It wasn’t the first time, and I very much doubt that it will be the last.
A client who was new to massage, a woman in her late fifties who I had just met, urged me to prepare myself for the “ghastly” sight of “all [her] flab.”
Another woman, 40 weeks pregnant at the peak of summer and suffering fatigue, cursed aloud and covered her face with her hands when she realized that she hadn’t shaved her legs before her massage. I have not, myself, ever been 40 weeks pregnant, but the logistics of shaving one’s legs at that stage seemed daunting, and I felt like she’d planned to undertake a heroic task on my account and was cursing herself for falling short. To those who want to make that effort, more power to you! But here’s a secret: whether or not you shave your legs, whatever the reason, I don’t care. Body hair or lack thereof might affect how much oil I use, but that is the end of my thoughts on the matter.
Over the years, friends and acquaintances have remarked either that they would like to get a massage but are too self-conscious, or they have asked how I deal with “gross” clients. Seriously. People have asked. And my answer? Clients aren’t gross. Bodies aren’t gross. You aren’t gross.
I don’t mean to trivialize anyone’s body issues here. Goodness knows I’ve had my own. It’s not for me to say whether self-deprecating comments are innocuous or damaging, but I do know that issues with body image can stop people from getting massage, and I do not want that to happen. And I have caught glimpses, in conversation and in massages, of real shame, and I want to shed some light on it in hopes of flooding it out. If you need me to know that you are self-conscious, that you don’t want me to jostle your arm because there might be a jiggle that makes you feel horrendous, you can tell me. But you don’t have to. It’s your choice. If letting me know that you’re carrying body shame eases your burden, by all means tell me. I will pour on extra love. If you are not accustomed to touch and are afraid to be seen and want to keep your clothes on, you can. I’m not here to dismiss concerns. But I do want to state for the record, for whatever it’s worth, that I, as a massage therapist, do not stand in judgement of you. If you have lumps and bumps and stubble that cause you dismay, please know that I do not share this dismay. Holding space is a big part of massage — carving out an hour (or more, or less) for you to just be — and I have no interest in evaluating, comparing, judging, or shaming. These things simply do not enter my mind.
Some of you know this already. Some people seek massage specifically because they know their massage therapist will accept them unconditionally, will not bat an eye at the little imperfections that cause the bearers genuine agony. That kind of acceptance can be healing in and of itself. This post is for those who have a harder time believing that their body could possibly transcend judgement. For those like the client at the start of the post who would not have pushed through her own body shame to get a massage if her daughter had not booked it, paid for it, and
dragged escorted her there. When I told this woman that I don’t look at people’s flab when they get on the table, she eyed me suspiciously and wondered aloud what I could possibly look at instead. So I told her.
What I look for: When I give a massage, I am looking for areas of tension in the body, places where things are stuck. I love patterns, so when I find an area that is particularly taut or particularly flaccid, I am thinking about compensation patterns, how those places might affect the rest of the body and might inform the rest of the massage. I am thinking about how to alleviate discomfort, release those stuck down places, get things flowing. I am thinking about how to help you. I love my work, love falling into a silent conversation with tissues, understanding how the pieces fit together a little bit differently for everyone. I love the quiet, the practice, the focus. I love helping people feel better. There’s no room for judgement in that.
So come in. Whether you’re feeling flabby or self-conscious about the pimple on your shoulder, whether or not you’ve got beat up summer feet, sandal scuffed and city gritty, you deserve to feel your best. The goal is to help you get there, to leave you beaming like the woman whose daughter dragged her in, who came in shy and went out laughing, giddy about new looseness between her shoulder blades. A little acceptance is a beautiful thing.