Sol Benson loathed her body. It went beyond mere embarrassment at how fat"she was.Deeper still was the conviction that her body was unworthy of love, undeserving of nurturing. And it was that alienation from her own body that for years kept Benson, a professional dancer who has waged a lifelong battle with anorexia, from getting massage. "I stayed away because getting a massage was being good to myself," said the 45-year-old Colorado mother of two, whose own mother and brother are massage therapists. "If I’m on a weight loss cycle, it’s like ’I don’t deserve love, I don’t deserve food, I don’t deserve to feel good about myself.’" Benson credits Mary Rose--a Boulder, Colorado,massage therapist who has developed a special style of acupressure for the physically fragile--with understanding her psychological fragility be enough to help her turn massage into a tool for healing, rather than a doorway to despair. It was the tender care from Rose, Benson explains,that helped the process. Her nonjudgmental ways helped Benson maintain balance. If, however, Rose had brought up weight, or in this case, the lack thereof, Benson admits it could have sent her into another purging cycle.
Managing Body Image
Benson’s story illustrates just how complex the issues of body image can be in 21st century America and just how valuable bodywork is in mending distorted body image. Developing a positive body image is about becoming present,grounded, open, aware, and unafraid to find what’s at the core and work through it. It’s about being mindful, and listening to what your body has to say--a big step on the way to a healthier lifestyle and not necessarily an easy one to take. It requires courage and hard work to learn self-acceptance. And bodywork can play a key role in this endeavor. With America in the grip of an obesity epidemic--while at the same time holding up waif like thinness as a cultural ideal--many people are worried about excess pounds and the harsh judgments that accompany them. Embarrassment at the thought of uncovering imperfect bodies for the close contact of a massage or bodywork session drives away untold numbers of potential clients. The problem isn’t limited to issues of weight. Many people avoid massage because of embarrassment about acne, surgical scars, birthmarks they consider unsightly,or some other physical deformity or flaw. "A really common one is, ’I have such ugly feet,’" Rose says. "I always laugh and say that in 20 years, I haven’t seen an ugly foot yet.People just have bad attitudes about their feet. In general, people are so self-judgmental."
Massage therapists specialize in the human body. They don’t judge; rather, they see anatomy. " This is something that’s so prevalent and something we deal with daily," says Jonathan Burt, 27, a Detroit massage therapist and massage instructor. "I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard, ’I have to wait until I get into shape before I come in for a massage.’ Clients think they have to be in shape before they can relax."Newsflash:Relaxation is not exclusive to model body types. Given the increased blood flow that results from massage, as well as the benefits to the lymphatic and other body systems, Burt believes overweight people and others who suffer from limited mobility are the people most likely to benefit from a good massage. That’s why he especially treasures his larger clients. The idea of taking your clothes off for a massage is often more intimidating than the reality. In fact, practitioners make draping an art form, ensuring the client doesn’t feel exposed. And by the way, says Burt, you’re not the only imperfect body around here. "We all have flaws," says Burt, who gave his first massage at age seven, when his grandmother,a double amputee, asked him to massage her stumps."Myself, I’m not the American Gladiator. I inform people I have flaws as well, and I’d be more than willing to help them overcome their self consciousness."