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Massage vs. Body Image

March 17, 2010

“I’d really like to get a massage, but I am overweight and embarrassed to have anyone see my body.”

As my massage practice is growing I am beginning to hear this from several different directions quite frequently. It is a subject that is very sensitive to talk about, yet so very important to discuss. It is one that doesn’t lend itself well to humor or sarcasm, which are quite difficult to exclude in my writings, yet I will do my best and trust that this post will be received in the love and compassion with which it is written.

Many people, especially women, seem to have body image issues on some level. We are our own worst critics noticing every imperfection, every dimple, jiggle, sag, and roll. It doesn’t matter that others do not see us with the same critical lens through which we see ourselves. It is what it is, and for each of us in our way, it is extremely embarrassing to us.

Unfortunately, once the struggle with body image has begun, it can quickly spiral downhill to a place which contributes to the root cause of our body image issues. We don’t go swimming anymore because it is too embarrassing to put on a swimsuit. That becomes a great form of exercise lost. We don’t get out and walk or jog, because putting on a sweatsuit exaggerates the fluffiness we hate. More lost exercise. We don’t go shopping for nice clothes that flatter our bodies because finding something that feels good and helps us to feel beautiful is exhausting and frustrating. I get that. Believe me, I do.

And, of course, we don’t nurture ourselves because doing so would require revealing our hidden secret. It would require exposing what we perceive as the ultimate ugliness in front of another human being and subjecting ourselves to the negative thoughts and remarks (real or imagined) of some perky little hard bodied therapist.

I’m not going to lie to you and suggest all therapists will love and respect overweight clients. I have met at least one therapist who said she avoided the subject of her career around overweight people because she does  not want them calling her. She’s got her reasons, not the least of which is it is much more strenuous for a therapist to work on a larger body. Bottom line, she had no interest in working that hard. Good for her. She’s got clarity.

That’s not the case with all therapists. There are those out there who specialize in working with overweight and even obese clients. They treat them with respect, and together, the therapist and client work toward giving and receiving a massage that meets the needs of both. It’s also worth keeping in mind that therapists come in all shapes and sizes.

So  how does a person muster up the courage to lay their ego on the line (or the table in this case) for the sake of taking care of their body? First and foremost, talk to several massage therapists and get their take on working with overweight clients. Can they accommodate an overweight client? If they have the smallest, narrowest table, I can assure you an overweight client will be miserable. Do they speak from a place of love and compassion? Have they worked with overweight clients before? You may not want to be the first one. Do they have a sense of humor that doesn’t belittle?

Then comes the real challenge. You have to decide whether it is worth it to you or not. Some things simply aren’t worth it. Remember the first time you went to see the OB/GYN? Admittedly, not a good example for guys, but you get the idea. The benefits finally outweighed the potential for total humiliation. Hopefully you found someone who was courteous, professional, and compassionate. You were kept completely covered except where you HAD to be exposed for the procedure.

Getting a massage is much less traumatic. Your therapist will be courteous, professional, and compassionate. You will be fully draped with only the body part currently being massaged undraped at any given time. Private parts and breasts are always covered.

Your first massage may be a bit stressful because of not being familiar. The therapist will give you a full explanation of how things work, and you should be encouraged to give feedback about what feels best and what you expect from your massage. Don’t ever assume the therapist knows best, even if they suggest they do. It is your massage and you are paying for it. Tell your therapist what is important to you. You have mustered every ounce of courage and sacrificed your ego to take care of yourself. You deserve the very best the therapist has to offer. Enjoy the safety and security of the therapeutic space knowing that you will not be judged, ratted out, or otherwise humiliated. Your self-esteem is safe with your therapist.

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