Want a Hug to Heal? Why ‘Professional Cuddling’ May be a Problem
A dear friend who's living in the US called last night. He asked me a rather difficult question: I am becoming rude by each passing day; what should I do?
Now, he is someone who has constantly criticised America and the west and its people for being arrogant and self-centered. It was strange to have him ask the question when he must have known what caused it, beforehand. But, as they say, knowing something doesn't mean you'll be able to do it.
Interestingly, the same night, I came across a video on Facebook, "Now you can earn money by cuddling someone." A quick internet search produced the web links of many professional cuddling services in the states – most of which focused on words such as 'platonic', 'depression', 'mental health', and 'alienation'.
Now, critics and social scientists suggest that people living in the west are increasingly feeling disillusioned and depressed; some emphasise it is a product of a “profit-driven treacherous capitalist system”; some curse human nature for being greedy and selfish – especially under the influence of the super-devil 'money'. Whichever be the case, we know for sure that more than 300 million people suffer from depression all over the world. And cuddling proposes to change that, at least partially.
So, to my friend who is feeling lonely and becoming arrogant, can I say “let's try cuddling?”
Before jumping to that conclusion, let's see what the professional cuddling websites have to offer. The Cuddlist says:
The Snuggle Buddies says:
Cuddle Up to Me's founder's blog reads,
So far so good.
But, does that justify making money out of cuddling and making it a profession? Why does something as fundamental as touching someone, helping someone heal, or hugging them become a commodity all of a sudden? The same question can be asked about psychologists and therapists, but there's a crucial difference: they require medical and socio-medical training to treat their patients, while cuddling is for everybody.
Anybody who believes in the power of human touch can become a cuddler. We began from land, forest, human-made products, and are now approaching human touch: is there anything that won't be commoditised?
Moreover, what happens after a service which was free until now becomes a commodity to be sold and purchased? Its character changes; it becomes a privilege for a few and entirely inaccessible for those who cannot afford it as businesses start exploiting it as a lucrative investment. Even if it was intended to provide a solution, it becomes the problem instead.
Cuddling, in this context, embodies alienation in the sense that it transforms human beings into commodities; it makes human touch a critical factor in human relationships, both social and interpersonal – saleable. It reifies care economy and deplores genuine compassion.
The question that needs to be asked is, hence, what effect selling hugs has on those who receive it and those who sell it? Is it not inherently contradictory to be aware of the fact that the cuddler is paid to make you feel relaxed and that the relationship you build with them is artificial, to say the least? Can it replace real human empathy, or can empathy be bought?
Let's imagine a hypothetical situation where empathy is bought. People approach people for emotional care and pay them to cuddle.
Suddenly, there are business organisations and start-ups investing in cuddling and proving that theirs is the best service. Universities and colleges begin courses on how to be a perfect professional cuddler. Governments prioritise cuddlers for providing work visas and permanent residencies. There's an abundance of cuddlers and the industry is developing at a tremendous rate. There are competitions and events to be the best cuddler of world....
Does it not entrench cuddling in the ethic of competition – the very basis of alienation, as some psychoanalysts would predict? Does that not exacerbate alienation by making 'how to cuddle' another area of competition? Does that not cause social alienation?
How, then, can I suggest to my friend that he try cuddling when its commoditisation enhances the very problem it tries to address – alienation?
Coming back to the original question, let me begin by sharing that I recently adopted a cat. I named it Cuddle; it is someone I can play with, cuddle, hug, and kiss at any time; but it is also someone who doesn't and cannot reciprocate solidarity and compassion. I need genuine human friendships for that.
As a friend once said, the tablets of depression might change the mental composition in my brain but they cannot transform my surroundings. Cuddling might provide me temporary relaxation, but at the end of the day, I will be conscious of the fact that it's a farce, a deception, and more dangerously, something that might contribute to alienation in the long run.
Hence, drawing inspiration from a Bollywood movie, I believe, a Jaadu ki Jhappi (a magical hug) should always be free.
(Nikita Azad (Arora), 22, is a writer and gender rights activist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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