Quote (and debate?) of the day

Arlie Hochschild on our growing willingness to pay strangers to touch us.


Catherine Price
November 28, 2007 3:09AM (UTC)

The Dec. 3 issue of New York magazine features a cover story about the beauty industry -- including the practice of paying strangers to touch us (whether for a massage, a facial, a pedicure or even waxing). Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild is quoted as saying that these treatments have gone from being "a luxury to a necessity; it's a redefinition of needs." Then she continues:

"Are we subtracting intimacy from other areas of life, in order to get it in this controlled and titrated, professionalized way? ... Is there a subtraction, as well as an addition? That would be the question I would ask. Are the women who go to salons just not getting it anywhere, in which case, they're getting it here? I think we all need a kind of a connection, we need to be touched. But that we're getting touched for money, in a medicalized, spiritualized way, seems to me something as a culture we could be thinking about. I don't want to go the route of moralizing this; I think it's good to be touched, to relax, to be stress free. But it does seem like a symptom that something's amiss that people actually pay for this."

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That sounds reasonable enough -- we're bereft of touch and intimacy in our daily lives, so now we're paying strangers to provide them. But several Broadsheeters pointed out potential fallacies in this argument. For example, is it really true that today's women, living in a country and culture where sexual touch and nonsexual touch are allowed much more than in the past, are experiencing less physical intimacy than their predecessors? Couldn't part of it be that we've recognized how therapeutic touch can be and now want more of it? Or that we've gotten over some of our cultural inhibitions about having strangers touch us? Or that our overall stress levels have increased and we're desperate for ways to relax?

And also, why, oh why, in an article titled "A Stranger's Touch," would the first photo in the online version feature what looks like a woman undergoing a bikini wax? That might indicate a certain level of comfort with strangers, but I'd argue that most waxing clients do not head to the salon for the soothing sense of physical intimacy they feel as their pubic hairs are ripped out by the roots.


Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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