I am a consummate hugger. I grew up in a family in which hugs were plentiful. They were part of our greeting and farewell. This habit spilled over into my friendships throughout my life. I have a few rules around the act.
- Ask first.
- Accept no as gracefully as yes.
- Hug heart to heart.
- Let the other person be the first one to let go.
Some of my favorite memories from my adolescence was getting together with friends with whom I was in a youth group called USY (United Synagogue Youth). We would have weekend retreats sponsored by each other’s synagogue that inevitably led up to platonic puppy pile snuggles.
Many years later, I heard about a workshop that echoed with the same cozy feeling called Cuddle Party which is a boundary setting, safe, nurturing non-sexual touch event. I attended my first one in 2005 and by January of 2006, I was #27 certified to facilitate this life changing workshop. As of 2023, there are 173 certified facilitators worldwide who can use the trademarked name. There are high levels of integrity with the importance of consent in the training. Since starting my training in 2005, to date, I have offered more than 400 of them. People leave feeling transformed. The last one I facilitated was in February of 2020, right before the beginning of the pandemic. I have been asked numerous times when I will be setting up blankets, inviting p.j.-clad participants, setting up snacks, choosing music and getting the party re-started. I am considering the next steps. For safety purposes, I would ask for proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test since people are in close physical contact.
In 2014, I launched a movement around heart to heart hugging. Here’s the story:
“Once upon a time, a woman decided to make the world a more welcoming, embracing place, since she saw that often, people felt alone and disconnected from those around them. They didn’t always know how to ask for the nurturing, platonic touch, by consent that they needed. She pondered how she might help meet that need. An idea came to her that she would gather a group of playful and kind friends at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia which is known as ‘The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection’. They would carry with them signs that let passengers know that they were offering hugs.
Amazingly, a majority of the people accepted the hugs and love they were sharing on a cold Valentines Day weekend in 2014. She smiled as she imagined that they carried that energy with them back into their daily lives. She deliberately chose February 15th to acknowledge that everyday can feel like Valentines Day and that love is not just for romantic couples, but for everyone.
Because it was a FREE HUGS Flashmob, friends began to refer to them as Hugmobsters. She added the tagline. ‘armed with love,’ so it counteracted the violent image associated with mobsters. She estimates that she/they have hugged thousands of people in the interceding five years. It warms her heart and she has been told, that it does the same for those on the receiving end, although, she realizes that the hugs are mutual. She encourages you to share the love with those you encounter, whether or not they are familiar. She reminds you that everyone you now know and love was once a stranger.”
Since then I have offered hugs to strangers and to those I know with whom I cross paths, in my community, throughout the U.S., in Canada and in May of 2018, I hugged my way across Ireland.
On October 1, 2022, I offered my first TEDx talk called Overcoming the Taboo of Touch. In 17 minutes, I spoke about the importance of healthy, platonic touch, by consent. I led people through the chorus of a song about hugs. Afterward, I hugged people from the audience and carried that comforting and enlivening energy home from Ohio with me. I felt like a superstar!
I am referred to as ‘The Hug Lady,” “The Hug Queen,” “The Hug Mob boss,” and my favorite, “The Mutha Hugga”. Friends send me articles, memes and photos about hugs, sometimes a few a day and sometimes the same ones. I love that they think of me when they see anything about hugs. I now see it as my branding.
In the spirit of transparency, I need to tell you that I didn’t create the FREE HUGS movement. I see Juan Mann as my inspiration. His story is beautiful and worth learning about. I had the chance to interview him in 2020.
In the depth of the pandemic, I felt near traumatically hug deprived. Since humans are hardwired for touch and we have skin hunger that is almost as important to meet as food hunger. Without it, we fail to thrive and can plunge into depression, anxiety, addiction and even suicidality. I hugged trees, pillows, stuffed animals and myself. The first mammal I hugged was my cousin’s chocolate Lab named Maddy. I cried. When I was able to wrap my arms around another human being, I teared up once more. I will never again take hugs for granted. Count on it that if you approach me for a hug, I will say yes.
‘We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. And we need twelve hugs a day for growth.”-Virginia Satir
This video was created as I did a FREE HUGS stroll on South Street and Head House Square in Philadelphia several years ago.