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Massage Therapy and Body Image

Massage Therapy and Body Image

Pam Garrett Jul 22, 2014

We recently had a client who had never had a massage, though she wanted one – and needed one – desperately.  The client – we’ll call her Marianne – spent countless hours on a lap top and suffered from chronic neck and shoulder pain.  She had considered massage but was always reluctant.  Why?  Marianne didn’t like the way she looked.  She couldn’t imagine allowing a stranger to see her body, and all the “jiggly parts” she disliked. She had a very negative body image.

At the encouragement of others, Marianne finally relented and had that first massage.  Here were a few of her many comments …

-“I realized the therapist didn’t see my ‘body’.   She saw a shoulder… that was bound up tightly and needed help.  She saw an arm… which she stretched to help relieve my shoulder’s tightness.” 

- “She saw my body as a series of muscles and parts that needed to work together differently… not as anything that jiggled or not!”

-“ I never felt exposed or embarrassed.  I never felt uncomfortable and I certainly never felt I was being evaluated on anything other than how my body was functioning.”

- “ I should have tried this years ago!”

These types of stories are common throughout the Massage Therapist community.  New clients don’t realize that therapists are ‘body blind’… literally, as many of them perform their massages with eyes closed to better feel the muscle and tissue on which they are working.  However, it’s tough to overcome people – and in particular women’s – issues with negative body image in order for them to experience this.  Years of believing their bodies are unattractive makes disrobing for a massage intimidating. 

Even more frustrating, massage can be one of the tools used to actually improve a person’s negative view of their body image. 

In an article about massage and body image by Laurie Chance Smith in Massage and Body Work magazine she states, “The way we experience our physical self on the mental plane can become habitual and may generate habitual patterns of muscle tension.  Since regularly schedule massage positively affects body and mind, massage can help us release physical and mental patterns of tension, enhancing our ability to experience our bodies (regardless of their shape or size) in a more positive way.”

We now see ‘Marianne’ on a regular basis for massage therapy in our studio.   She clearly feels better physically, but perhaps even more exciting to us is how she feels emotionally.  Her body parts – jiggly or not – are working better together and she’s loving herself a little bit more.

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