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Commentary: Please Leave My Hair Alone

Patrice Gopo
Patrice Gopo

Patrice Gopo "Reach Out and Touch Someone." It's an old AT&T slogan, and proved to be one of the most popular in advertising history. But the phrase, or any variation of it, doesn't give Patrice Gopo a warm, fuzzy feeling. She explains why in this commentary. Okay, I get it. I really get it. My hair. It's different. In a sentence, it's a mass of tightly coiled, springy curls reminiscent of itsy bitsy toy slinkies. It's my hair, and I love it. And so, it seems, does everyone else. Even the strangers I see at the grocery store checkout counter or wandering through the science museum. The compliments leave me fondly patting the sides of my head or absentmindedly tugging at an individual curl. However, when random people want to touch my hair, I begin to wonder if the concept of personal space has up and vanished like cassette tapes or dinosaurs. A couple of years ago, without even asking, a woman tugged at one of my ringlets, "Oh, how sweet. See how it bounces back. Boing. Boing." Her intrigued expression somehow missed my lack of appreciation. "My husband's hair is like yours. I bet our future babies will have hair like you too," she said. "They sell these super cute onesies that say: 'touch your own hair, not mine.' I'll get one for the baby!" Huh? The baby can say "hands off", but I can't? You don't want people touching your not-yet-conceived kid's hair, but it's fine to pull my curls? Last year at the science museum, I felt someone grabbing my arm. I turned into the glowing words of a complete stranger. "Can I just tell you, your hair is gorgeous! I love it!" "Oh, thank you so much!" "Can I just touch it?" What!? Why!? I don't know if your hands are still sticky from a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches or if you wash thoroughly after exiting the bathroom. I don't know you! Her smile filled her face, and her spider-like fingers were already on the move. I reluctantly conceded, "Ummm, yeah, sure." And there I was in the middle of the science museum with unknown hands digging into my hair. Somehow what makes me different also destroys my right to normal human boundaries. Maybe with unusual hair, I become more of a novelty and less of an individual? Or maybe society is tactile? I remember, though, I had a fuzzy sweater in college reminiscent of alpaca fur. No one ever asked to feel that (except one over hormonal freshman). Maybe hair is in a safe touching zone, but sweaters aren't? Likely, though, the problem also lies with me. I certainly can say a simple "no" when people ask to touch. There is nothing holding me captive to their words except my own desire for them to not think badly of me. I think I need to flip this hair issue on its head. Rather than viewing my "no" as being harsh, I can think of my "no" as helping people recognize how naively inappropriate their request is. Or maybe I can just ask to touch their hair in return, and dig my fingers deep into their scalp. Then mention how I ate barbeque pulled pork for lunch. Or maybe not.