I have found massage therapy to be amazing – most of the massage work I get is sports massage but I’ve also had the occasional relaxation massage. It can be great, but it can also be a fraught situation – you’re lying on a table, vulnerable, while someone is touching you. It’s a terrible time to be fat shamed. Recently, reader Lucinda had this experience. She shared her brilliant response with me and gave me permission to share it with you:
I’m a fat athlete too, and this last Saturday I ran my first Half Marathon. It was a great experience! Unfortunately, as maybe I should have expected, it was very hard for the world to let a fat woman run a half marathon without making sure I knew how unhealthy it was to be a fat woman and how much better my half marathon would have gone had I been thin.
Yesterday I had scheduled a recovery massage with my regular therapist, Joan. I’ve seen her about 5 times this year, as part of my preparation for the race, and also as part of my rehab for my knee (tendinitis). She has heard every story of preparation and planning for my half marathon, and has been a supporter of my efforts. I have felt a strong rapport and built trust with her.
During my massage, I told her about my half marathon experience. But instead of being supportive, this time her response was to give me unsolicited advice about how losing weight would really “fix” my running and then try to sell me some shake program that she’s been following and has lost weight on. So there I am, naked on her massage table, completely vulnerable, paying her $80 to work on my body, and she took that time to A, criticize my body, B, try to fix my “problem” which she, not me, has diagnosed and she admittedly is not an expert in, and C, then she tried to sell me something. It was such a violation, and ruined the massage for me, and left me feeling upset and angry all day.
Usually my response in these kinds of situations is to withdraw and just never go see that practitioner again. But yesterday was not like all those other times, because yesterday was the first time someone had said that kind of bullshit to Half Marathon Finisher Lucinda. All those other times, the woman they were criticizing was the woman who didn’t think she was capable, who believed that her body was an enemy she had to overcome, who thought she didn’t have what it took. Now I know, I have what it takes. I have surprised myself with how much I can do. I did not run that half marathon despite my fat body, I did it with my fat body. We are on the same team. And nobody disrespects the Team.
So I wrote her an e-mail.
I wanted to circle back to our conversation about that shake program (isometrics?). Thanks for telling me about your own experience with weight loss on this program, I am glad you feel good about it. However, it made me uncomfortable to feel like you were selling me something during a massage, and that discomfort took me mentally out of the relaxation of the experience. Also, and this is more what I wanted to make sure I said, I did not appreciate you making a comment about my body, specifically that I needed to lose weight, while I was lying naked and vulnerable on your massage table. That felt like a violation of trust and also of your role. I had just finished telling you about what a victory running my half marathon was, and your response was to give me unsolicited advice about how weight loss would fix and improve my running, which does not need to either be fixed or improved, and which you yourself admit is not an expertise of yours. Both giving unsolicited and unresearched health advice, and making comments about a client’s physical body that reveal your negative opinion of that body, seem to me to be beyond the scope of your role as a massage therapist. My time on the massage table is time I dedicate to relaxation, self care, and recovery, and I pay a premium for it. It is not too much for me to expect that that time be free from criticism, bigotry, judgment, and condemnation of my perfectly normal, strong, healthy, and accomplished fat body.
Now, as we’ve talked about before, with activism we can only give people the opportunity to question their behavior, we aren’t responsible for their reactions. Happily, in this situation Joan took advantage of the opportunity that was generously given to her:
I am truly sorry that I made you so upset. I hate that you had to take the time to write this note and may continue to carry anger.
First of all, I can’t tell you how excited I am about your race and your success. I thought about the race many times during the weekend. It was an accomplishment that, as you said, changed the benchmark for you about what was possible.
I was very conflicted before sharing my weight loss experience and have been thinking about it ever since our massage. You are absolutely correct the advice was unsolicited and unprofessional and I wish I could inhale the words back in. Lesson learned.
There is a check in the mail to refund the massage.
I really appreciate Lucinda because not only did she advocate for herself, but who knows how many of Joan’s clients will be saved from similar negative experiences. I think it’s also important to point out the power of the after-the-fact letter. Sometimes we just don’t feel like speaking up at the moment and that’s ok, we have no obligation to engage in activism in the moment, or at all. But sometimes we walk away from a situation and decide that we do want to say something and that’s when the letter or e-mail can come in really handy, and I want to really thank Lucinda for giving us a great example of how it’s done for Say Something Sunday.
Like this blog? Here’s more cool stuff:
Like my work? Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. Click here for details
Book and Dance Class Sale! I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!