A couple of weeks ago, the first-ever professional conference for professional cuddlers took place. We’re a tiny little industry, but to the extent that it can be said there are big names in this industry, nearly all of them were part of the event. Samantha Hess (who cuddled Neil Patrick Harris on American’s Got Talent) from Cuddle Up to Me in Portland, Jean Franzblau (who was on the Dr . Phil Show this summer talking about professional cuddling). from Cuddle Sanctuary in LA, Madelyn Guinazzo and Adam Lippin from Cuddlist (which has been featured in Fortune, the New York Times, Glamour, Vogut, and many other national and international media outlets). During Marcia Baczynski’s keynote, she asked people to raise their hands if they had been quoted in the Rolling Stone article about Professional Cuddling, and hands went up all around the room (three quarters of the pros quoted in that article were at the event).
In an industry this new and this small, pretty much all the people who come to a conference like this are pioneers. The conference was the brainchild of Fei Wyatt, also from Cuddle Sanctuary in LA. Since I know a little about running conventions, I offered to help and became the co-founder of the event. Keeley Shoup came on as Director, and we worked for more than a year to put the event together, with a small team of great volunteers.
I went into the event feeling confident that I would learn a lot – and importantly, that it would help me understand whether this is a world I really fit into or not. I have been all in for the event, and for the profession. Not only was the cofounder, I was also a sponsor of the event (and of the online event we held in March to start consolidating the community.) I feel good about putting my business right in a line with the other sponsors mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog – but I wasn’t at all sure I belonged there, or even that it was the right place for me to be.
I came out of the event excited again about the possibilities in this industry. It’s clear to me now that my failure to find a scalable business model isn’t really a failure – it’s just a thing nobody’s really got figured out yet. Nearly all the “big names” I met and talked to have another source of income to help them make ends meet. So the fact that I’ve decided to focus a little more on my other business, which provides me with most of my income, no longer feels shameful to me, which is a big weight off my shoulders.
It’s clear to me that there’s a need for this service – and it’s just as clear that we’ve got a significant way to go as a culture before it’s socially acceptable. People who’ve been doing this much longer than I have talk about the industry being where massage was 30 or 40 years ago. I hope it’s not decades before the cuddle version of Massage Envy shows up in major cities all around the country, but it might be.
And that’s okay. Because the need to create safety for people is real. The need to help people rewire their brain so touch stops having a traumatic effect on them is real. The need to give people a space to practice their boundary setting is real. The need to rethink the way our culture looks at touch, and consent, and labor, and nurturing is real. Professional cuddling meets all of these real needs in a way nothing else does, and so as an industry we’re here to stay.
I’m excited that my involvement in CuddleXpo has brought me into contact with so many people from around the world whose practices I admire and get to learn from. I’m excited to have a place in this industry that has the chance to reshape our culture.