One of my body positive goals is to deliberately, with intention, have experiences that I would have never had due to the way I look, the way I feel, or the amount of space my body takes up.

The Intention

Three weeks before my husband and I went on vacation, I started planning. I planned what we would do, where we would eat, and I also decided that I was going to go to the spa. I have had facials before but we are in a pandemic and I did not want to be that close to a person with my mask off. I knew this was the time to take the leap and get my first professional massage. I was full of anxiety. As someone who has always hid her body, the idea of being almost naked (I already knew I would be keeping my underwear on) was petrifying. What would this person think about me? Would they feel comfortable touching my body? I have had primary care doctors very noticeably avoid touching me (Story for another day), how could this person feel comfortable?

In order to relieve some of the fear I was feeling, I read (6 tips for getting the best body positive massage ever by Deb Malkin). I highly recommend reading Malkin’s tips. Malkin writes – Feel free to ask your therapist any and all questions. I actually emailed the spa beforehand and asked two questions. The first question was “Does the therapist have experience working with overweight clients?”. This question served multiple purposes. It lets me, the client, know that this person is not fat phobic (yes its a thing) and that she knows what unique challenges larger people may be experiencing. It also allows me to say “hey I’m fat!” so that the therapist is not caught off guard and can plan on making any adjustments necessary. My second question was “How much weight can your table hold?”. Logically, I know I will not break the table, but I have a (maybe not so) irrational fear that my weight will break things or I won’t be able to fit somewhere. I think this is a very common fear of larger bodied people and knowing the answer to this question helped to reduce my anxiety.

Deb Malkin also spoke about doing research- I knew I was going to go to the spa that was located at my hotel. Thankfully, at this spa, I was able to choose who would be working with me. I read their bios and looked at their pictures. I picked a women who looked to be in her 30s to early 40s and she had specifically wrote about empowerment and body positivity in her bio. I felt like we had a connection already.

The Experience

I had an early appointment so I got up, took a shower, brushed my teeth, and drank some water. I didn’t use any of my usual lotions, or makeup and I tied my hair back. My husband gave me a pep talk and I was on my way.

They had me fill out a questionnaire about my health and sore spots. Some of the questions on the form were about migraines, blood pressure, heart and skin conditions, etc. I get migraines, so I indicated this on the form. I also mentioned that I feel soreness/tightness in my lower back and my neck.

I was greeted by my therapist, she looked at my form and was very excited to discover that it was my first massage. She asked me if I was nervous, I answered honestly and she smiled told me that I had nothing to worry about.

She showed me to the room and reviewed the form with me. She asked me about my migraines and if I knew what triggered them. I told her that I didn’t know the trigger, but with a nervous laugh I said that I have Multiple Sclerosis (MS) so I get MRIs and “I know there are no tumors or anything in there”. She asked me some questions about MS and how it effects my life (If I ever write that story I will link it here) and my body. Because she would be using CBD oil, she spoke briefly about CBD and what benefits it could have.

She then asked me to undress to my level of comfort, explaining that most people either undress all the way or choose to leave their underwear on, she told me to lay on my stomach and drape the sheet over me, she then left the room to give me privacy. At this point I was very happy I had thought ahead and dressed comfortably. I was wearing my favorite leggings, a tee shirt, a sports bra, and flip flops. All things that could be taken off and put on quickly. I felt surprisingly comfortable getting on the table. The table was warm, padded and very stable. I covered myself up as much as was humanly possible (without covering my head) and waited.

The therapist knocked, entered and made a few adjustments to the sheet and the way my body was angled. She explained everything every step of the way and told me to let her know if I wanted anything adjusted.

At first it was hard to relax, someone was touching me, she could see and feel my rolls. I can only imagine how tense my muscles were. I was anxious but I was also determined to enjoy this experience. I closed my eyes and steadied my breathing. I only focused on my breath. Four counts in, hold, four counts out, hold, four counts in, hold, four counts out, hold. I, then, changed my focus to my body. I did a body scan, breathed into each area of my body from my toes, to the top of my head. I felt my body become lighter with every breath. I was able to sink into the massage, I was able to relax, and to be present in that moment.

How I feel/What Have I learned

I think I had avoided getting a massage for so long, because, on some level, I thought I didn’t deserve it. I was so ashamed of my body that I did not want to subject another human to the experience of having to touch me. It is heart breaking for me to write these words, but also very understandable. When overweight people have been told by family, classmates, romantic partners, medical professionals, and society that your fat makes you not only undesirable, but downright disgusting. Fat people are often seen as repulsive, smelly, lazy, and ugly.

Honestly, getting the massage was an amazing experience. The woman who was working with me helped me to feel comfortable, she showed no judgement, she was friendly and professional. After the experience, felt a rare combination of relaxed and empowered. There are no wrong bodies and every body is deserving of touch. Floyd, K. (2014) found that lack of touch is associated with increased depression, stress, as well as an increased likelihood of personality disorders and mood disorders. They even found a that people who are touched more often have stronger immune systems.

There are many forms of touch that can have benefits.

  1. Hugs (20 secs for maximum affect)
  2. Handholding
  3. Touching someone’s arm or shoulder
  4. Massage
  5. Cuddling (human or pet will do)
  6. Yoga (is actually considered self massage)
  7. Rubbing your own hands together
  8. Going to get your hair cut and washed
  9. Getting a manicure and pedicure
  10. Kissing

Disclaimer: It’s never okay to touch someone without permission. Some people may have experienced trauma, are neurodiverse, or just don’t want you to touch them

References

Floyd, K. (2014). Relational and Health Correlates of Affection Deprivation. Western Journal of Communication78(4), 383-403. https://doi.org/10.1080/10570314.2014.927071

*Information included in this blog does not constitute as medical or psychiatric advice and this blog does not included any paid endorsements. Please consult with you physician and/or a mental health professional to decide what is right for you.

Published by psychkatlife

Katherine Carter is a licensed mental health counselor practicing in Massachusetts. Katherine is the former Director of a residential program for women working towards recovery from drugs and alcohol. Katherine is currently working in private practice assisting individuals, couples and families meet their goals. Katherine's clinical interests include Addiction, Empowerment, LGBTQ and gender issues, mindfulness and chronic illness.

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