Plus-Sized People and the Massage Industry
2012 marks ten years that I have been involved with massage therapy. I have learned--and now I teach--about muscles, bones and ligaments; skin conditions, pathological diseases and postural distortions. As a soft-tissue specialist, I know how to evaluate the body, and to measure the impact of the forces that are constantly affecting it. There is a lot of healing in this field.
As a plus-sized person, I recognize the sizeism that is rampant in the field. Countless institutions and individual practitioners take it upon themselves to equate health and wellness with body weight/shape/size. Plus-sized people are all but invisible in massage trade magazines, literature and advertising, except for the periodically offered special-focus article on "obesity massage" (yes, I am serious).
I feel obliged to note that massage trade
magazines, etc. still seem to be catching up, in terms of including people of color. I am a therapist of color, and I have to search assiduously to find marketing materials that offer images of
people of color. Not only this, but people of color are also missing from advertising for educational institutions, professional and trade organizations, videos and other types of media for the
field. Perhaps that fact explains the paucity of inclusion among other groups: the industry is simply behind the times. Still, I find that I must question the paucity of imagery for persons of color,
persons of size, and other groups.
But I digress. There are any number of therapists who are violating their scope of practice by selling nutritional supplements or other tools intended to foster weight loss. Spas do not help, as they offer numerous weight-loss or appearance-centered services as well (e.g., slimming wraps). Without training or licensure in a related field (say, nursing or nutrition), these therapists are making assumptions at best. I have heard any number of people comment harshly on the size and shape of other people's bodies. These are not appropriate actions, and they don't contribute to creating a therapeutic environment that is safe or supportive.
It can be a real task to find a blog, a website, or even a magazine article that discusses health, but does not steer the focus to weight or a related topic. One minute, you're learning how to make a chilly cucumber mask to combat headaches, and the next, you're embroiled in a discussion about how the latest grapefruit-and-bat-guano diet* can take up to 15 pounds off of you in a weekend.
Yes, this is the health and wellness field--but it is worth noting that our worth cannot determined by the size of our bodies, and wellness means more than the number on the scale. This field should encompass our inclusion of fruits and vegetables in our diets; whether we move joyfully and with abandon; how hungry we are for life experiences and not just, well...roast beast.
Besides which, the number on the scale, or BMI, or whatever other digits are first and foremost in a person's mind--they don't form an accurate image of a person's overall health. A number can only be a reflection of the overall functionality in one area. The problem with making the scope wider than it is, is that we then see a number and panic. Worse, big people are thrown away with big numbers. This is still just about people...remember?
All of this is worth considering. All of us (not just plus-sized people) need to spend more time thinking about what we put into our bodies, since what we put in affects our physical and emotional health. But there's no excuse for making the therapist's office an unsafe space.
When people make it clear that they are counting their calories and their self-worth on the same hand, it is hard to avoid feeling judged...especially for those of us who are living in a plus-sized body. And let's be realistic: not everyone CAN be a size eight. What would that mean? That we have biodiversity in nearly every other measurable arena, but that body shapes, body sizes, and metabolisms should always be identical? It's offensive to continually recount how we can all look the same, if we work hard. If you're assuming that calories in equals calories out, then tell me this: if someone don't look like you, then what are you saying? The plus-sized person can't follow basic directions (diet and exercise), or that she can't count? Either way, you are making a dangerous assumption.
I don't plug into that system anymore. That cycle of dieting, restricting, counting, and obsession is too much, and it breeds a really nasty brand of self-contempt. Isn't it time to stop signing up for that?
Health at Every Size encourages us to to move well, eat well, and live well in our bodies, no matter what. Everyone can be healthy, by creating healthy habits right now--every size, every body, every day.
My table is a safe place. All bodies are honored here, without judgment concerning shape, size, age, appearance, or functionality. Massage is about touch and healing; nurturing the vessel that carries us; building a bridge to the self. It is my goal that the time we spend together help you create balance throughout your life, just as our session helps create a balanced body.
When was the last time you felt gloriously beautiful, without reservations? Massage can do that for you...but you can do even more for yourself. Go now and pass it on.
* The bat guano thing was fictional.
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