You Can’t Touch This

Published February 1, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I was just reading this post over on This Ain’t Livin’ about the way people tend to respond to tattoos on others.  As most of you know, I had my sixth tattoo done last Friday, and it’s now my biggest and probably my most visible.  But I have noticed ever since I got the ones done on my feet and inside my lower forearms, which I rarely make any effort to cover up, that I get really mixed reactions from people.

My tattoos are pretty femme and inoffensive – I have flowers on the tops of my feet and the two inside my forearms are a bluebird and a heart balloon.  My new one (a fabulous naked fat lady) is probably the most “controversial” per se, what with her being both fat and naked.  I also have a very old tattoo of a cow on my back, but it is small and almost always covered by my clothes.

However, I’ve seen people’s attitudes and demeanor completely change the minute they see my tattoos.  Even while I had hot pink hair, it was the tattoos that changed the way people respond to me.  From women who clutch their handbags or children a little closer, to men who seem to feel the need to draw themselves up bigger next to me, to people in general who go from a neutral expression to negative one just on seeing my tattoos.  And as s.e. smith says on This Ain’t Livin’, they seem to make people GRABBY.

I have had people grab me by the wrist and turn my arms over so they can see my tattoos.  I’ve had people hoick my bra strap/top out of the way so they can see the one on my back.  I’ve had people reach down and stroke the flowers on the tops of my feet.  And these have been both strangers and people I know.

Actually people have been grabby with my hair since I took it out of the “natural” look, ie hot pink and now bald.  One woman gave my hair a good yank and said “Oh it’s real!”  Another grabbed it as I walked past, almost causing me to fall with the force that it stopped me with.  Twice since I shaved my head a week ago, someone has rubbed my head without asking, one a stranger, another someone I know.

I have no idea why people feel it’s ok to get grabby with folks who have tattoos or some hair styles.  Or at least women.  As s.e. smith writes in her post, her male friend doesn’t seem to get the grabby thing.  Maybe it’s because the female body is objectified so much, that it is perceived as public property.  I know pregnant women suffer the grabbies too, and I can’t imagine how infuriating that is.

I’m also not sure how to respond to unwelcome grabbiness.  I have been known to bellow “DON’T TOUCH ME!!” when it gets all too much for me.  I don’t really want to bellow at people, but I do want to let them know in no uncertain terms that touching someone uninvited is not appropriate.  I have also had people get offended when I’ve asked them not to touch me uninvited, as though I’m denying them some kind of right.

So, have you suffered people touching or grabbing you inappropriately?  How have you responded?  Did you ever ask why someone has done it?

Hit me up in the comments lovelies, let’s work out how to deal with Grabby McGrabbersons!


42 comments on “You Can’t Touch This

  • I loved this on 30 Rock. Angie is a fat black woman.

    Liz touches Angie on the knee to try to show some understanding..
    Angie: “Excuse me! Did you just try to control my body with your white hand? Don’t make me contact reverend Sharpton.”

  • I don’t know if it was planned or spontaneous, but I always liked the German chancellor’s reaction to George W. Bush’s uninvited shoulder rub. (I’m sure it’s all over Youtube if you’re not familiar with the incident.) It was a purely physical response, but that made it all the more powerful.

  • I’ve dealt with this in a rather different context. If I’m out in public on my own people tend to try to ‘help’ me by grabbing me first. Getting cranky-scared in response is invariably responded to with some variant of “But I was trying to help”
    There was only one instance in which I think the other person actually did the right thing. I was about to hit a sleeping man with my cane and I’d been walking at a good clip. In that case I needed to be stopped quickly and without being yelled at to avoid my hurting someone and to hopefully avoid waking the fellow up. (My own prejudices are showing there but if you can sleep on a D.C. street at lunchtime you probably need it.)
    To this day I don’t have a good way of dealing with it. ‘I got proud’ and I got to be a good traveller and that helped to some extent but that won’t matter to some people. If I’m obviously with someone, a friend or partner, most people won’t bother me. But, in reality, I don’t have anything in my bag of tricks if this were to happen today for any reason.

    • Ugh, Lisa I’m sorry you have to deal with that shit. I’ve seen it in action and it’s infuriating. My neighbour is totally blind and I’ve bumped into him (figuratively!) at the local shops or train station, and have seen people trying to “help” him, despite him knowing the area far better than most of the rest of us do. Or they walk up and grab him without speaking to him or anything. I’ve also seen them try to lead Mickey, his guide dog, too, in the name of “helping”.

      And I’ve seen the indignant “But I was only trying to help!” too. GRRRR! How hard is it to say “Excuse me, but do you need some help?” if you see someone who looks like they might need some help?

  • I have a tattoo, on my upper left chest, and I’ve never had anyone move my clothes to look at it when they’ve been able to see part of it – they have asked me what my tattoo is and can they see it, and I’ve gladly shown it to them. None of them have touched it, however. I’ve never had anyone grab me, or my hair or anything else either, but that could be because my normal facial expression looks like I’m pissed off (or so I’ve been told by friends). I’ve also been told that I’m very intimidating, so that could also be due to the facts that I’m considered tall for a woman (5′ 8″), I’m fat, and my normal facial expression. However, should anyone ever touch/grab me without my permission, I would probably ask them “Since when do you own me, that you think you can touch/grab me without permission?” and match that with a cold stare if they are a stranger (and maybe a laugh if they are friend, maybe…..).

  • This is something I can definitely offer input on as I’ve been heavily tattooed since the age of 20. When I wear long sleeves and shirts that cover my breasts you can’t tell I have them– but in short sleeves, yep, a lot show.

    I usually get a lot of compliments on my ink because a lot of it was done by very detail-oriented talented artists and is very colorful (or very ornate if black and white.)

    But a lot of times I get really stupid comments like “Why do you have that _____” because you always get some idiot who has to say something as well as the Grabby McGrabbersons who feel the need to TOUCH them….but since I’ve been told I often look like I’m going to kick someone’s ass (heh just the way my face looks naturally) the touching doesn’t happen often.

    Most of my friends are also heavily inked– and I’ve seen that the guys definitely get FAR less BS for it because women simply can’t dare to be visible/un-girly and of course the whole notion about women’s bodies being public property and all.

    The way I’ve dealt with people like that is sometimes just to get a little hostile and say “Did I say you could touch me? No? Then fucking don’t!!!” I

    • It’s funny though Rachel – the people who compliment my tattoos or my hair aren’t the ones who do the grabby thing. They’re usually the ones that ask “Oh, can I see your tattoo/feel your head?” It’s the ones who are rudely incredulous at my hair or tattoos that seem to feel the Grabby McGrabbersons behaviour is appropriate.

  • I’m STUNNED by your post!

    Just proves what old grumps like me have been saying for years: people no longer have any shame or boundaries in dealing with others. NO ONE has the right to touch you without permission, and I can’t imagine how people’s heads could be so screwed up as to think it’s normal behavior to do so.

    On occasion, people have attempted to “help” me (I have a bad back & a slight limp) & what seems to work is “Did I ASK you to do that?” or even better, “Do I KNOW you?” Now, I’ve been told that I tend to be a tad scary & I do have a really deep voice, so maybe that helps, but haughtiness is a great tool in dealing with morons who want to touch things that don’t belong to them.

  • I’m a bit of a color addict; one of the ways it is regularly expressed is on my nails. I own close to 90 bottles of nail polish and since my job has no dress code I frequently leave the house betipped with neon colors, sparkles, hand-painted stripey goodness, you name it. People often grab my hand to get a closer look. I mind them less than the people who look at me like I stepped out wearing a necklace of baby skulls.

  • This really surprised me to be honest — I don’t have tattoos so I have never encountered it. It’s just… weird! I think you and se smith are onto something with the gendered nature of it. The only time I experienced this type of thing was during my pregnancy when people would touch my belly without asking. Admittedly, this was much less common for me than for many of my friends and I suspect it’s because I’m fat so my belly was less swallowed-a-watermelon round. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    (By the way, se smith prefers the pronoun ‘ou’… the ‘her’ in your post is misgendering, although I know that wouldn’t have been your intention :))

    • GAH! I tried so, so hard to not use any pronouns, to word it around them because I wasn’t sure which one s.e. smith preferred! Goes to show when it’s late and I’m tired, the pronouns sneak past me. Cunning little pronouny buggers. I’ll correct it in a moment.

  • I’ve, thankfully, never gotten anybody being particularly grabby about my hair, which has been everywhere from turquoise to cherry red. I would be super angry if they had the audacity to try to touch my head! I’m really sensitive to touch, so I would probably smack them or something, not out of anger, just out of instinct.

  • You know, it would never occur to me to touch a stranger in public without permission. I’d be too terrified of my late parents coming back from the grave and lecturing me.

    No ink, no funny hair colors, no unusual piercings… no, I don’t get a lot of uninvited touching on the streets, so it’s not something I’ve had to think about a lot.

    On the other hand, I do believe firmly in the Miss Manners approach to unacceptable behavior that crosses boundaries: draw yourself up to your full height, fix the culprit with an icy stare, and say ‘I beg your pardon’ in the most intimidating voice you can command. It’s unexpected, dignified, and non-violent. I’m in favor.

    Of course, it helps if your icy stare expresses the fact that the ‘back off or I’ll shank a bitch’ is silent.

  • Ugh, the hair pulling and bra-strap hoicking really make me steamed! Personal space, folks! Not a hard concept!!
    I really admire that you CAN bellow at them. At the point that I feel uncomfortable, all I can manage is a whine because I don’t want to be mean. (One of those irrational things I recognize, but have difficulty changing. Working on it.) What I usually get is my hair touched or hugs. (The most openly offensive was probably the coworker who dance-grinded against me to get my attention. He did this to everyone/thing, so I wasn’t really forceful enough about making him stop.) The hugs bother me pretty bad, though. I don’t want a hug. I don’t want someone to just come up and hug me. And even being asked for a hug is uncomfortable because if I say no, I look like a stuck up jerk. Maybe I should start wearing a jacket with spikes. And a headband with one too.

  • Ye gods…

    I havent had the unfortunate experience of Grabby McGrabbersons. Not because of my tattoos anyway. I have had plenty of people ask about them but none have gone all grabby on me. Just as well really cos the way I feel right now I would either a/ burst into tears or b/yell at them. Neither is probably a good response!

  • I work in pharmacy, and as any retail worker can tell you, the grabby people are everywhere. But they only grab female staff. I get it the least, being tall and fat, but it still happens. It’s usually the same people who say “Smile!” so I think you’re absolutely right to see it as a way people control women. Older men are the worst grabbers, but some women over 40 do it too. I’ve never had anyone under 40 grab me!

    • Totally. I am a retail worker, I get the “We are chatting so I will lean in and put my hand on your arm” kind of touching a lot. I have yet to be touched or grabbed by a man, possibly because I am very fat so they know I will take them down, but I did have one male customer who creeped me out and when he wanted to show me the clothes he was considering buying and said “Take my hand, come with me” I kept my hands on my waist and said “I won’t take your hand but I will follow you”. Creepy! He even held his hand out! Whether he was just joking or not it definitely made me uncomfortable.

  • The only rude experience I have had regarding my one small tattoo was a woman (I believe she was a customer I was ringing up at a register) seeing it and asking, incredulously, something like “You got that permanently on your body?”. The way she said it was SO RUDE, she obviously thought it was ugly, but I handled it pretty well, I think I just smiled and said “yep!” or something. In retrospect I wanted to say “Um, obviously, bitch, since it’s tattooed on me” but then I probably would have gotten in trouble 😉

    Regarding the grabbing thing, I only ever seem to get that from customers who I am chatting with. I have had one customer hug me, which I was a little thrown by but since it was a tiny lady and she asked first I was pretty much okay with it, and I have had a couple female customers grab my arm or put their hand on my arm as we chat. Sometimes it bothers me but it’s so sudden and I’m in a working environment so I just kind of put up with it. I have yet to be put in a situation where I was touched really inappropriately so luckily I have not punched anyone in public yet.

  • ha- actually i tend to be the one with a case of the grabbies- not that I actually touch people I don’t know, but I tend to want to. I’ve always been a very physical person with the need to touch and be touched and I love touching things that I admire or think are beautiful. I love running my hands over a soft sweater or beautifully colored curtains, i like digging through dry rice or beans and feeling them fall off my skin as I take my hand out, I like feeling textures and colors and art.. it helps etch the feeling and the beauty into my mind.

    of course.. like I said, I restrain from touching strangers- but it takes will power. I want to touch pregnant bellies and cool tattoos and awesome colorful hair. Some people I just have the urge to randomly go up to and hug. I can’t explain to you why, but that’s just how it is. When I was pregnant I got belly touches all of the time- they bothered me because I was fat and I as afraid people would comment or notice my belly was a little squishier than some pregnant women’s.. I don’t think I would mind now though since I’m no longer shamed of my fat.

  • PS- I live in North Carolina and I’ve noticed that there’s a huge difference from how accepting people are here of social touching compared to when I lived in Pennsylvania where making small talk with your cashier was considered a crime against humanity. Here I grew up with the idea that touch is an important part of social interaction and conversation

    • I feel it’s *really* important to clarify that wanting to touch strangers does NOT make you or anyone else more affectionate than another. Affection is something that is shared between consenting parties, not something thrust upon someone who has not given consent.

      You can be 100% tactile and affectionate without ever encroaching on another’s personal space without their consent. Just ask anyone who knows me IRL – I am a complete texture junkie (to the point of obssessiveness) and with those I know and love, am very physically affectionate. However, I would never, ever touch someone I didn’t know (unless of course it was an emergency) without seeking their consent. Particularly as one never knows the history of that person. You don’t know if they have allergies, or touching somewhere causes pain, or they have PTSD, or a myriad of other reasons that may mean touching them causes them trauma or distress.

      It is very important that anyone reading this know that it is never ok for someone to excuse unsolicited physical contact with “But I’m very affectionate.”, nor is it appropriate to suggest that it is just part of social interaction. Or to think that you are somehow not affectionate, physical or are repressed in any way for not wanting strangers or even people you know to touch you without seeking your consent first.

      Another thing to remember that if you do have to touch someone in an emergency or distress, the area between the shoulder and the elbow has been found to be the most appropriate zone to make first contact.

      • oh no, i wasn’t trying to say that touching=affectionate.. just that in some areas it seems more socially acceptable and socially normal to touch people in every day situations. You know- when you’re taught, either outright or by watching others, that touching is simply how you interact, it never occurs to you that there’s a reason not to.. and when everyone’s brought up the same way it tends to be expected- on both ends.

      • But Heather, don’t you see?

        You can’t use what is “socially acceptable/normal” to justify something. You cannot just say “everyone is brought up that way so it’s OK”.

        This is what the whole point of what we do is. We challenge the way that some things are considered socially acceptable/normal.

        In some areas it might seem that it is normal to touch people in every day situations. What about I reproduce your comment and just change up the term:

        “Just that in some areas it seems more socially acceptable and socially normal to hate fat people in every day situations. You know – when you’re taught, either outright or by watching others, that hating fat people is simply how you interact, it never occurs to you that there’s a reason not to… and when everyone’s borought up the same way, it tends to be expected – on both ends.”

        Do you see why justifying it with “that’s how I was raised” is not acceptable? A lot of people were raised to be racist, or to diet themselves into an eating disorder, or to treat women as lesser beings… but that doesn’t make it acceptable. Sure, it’s more extreme examples, but the crux of the matter is still the same as touching people without their consent/invitation.

        What I’m asking you to do is rethink your assumptions that it is EVER “socially acceptable”, even in areas that people do behave that way. One cannot know that the person you are touching feels the same way, and how many of us are silent about things that bother us because “it’s how everyone else does it.”?

  • This has been a great discussion. I needed that reminder. My friends and I can be very huggy when we get together. I’ve hugged people as an introduction almost. (I’ve lived in NC my whole life. 🙂 I don’t know, but I will be more conscious of it now.

  • right on when you say it’s mostly women who suffer from being grabbed when they appear “nontraditional”. my brother is as tatted as i am, as pierced as i am, and what he gets are shy giggly girls asking in sweet, high-pitched voices if they can, like, see one of his tattoos? like, please? Meanwhile, i have grizzled old men grunting at me to show them every tattoo and ask what they mean. But WORST OF ALL is the situation with my shoes. i wear HUGE platform shoes underneath bellbottom jeans. they are HIDDEN. i see them as a prosthesis to remedy my situation as someone who is at least six inches shorter than anyone else and is unwilling to be considered some delicate little doll. So when some giggly frozen-yogurt scarfing shoe-obsessed female demands that i pull up my jeans (which hide my shoes completely) so she can “see my adorable shoes!” i want to scream. i don’t know her, i don’t ask to see any part of her body (actually, that would appall her, given that the only girls, ironically, who are desperate to see my shoes are totally heterosexual), so why should she pull me aside as i’m walking down the street? inevitably, as i miserably raise my pants, she either tells me how “cute” it is that i’m “itsy bitsy tiny” and i’ll surely find a “big strong man” who’ll “love” how “itty” i am (GAG, i’m gay and can’t stand being treated as a child just because of my height), or she’ll start bemoaning her fate because she’s “so short” at “five seven” and therefore can’t be a “model, my lifelong dream”. in any event, it’s enraging and once again proves that women’s bodies are not only public property for men to evaluate, but for other women to do the same. i’ve heard women ask strangers what their bra size is. in my opinion, too, this desexualizes women’s potential attraction to each other. if each woman sees every other as a series of bovine parts, she will not be likely to be aroused by yet another series of meatstuffs. meanwhile, men respect other men…and perhaps this respect could lead to a defeat of the homosexual “taboo”…particularly since the taboo really originated in hetero men feeling like they had to screw “icky” women in order to not be women themselves. To prove my point, i can only bring up the number of hetero girls lately who call their female friends “girlfriends”. no male would call another male his “boyfriend” unless they really and truly were a gay couple. so what am i supposed to say when i refer to my female lover to emphasize that we actually love each other and give each other orgasms, rather than shop and go on celery diets with each other? with the rise of gay male visibility (girls who like boys who like boys) is the rise of lesbian invisibility…there’s not even a term for males who pal out with dykes (as there is for the ‘fag hags’, which proves how self-hating these women are)…my main point is that women are now considered more nothings than they have been since the fifties. think about how many shows depict “housewives”…”atlanta housewives”, “wives of the nfl”, “desperate housewives”…and how much more this contributes not only to lesbian invisibility but also as the female body as being nothing more than an offering to the male…which, of course contributes to fat phobia, as so many of these latently gay males prefer women who look like NBA stars with fake tits, rather than like women….

    • I’m letting this comment through Kirby, but I would like you to be more careful with perpetuating stereotypes and making sweeping generalisations. It’s not ok for anyone to make generalisations about you, based on your appearance, sexuality, gender etc, so it’s not ok for you to make those for others.

      I do understand your frustration and anger, but the language you have chosen to express it in bothers me considerably.

  • I work as a server, and I truly hate it when men touch me at work. It doesn’t happen excessively, and it’s not really in a sexual way, but it feels much too presumptive to me. I don’t mind similar touch from women, though.

    • It doesn’t have to be sexual to be inappropriate and unwelcome. Some of the most unwelcome touching (particularly of the rough grabby kind) I get from anyone is from women.

  • I have many tattoos, the ones that are most visible are my half sleeves. I love getting inked and think they are absolutely gorgeous. However, the way some people have reacted to my artwork really pisses me off. I’ve been called a freak, been stared at, have been rudely asked why the hell would I want something so permanent on my body etc. So far, no one has dared to come up and touch them without permission, thankfully. Don’t know how I would deal with that one lol. I think the thing that annoys me the most is when I’m at the playground with my 3 year old son and sometimes the other Mums will pull their children away from me. I’ve even had Mums take their kids home when I show up. My tattoos are beautiful and just because I have them doesn’t make me any less of a good person.

    • Sometimes I get some hostility about my tattoos too. I am noticing a little more since I got my latest, the naked fat lady on my arm. It’s far more visible than my others. It’s stupid to get hostility over ink in ones skin!

    • I’m in the same boat as you, Emma– I love my tattoos and I’m proud of them! But you always have to get people that specifically regard tattooed women as some kind of problem– none of the heavily-inked men I know put up with this as much as me and other heavily-inked women.

      But I’ve been called a freak even before I officially flew my freak flag at the age of 13…so now when someone just calls me that I just say “Thanks!”

  • I definitely consider “freak” to be a compliment lol. My tattoos are nothing to be ashamed of and I see no reason why I should cover them up just to take my little one to the playground. Maybe if I had a giant, realistic penis tattooed on my arm, then maybe I could understand why mothers didn’t want their children near me lol. No offence intended to anyone who has a penis tattoo!!! 😛

    • I’ve always thought that too Emma. It’s not like my tattoos are of anything offensive or controversial. Flowers and birds and balloons and a cartoon fat lady!

      Though I must admit, I do take secret pleasure in corrupting my friend’s children. When I shaved my head I was thrilled that a friend’s 7 year old asked “Can I do it too Daddy?”

  • I have a quote tattooed on my lower forearm and have had people see it and grab my arm without even asking me. When I use to waitress at a place where I could show it, people would grab my arm while I was walking by them carrying a full tray of drinks. I once had a 60 year old women yank my arm down to her eye level so she could read it, which I actually yanked it back, only to have her do it again. Now if people do it I ask them if they realize it is assault to touch me without my permission. I don’t mind people asking what it says but grabbing me is crap.

    BTW I am in love with your new tattoo and have wanted to get another tattoo for so long. All of these fat positive tattoos are giving me ideas.

    • Ugh, I know that one – both my lower forearms are done (insides) and people grab my hand or wrist time and time again and yank it so they can see. The most annoying thing is that if they ASKED to see it, I’d proudly show them my tattoos. I love showing off my tatts, I just don’t want to be grabbed into doing it.

      And thank you, I love my fat lady tatt. Go and get something fat positive, you won’t regret it.

      • The quote I have now is “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” so a text tat seems fitting.

        I’m thinking of getting the word fat in the shape of a heart. Or a quote of some kind.

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