Massage and Self-Consciousness

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.ย 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.ย I’m not here to dismiss concerns. But I do wantย 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.

  One thought on “Massage and Self-Consciousness

  1. August 28, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    This POST is a beautiful thing! Most wonderful, reassuring thing I have read in a while.

  2. August 29, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    ๐Ÿ™‚ wonderful post. Yes and yes and yes.

  3. August 29, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    This is beautiful, I made a similar blog post earlier this month ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. August 29, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Insightful, eloquent, and beautiful. I still get taken off-guard when women apologize for not shaving their legs. It usually doesn’t even register to me, as I am concentrating on the tissue beneath my hands.

  5. August 29, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Absolutely fantastic post! Beautifully stated and eloquently written.

  6. August 29, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    Absolutely beautiful, heart-felt post. You described and eloquently stated exactly how I feel about being a Massage Therapist. Thank you so much for your post. I can’t wait to share and pass on your wonderful insight. Thank you!

  7. Sue
    August 29, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Exactly! As a massage therapist, that’s exactly how I feel. Very well said!

  8. Andrea
    August 29, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    I could have written this myself… but not quite as eloquently as you did!! Thank you for sharing this! I’ve asked my friends to read it!

  9. August 29, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Reblogged this on Accidentally Jewish.

  10. August 30, 2012 at 12:16 am

    This was probably the most beautiful way I’ve ever seen this expressed. Thank you so much. It gives me ideas on ways to respond to my clients when they come in with the same concerns. It always makes me laugh about not having shaved their legs for me! I tell the woman that the men never apologize for it. ;o)


  11. August 30, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Thanks for sharing your heart-felt post and professionalism. Clients do not realize all the anatomy details that follow the profession and guide us in sessions.

  12. August 30, 2012 at 12:48 am

    Really nice job; thanks for sharing! This should be helpful for many potential clients.

  13. Ty Capuano
    August 30, 2012 at 1:52 am

    Thank you for sharing this Megan. Nicely written and beautifully explained.

  14. August 30, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Beautiful post. As a Massage Therapist who happens to be a larger-bodied man, I try to embody what you talk about in your post. Honour each and every body that comes to you, with ALL of its great parts and challenges – and with a sense of awe and wonder approach each body as a unique and wonderful thing. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. August 30, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    absolutely beautiful

  16. August 30, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    even when I am the client, I have said very similar things to my therapists in spite of all I believe and know. I thank you for your beautiful words and the strength of love flowing from them.

  17. September 1, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    Reblogged this on realrelief and commented:
    I really couldn’t have said it any better.

  18. Ion
    September 7, 2012 at 10:58 am

    So thankful to you to bring this up to the ground. That is the ethics of a real massage therapist.

  19. September 14, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Not only was this well written, it was necessary & I love that you brought light to this topic. I’ve been looking for some good massage/spa blogs that are interesting and haven’t had much success…until now. I found your site through reddit and I’m so glad I did. Thanks.

  20. Nichole Farr
    December 20, 2013 at 10:19 am

    So refreshing to read this after making the mistake of searching “massage therapy” on Tumblr, which was generally okay, but one inappropriate post kind of bugged me. I appreciate this post a lot, and I thank you for your words. – Nichole, LMP

    • Megan
      December 20, 2013 at 11:04 am

      Oh dear! The internet is a vast and occasionally inappropriate place. Glad to help mitigate, Nichole!

  21. January 21, 2014 at 12:38 am

    In defense of Tumblr, that’s how I found the link to this article. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I wrote a response here: Thank you for this post. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Lex
    June 1, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Beautiful. I often pass this along to clients.

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  24. Arthuropism
    October 17, 2020 at 5:41 am

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