Join me for a little exercise. Picture an image of massage in your mind’s eye. And for those of you with wild imaginations, let’s keep it PG. So what was the first thing that came to your mind? If you are like me (and many others) you may have visualized something similar to this picture below:
Textbook advertisement material for massage. Nothing new. So what messages are being expressed here? Relaxation, beauty, peace, sensuality, wellness. All these wonderful things. But let’s go deeper. As social creatures we humans don’t just see images at face value, we take an extra step whether we are aware of it or not. We compare them to how we see ourselves. Where do I fit in all this? What does this say about me? And to answer this question we draw upon heaps of social and cultural pressures that litter our sense of self. If we’re being honest with ourselves it is easy to recognize that we live in a society that by and large measures a body’s worth by its value as an object of sexual desire, especially in ways that cater to men. On the chance that this statement puzzled you, or if you want to read more about it, please check out this article.
Okay, so what does this mean in terms of how it negatively impacts body image? For starters it creates the parameters for how we think about the audience that receives massage. One begins to ask questions like “do people with my body get massage?” Scratch that. “Do people with my body deserve massage?” “Who would even want to touch my body?” “What if I’m not thin enough, pretty enough, wealthy enough, White enough, able bodied enough?” “Shouldn’t I be ashamed about my figure?” The questions can be endless based on someone’s social placement. Body shaming is not only unhelpful but it also aggravates existing public health challenges. So why is it still alive and well? Because there is an industry that makes money off it and not enough people stand up against it. It is high time for the massage industry to flex its potentials in addressing ways that contribute to this toxic narrative.
For those of us who are body workers, some of us might have the burning thought: “Well, I’m different. I don’t do that. I accept everyone for who they are.” This very well might be the case and its wonderful. What I’m suggesting is that we push the envelope on the issue, that we take a stronger approach to challenging body shaming and promoting positive body images. I’m not talking about only in terms of giving our clients reassurance and a nurturing environment, but that we walk that extra mile and collectively transform massage as an industry. One place to consider starting is by proactively increasing awareness among massage schools and massage professionals. Another is to be more intentional about marketing content. As professionals in the field we are situated to challenge and bring to extinction this harmful narrative whenever it appears. We can be change agents or we can be complacent. There is no neutral ground here. What we permit, we promote.
And I believe. No. I know that if we are thorough with our promotion of the positive body movement, if we keep in check our practices and marketing, that we can turn this kind of story …