Body image – risk and reward in massage

Posted by Kat Bowling

April 26, 2017

Body image. Almost everybody has something about their body that they don’t like. For many people it’s a minor issue, no big deal. But some people have a major issue with their body image. It affects how they live and their happiness.

When I tell some people that I’m a massage therapist it can cause a strong reaction. They tell me, whether verbally or through their reaction and body language, that massage is not for them. Their body image is such an issue that they don’t think anybody else can accept them.

The paradox here is that massage can really help with body image issues. It can help you be more comfortable in your skin and to re-connect with your body. In massage school, we were all nervous at the outset about taking off our clothes and letting someone else touch us. It didn’t take long, though, for us to discover that bodies are just bodies and to become much more comfortable with our own. We also experienced how good receiving a massage made us feel. Something unexpected happened – when our bodies felt better, we felt better about our bodies.

I think there are three options to consider here. Let’s look at the risk versus reward for each of them.


1. Don’t get a massage.

This is the easiest because it involves doing nothing. The risk is low since you are not letting another person see or touch you at all.

The reward, however, is zero. You didn’t get a massage, so your body doesn’t feel any better, and you still have the stress and aches you had before.


2. You get a massage, but the massage therapist makes note of how you look, as if it matters.

If this has happened to you, I’m sorry. You got a crappy massage therapist. That’s a huge bummer, and I’m really sorry. You took a risk, and even if the rest of the massage was decent, you got very little reward.

This is not going to happen if you come to me. Never. No way. I can’t say this strongly enough: It goes against the very nature of who I am, how I treat people, and what I believe.


3. You get a massage. A great massage. And the therapist does nothing to make you feel uncomfortable about your body. In fact, you feel pretty good about your body after the massage.

In this option your risk is low. I don’t care how your body looks. That’s none of my business. I just want to help you feel better. Your reward is high. Again, your body will feel better from the massage and in turn, you can start feeling better about it.

I have no idea how your body got to be in the condition that it’s in. You may be dealing with something that you can’t control, such as a medical condition or an injury or accident. You may be in a lot of pain or are limited in what you can do physically. Since I don’t know what caused your body to be like it is now, I can’t make any judgments about you.

If you have been avoiding massage because you feel uncomfortable about your body, let’s find an option that works for you. You don’t even have to explain anything to me. Leave your clothes on. Stay sitting up or face down, or lying on your side or however you want. It’s entirely up to you.

It’s my job to help you feel better. That’s it. Together, let’s find a way to help you relieve your pain and stress. Don’t let your body image keep you from feeling good.


Photo source: “Grand Union Canal” by Sarah Joy

By touching a body, we touch every event it has experienced. For a few brief moments we hold all of a client’s stories in our hands. We witness someone’s experience of their own flesh, through some of the most powerful means possible: the contact of our hands, the acceptance of the body without judgment, and the occasional listening ear. With these gestures we reach across the isolation of the human experience and hold another person’s legend. In massage therapy, we show up and ask, in so many ways, what it is like to be another human being. In doing so, we build a bridge that may heal us both.

Tracy Walton, "The Health History of a Human Being," Massage Therapy Journal, Winter 1999

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