Yes, she's strange and different...but not THAT different.

06 July 2008

Give Me Some Skin

Skin is the human body’s largest organ and as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the most important. I’d like for mine to remain relatively good-looking as I get older but as long as it works well, that will be fine with me. After all, I know that none of the rest of my vital organs is all that pretty, so why should I worry about whether or not my skin is, too? That doesn’t mean that I don’t endeavor to take care of my skin, just like the rest of my organs. I use sunscreen and I moisturize and I try to be good to my skin, but I realize that time will wreak havoc with all my organs, including that one. Skin performs a lot of very useful functions, but by my reckoning, the sense of touch it the most important. It’s been proven, for instance that premature babies grow faster and sleep quieter when their skin is stimulated by touching. Sure, it’s important that my skin remain intact and keep my insides on the inside and the outside, outside, but if I had to choose a sense to do without I’m not sure which I’d pick but I do know that touch would be the last on my list.

I’m a touchy-feelie type of person; I always have been. Skin-to-skin contact is something that I really, REALLY enjoy. I also have never had much of a problem with showing my emotions. Because of how we were raised, all of us kids in my family are demonstrative sorts. Until I left home to join the Navy, I kissed both my parents good night every night (when I made it home and was sober, that is). But I recognized early on that most other people outside my immediate family weren’t nearly so comfortable with being touched, either physically or emotionally, and so I learned to refrain from doing so. It irked me, too, that my mother and my sister didn’t have to hold back from touching other people or telling them how they felt. (To be honest, I was jealous of a lot of things that my mother and my sister could do that I couldn’t.)

It’s still not very acceptable masculine behavior in our society to touch other people, with one exception, which I’ll get to in a just a moment. But for a man to touch another man today still carries a large element of homophobia and for a man to touch a woman carries an element of sexual harassment. So men still don’t touch other people, except for politicians. Politicians, both male and female, recognize that a touch personalizes an encounter and serves to ingrain it just a little more. Glad-handing actually does serve a purpose in the political arena. I’m not a politician (I can think of more enjoyable ways to prostitute myself) but I do touch people nowadays. It’s much too natural for me do so and for too long I denied myself the pleasure of touching others. And, of course, the fact that I casually touch people now serves to reinforce the image of me as a woman because everyone knows that “men don’t touch” – in America, anyway.

In my travels, I’ve found that many other societies around the world value the personal touch much more than Americans do. In many places, it’s not at all unusual for both men and women to walk together holding hands, not in a homosexual way, but simply for contact. In some places I’ve been, the crowds were so thick that holding hands was a self-defense measure, too; if you didn’t hold hands, you got lost. And we’ve all seen the hugs and kisses bestowed upon others in greeting, where Americans would simply shake hands. I think that hugging and kissing (especially kissing!) is actually a very good idea.

I also find that my son and my daughter have picked up their parents’ touching habits. There are nights that one of the kids gets in bed with us not because they're afraid but simply to be in direct skin-to-skin contact with other people. When our family is physically idle, which happens more often with the adults than the kids, we’re usually in contact. Because of my electronics background, I envision this as a kind of completed circuit, but one that conducts love and peace instead of electricity. And why not? Skin can conduct electricity, why not emotion, too? Maybe the phone company DID get it right: reach out and touch someone.

  • On 7/06/2008 8:27 AM, Blogger Nancy said…

    Great post!

  • On 7/06/2008 1:56 PM, Blogger Suzy said…

    My French side prefers the double kiss (the lips NEVER touch the cheek, it is literally a cheek to cheek air kiss) because hands are so filthy. But when I was in India, I went to hug my doctor and he turned into a board and the others around him looked on horrified. One doesn't touch in India, especially since the caste system is alive and well.

  • On 7/07/2008 10:12 AM, Blogger Hammer said…

    I grew up in a family that didn't touch and I'm still really uncomfortable with people getting too close to me.

    I don't want my kids to grow up in emotional sterility like I did so I make sure to give them plenty of hugs and hold their hands when they need security.

  • On 7/07/2008 2:20 PM, Blogger Jen of A2eatwrite said…

    This was one of the things I loved about Russian society - the constant contact - the boys holding hands, the girls walking arm in arm, everyone grabbing a lap on the bus if no seats were available - just the free and easy contact of life there.

  • On 7/08/2008 10:14 AM, OpenID oneloveonelight said…

    The thing is, I'm a weird mixture of both. I would love to touch and hug and kiss everyone (except for the stinky people, of course). But I also grew up in a home where displays of emotion were often laughed at. Not always but if you were overly happy or cried tears of joy or you wanted to kiss a friend, it was met with weird stares and nervous laughter.

    So I still have that in the back of my mind and is probably why I can't seem to kiss my parents on the cheek or the lips or hug them properly (of course, it could also be my disastrous, tumultuous, violent teenage years with them, too).

    I am pretty affectionate with my kids but I hate that I have to worry about, "Is this appropriate, holding my daughter on the couch even though she's butt naked?" Or "Dylan kissed me 10 times in a row, that lady over there is giving me a dirty look." I KNOW nothing untoward is going on but I hate having that U.S. societal... stigma of keeping your distance.

    I can't even relax when I hug most of the time. I try soooo hard. Maybe I'm trying too hard. I just need to breathe and enjoy the moment since I love a good snuggle or nuzzle.

  • On 7/08/2008 10:48 AM, Blogger Jami said…

    @Nancy - Thanks!

    @Suzy - Oh, I know that there are places worse than the States about touching. It's just that there are also so many where it's a lot better, too. (OK, better for those of us who like or even crave touching.)

    @Hammer - good for you! I'm a firm believer that kids need contact.

    @Jen - I've wanted to go to Russia but never been. Now I have another reason to go.

    @1L1L - breathe, relax and enjoy it. Don't worry about what other people think, especially here. You're a parent and unless you're starting to engage in foreplay with them, how you interact with your kids is between you and them, not the uptight bitch behind you in line at the grocery store.


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