When it comes to human bodies, look, by all means, but please do not touch. But don’t look for too long – no one likes to be stared at. As someone living with a skin condition, I can confirm how uncomfortable these situations are. This goes for all people, whether they have a medical condition, a tattoo, are pregnant, or have ‘interesting’ hair. So, before you start stroking a stomach that’s housing a stranger’s unborn baby, or thinking of touching someone’s tattooed skin to see if it feels different (spoiler alert: it doesn’t), think twice. Because that shit is not normal. And if you do look, be warned: don’t even try to look sideways craftily more than once, because we can spot that a mile off – people like you have us trained well at spotting others who look twice just to glare at someone’s differences.

I’ve been told it’s the same for people with black hair; feeling infuriated by and sick of the incessant, never-ending requests to touch it, or to describe what it feels like, if they understandably refuse to let a complete stranger touch them. I wonder what would happen if the tables were turned – whether these people would realise how annoying and out of order it is. You’re almost fetishising something foreign to you – whether that be a hair type, a baby belly, tattooed skin, or a medical condition. How insulting is that? News flash: other’s bodies are not public exhibitions, put on display for your entertainment.

Although it is almost always completely inappropriate to ask strangers about any aspect of their body that appears ‘different’, or to reach out and touch them without their consent, an (albeit weak) argument could be that people with tattoos chose to put them there; they’re there for display, and are courting attention (note: this is not my point of view!) However, with a condition or appearance or hair type that you’re born with, you don’t choose it, giving people even less right to unsolicitedly interact with it. The last time someone remarked on my psoriasis, I wrote an angry blog entry, vowing that I would go ballistic at the next person to do the same. Just because it’s visible, doesn’t give you the right to ask about it – it’s my body, and if I want to talk about it, I will.

I know from my own experience, when someone has a serious illness, many people are uncomfortable approaching the subject, often avoiding it all together. This is where (polite) questioning may be appropriate, if you are familiar with the person – it shows empathy, and an attempt to understand what someone is going through. But just because you see someone who looks different to your view of how people should look, does not mean you are entitled to stare at, comment on, or touch them. If they want you to know, or they want to talk about it, they will – just give them time to do it on their own terms. Not that they have to, or are in any way obliged to do so though – ever. 

So, the next time you go to approach a stranger to get a closer look at an aspect of their bodies, like a piercing, a disability, or any of the other examples mentioned above, stop and think before you do so. Ask yourself how you would feel, and try to put yourself in their place. And remember the advice your parents gave you as a child when you were in the presence of other equally beautiful and valuable items or objects – you can look, but please, don’t touch.

[Alice Crook]


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