In my last post, I skirted around another reason massage is so beneficial…one in which I can personally attest. If you don’t suffer from it yourself, you likely know someone who does. It is prevalent in the US, continually in the media, and more women fall victim to it than men…more every year. I’m talking about negative body image.
Presently, I’m not sure what is saturating public awareness more…the actual retouching/photoshopping of images to a non-attainable standard, or the movement to bring a message of truth to young girls that their body is not what gives them value or worth. And I’m not speaking to obesity. That, for purposes of writing, would fall under health issues. No, I’m talking about a beautiful work of art, crafted by the Almighty, who has been convinced by fashion magazines and the like that her body is flawed because she doesn’t wear a size 0. The pornographic industry also does its share of convincing women that men are only attracted to physical perfection, or rather an over-inflated version of it. I could go on for days, but it’s likely nothing you haven’t heard before. But what you may not have heard is how massage therapy can help a woman who possesses negative thoughts with regard to her body.
For reasons I won’t bother explaining, I have suffered from body image issues for the past twenty-plus years. Doesn’t matter why, all that matters is that it existed for me to the point that I refused to even look at myself in the mirror after a shower. I just remember feeling ashamed and ugly. So, when I began my second semester in massage school, I was scared to death. The first semester was all science…show up, hear lecture, test out, move on. After roughly a two-week break, it was across the hall to the hands-on room and all that stood between that massage table and my storage cubbie was a few shoji screens (those oriental tri-fold panels). Undress, walk across a gym-sized room donning only a bath towel, and be a guinea pig for other students on which to practice. So you can imagine when a student is practicing their draping methods and accidentally uncovers a breast, or better yet, is trying to work on the abdomen and slips that sheet down a little too quickly past the hips, how it may be a rather traumatic experience for someone like me.
Now, the introduction of my body to an onlooking world was purely by force. I say that with humor…now. Yes, I can honestly say I hated getting on that table for the first month or so, but sometimes that’s what is needed. If not someone else forcing me (the school) then forcing myself to do the work necessary to overcome this great obstacle. Dealing with body-image issues in an internal work, not an external one. Yes, nutrition and movement are an integral part of being healthy, but it is the change in perception of who you are that will begin the healing process. And who you are has nothing to do with what you look like.
Getting on the massage table for these folks is the biggest challenge. It is also the most courageous one. It means they have taken a positive step toward learning to accept their bodies…no matter the shape, size, number of scars, disfiguration, or color…which will, in turn, allow them to stop ruminating. Having your primary focus in life be the image that stares back at you from the mirror is consuming and defeating. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, even if for just one person – a massage therapist – can be the first step in the healing process.
Being unhappy with our bodies has serious, and sometimes lifelong, ramifications. Feelings of unworthiness and self-loathing can set up a lifetime of self-deprecating behaviors. What regularly scheduled massage allows us to do is “get back” into our bodies and reconnect with ourselves. Massage can help us release physical and mental patterns of tension, enhancing our ability to experience our bodies (regardless of their shape and size) in a more positive way. Just as it facilitates our ability to relax, massage also encourages an awareness of the body, often allowing us to more clearly see and identify destructive behaviors, including overeating or purging.*
Massage also creates a sense of nurturing that is especially powerful when it comes to poor body image. Accepting the nonjudgmental touch of a trained therapist goes a long way toward rebuilding an appreciation and respect for your own body. If we find acceptance for who we are and how we look, we are giving ourselves permission to live comfortably in the skin we have.*
Touch is a powerful ally in the quest for physical and mental health. It not only can help you be more in tune with your body, but it can help create a sense of wellness and “wholeness” that is often lost in our segmented, over-scheduled lives. When we regain that connection, it’s much easier to remember that our bodies are something to be cherished, nurtured, and loved, not belittled, betrayed, and forgotten.*
Below is a link to one of my favorite, most honest and affirming articles ever written with regard to what a massage therapist thinks when you are on their table. If you have even the slightest apprehension about receiving massage – negative body issues or not – take this article to heart.
A negative body image is not necessarily about those few extra pounds on the hips. It might instead be tied to the scars of past injuries and surgeries. Massage can help here, too. For burn victims, research has shown massage can help in the healing process, while for post-surgery breast cancer patients, massage and bodywork can reintegrate a battered body and spirit. In addition to softening scar tissue and speeding post-surgery recovery, massage and bodywork for these clients is about respect, reverence, and learning to look at, and beyond, the scars.*
So? How do you see yourself? Are you content with the person looking back at you from the mirror or do you turn away? If you are struggling to accept what you see, perhaps connecting with a caring massage therapist is a positive step toward creating a healthy self-image.
Any Licensed Massage Therapists who would like to leave their information in the comments section in order to make themselves available to those seeking this type of therapy are encouraged to do so. Members of other industries involved in the promotion of healthy self-image are welcome to leave their info, as well.
*Positive Body Image Through Touch, ABMP