hawkins is a resident contributor to Ruby Leonne. To contact Rese, email her at rubyleonneauthors (at) gmail (dot) com.