"I hope you don't mind a little bald head."
"My skin is kinda dry from the cold."
"I just didn't have time to shave today."
"I need a pedicure."
(stomach gurgles) "Oh! I'm so sorry!"
This is just a short sample of the hundreds of different ways clients apologize to me about their bodies. I'm sure every massage therapist can relate. Our clients come in and trust us enough to let us touch them, but they still want to make sure we therapists are comfortable.
This has led me to establish The Rule. Outside of bigotry or sexual innuendo, I try not to have rules about what clients should or should not say. My office is a safe, private space. Sometimes people need a place to say out loud the scary or possibly unaccepted thing they are thinking about their lives.
But, one day, I had enough of the above, so I now have The Rule, which is:
You don't apologize for your body.
And The Subrule, which is:
You don't make anyone else feel that they need to apologize for their body.
Most of my clients are women. Many of my clients are facing or have faced significant medical challenges which have altered, scarred, or otherwise changed their bodies. Most of these changes fall outside the subjective norms of "what women are supposed to look like." I aim to create at least one place in the world where any person can feel comfortable and confident that their body is not under any sort of judgement. That they are accepted and valued for who and what they are right now. That on my table and in my space, everyone-- EVERYONE-- is beautiful.
I grew up the official fat kid of my elementary school. I remember feeling the need to apologize for my body every single day. When my clients started apologizing to me, I felt tremendous empathy for them. Those things they apologize for do not disrupt their massage or offend anyone. Whether you have or don't have hair and where it is on your body, the condition of your skin, the state of your feet -- any of that and more -- has no bearing on your worth as a person.
And that last one, the stomach noises? That happens when your body is deeply relaxed. That right there is massage applause.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
I often tell my students that not everyone is their client, that they are not everyone's therapist. As part of my ongoing adventures in learning to market, I am experiencing this very profoundly.
Yesterday, I volunteered at the Chicago Marathon -- a big, boisterous fun day of post-event massage and lots of energy. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire day, but is also know that pretty much none of the people I worked on were "my" clients.
I worked in the medical tent, mostly providing cramp relief for dehydrated and/or undertrained athletes. About two hours after the start, we started to get patients in. As expected, the first hour or so was filled with people who had pulled out without finishing the race due to injury or other complications. Early on, I worked with Drake*, a young man who had completed an endurance event the week before, but pulled out of the marathon around mile 19 because of pain in his knees and ankles. He said it was normal for him to have pain in those areas because of a chronic health condition, but that is was also normal for him to exercise outdoors for several hours a day.
I was gently working around Drake's knee, trying to identify any muscular issues. I found an area of restriction, and Drake insisted that I could "go harder. " I said to him: "Yeah. I could go harder. But last week you finished this ultra event, and you just ran 19 miles today, so your muscles need recovery, and I'm not going to go harder." Drake seemed disappointed, but he didn't insist. Whether it was because I convinced him with logic, or because he was born in the year I graduated high school, I can't be sure.
Either way, it was clear that Drake's view of massage (hard, rough, painful) had nothing to do with mine. He was not, and will never be my client. Earlier in my career, I might have tried to be his therapist and sacrificed my professional judgment for my client's preferences. Now, I know better. I'm not going to go harder.
*-- name and identifying details have been changed