Written by Susan Hanks


Bear huggers of the world unite

Hugs can make the world a better place. And they’re free. Susan Hanks grasps us in her limpet-like embrace and explains why she loves them so. Stop wriggling.


Illustration by Louise Boulter.

In dictionary terms a ‘bear hug’ is a ‘rough, tight embrace’. In wrestling it’s a ‘grappling clinch hold’ and used as a dominant position allowing easy take down of one’s opponent. In everyday use it’s the kind of cuddle that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy – like a bear. And that’s my favourite kind.

Without exception, all of my friends and family will tell you that I give good hug and I’m proud of that. I’ll openly admit that I give to receive and expect all-consuming contact in return.

Nothing disappoints me more than the type of embrace where hands meet shoulders and someone strains to remain a ruler length apart everywhere else.

I also hate being lulled into a false sense of security by someone who will begin a hug with all the promise of commitment to the cause and then pat you on the back moments after it’s begun. This is the physical action that cries “Please release me” and signifies a desire to end the embrace.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t go round squeezing the life out of strangers and forcing myself on folk with a forceps-like grip. I’m aware that some people are uncomfortable with close proximity and everyone has their parameters of personal space set differently. But I also know that, for me, it’s the key to calming anxiety and an action that can have the instant impact that a thousand words wouldn’t.

Remember when as a kid you were scared on your first day at school/at the sight of a frog/of that person your mum seemingly had to stand and chat to on the way back from the shops and you couldn’t quite work out why you disliked them? I don’t know about you but I hugged the life out of my mother’s leg. So much so that the vacuum effect of it may have made one slightly leaner than the other (it’s fine, she remains balanced, unless it’s Christmas and she’s had too many Asti Spumantes).

Her 80s high-waisted jeans or floral-print circle skirts were my comfort blankets. I survived school and learned to talk to strangers politely, but have never overcome my fear of frogs. Even now, on seeing a frog, I could stop Mum’s circulation – if reaching down for her leg was possible with my bad back. Living a distance apart we don’t see each other as often as we’d like, but we always say hello with a ‘run up’ hug and an exaggerated arm extension manoeuvre that only we know how to choreograph. And nothing else matters.

“For me, a hug is the key to calming anxiety and an action that can have the instant impact that a thousand words wouldn’t.”

My sister hugs like a bounding puppy greeting you after a few hours alone in the house: boisterous, unstoppable and sometimes accidentally soiling herself with excitement. It’s lovely. Apart from the time she licked my face.

My Dad doesn’t do hugging. The mere mention and he will fetch his drill and try to fix something that wasn’t even broken. He’s much happier if you show him affection by throwing him a Turkish Delight and a can of Carling, which we all respect. Except on his birthday when there can be a ferocious family ‘pile on’ that he no longer has the energy to fight.

My mate Lou and I often lean on each other. Emotionally and physically. Yes, it’s a hug, but also a few moments where we just share the weight of each other (how many curries we have had of late determines how long this is sustainable for). My mate Ruth holds me like she fucking means it, whispers filth in my ear and then always rounds off with a comedy bum pinching. Perfect.

If you’re comfortable with hugging, it’s one of the nicest things that you can share with someone (apart from a chocolate fondue and bottle of plonk) so I urge you to grab someone who feels the same and find what fits you both best. It won’t cost you anything – except your dignity if someone clinches like a chimp and you accidentally expel a little excess air.


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Written by Susan Hanks

Presenter on Moorlands Radio 103.7FM Drive Time, weekdays 4-7pm. Join Susan in 'shaking what ya mamma gave ya' for the daily Derriere Dance. Rhythm/leotard not essential.