As a male therapist I get a little more than a fair share of first time clients who are concerned about their first experience. Hopefully you have enjoyed an excellent massage at some point, this list is however for those who have a few nagging concerns that keep them from this healing experience.
Massage therapists take on the work because they want to be of help to others, they find every human body fascinating, beautiful and deserving of care. Your comfort and ability to relax is vital to how effective the massage will be so hopefully these myth busters may help alleviate some concerns you may have that prevent you from enjoying a massage.
While these item may leaving feeling self-conscious or even embarrassed, your therapist genuinely never cares about them:
1. Your Body Hair
Its an all too regular occurrence that when we unveil the leg the client wakes from their meditative sleep state to apologise for the condition of their leg hair. Many clients cannot relax, or snap out of their relaxed state, just because of a little stubble that will barely register when I do feel it, which I will promptly forget about the second I stop touching it.
No massage therapist cares about your leg hair. (Or armpit, back, chest, or facial hair). We don’t care if you haven’t shaved in a week, a month, or a lifetime. When we’re working, we are concerned about the condition of your muscles and other soft tissues for things that may be causing you pain and limiting your movement. Body hair doesn’t do that. When clients have more than average body hair, we do have to use more oil so we don’t accidentally pull the hair on the gliding strokes but that’s the only thing we think when faced with body hair.
This also goes for any other perceived flaw that you may have because you are a human being, with a busy schedule and human biological functions. This includes: cellulite, birthmarks, pimples, spider veins*, moles, dry skin, ingrown hairs, wrinkles, chipped nail polish, non-pedicured feet, or if you pass gas, snore, or have stomach rumbling during the massage.
(*One note about veins: We do care about varicose veins, because we need to avoid them for your health. If you have one, make sure your therapist knows where it is before the session begins).
2. Your Underwear
A standard professional massage will mean that you have your underwear (except your bra) on and towels over you. Only that which is being worked on is unveiled for the time that it needs to be. In the event that your inner voice starts to scream about the fact that someone is touching you when you have very little on it is time to tell it to sit in the corner. This is not conducive to a relaxing and positive massage experience. So if you want to wear your underwear, wear it. You may end up getting some massage oil on the underwear, so don’t wear a pair you really love, but most therapists can easily work around underwear.
There is an exception to this one: If you are getting a massage specifically for issues with your glutes or hips, the massage will be more effective if the therapist can work directly on the target areas, so a thong or going underwear-free is best. However if you are truly uncomfortable, there are techniques that can be used to work through fabric. (And if you’re a guy or prefer to wear men’s underwear, briefs are easier to work around than boxers).
Should you be very comfortable with your body and happy to remove everything, it is only courteous to ensure that your therapist is aware of this.
3. Your Butt
My first massage job was at a chic spa where pretty much every client wanted a general relaxation treatment. It was nice and uneventful, if even perhaps a bit dull, until the first time a client came in with sciatica. She was in near constant pain; her eyes shone with tears as she described her symptoms to me. Despite being desperate for relief she was still nervous–just as I was beginning treatment she said, “I’m so sorry I’m making you touch my butt.” What she didn’t know was that I was psyched. Working on an actual medical condition is what we enjoy, it’s a challenge! I didn’t care that it was her butt; I cared about discovering which muscle or structure was irritating her sciatic nerve and how best to stop the pain.
Massage therapists spend a lot of time learning about the human body and the parts most people think would be awkward (the gluteal muscles, feet, armpits) are also among the most interesting. Cleanliness is always appreciated, of course, but there’s no need to be embarrassed about needing work on any part of your body.
4. Your Weight
I have my share of body issues. I have had times when I am carrying too much weight and also when I think I am too small. My calves are “uneventful” and my feet need the wide option shoe. When I was studying massage there was no low light environment to hide any flaws. It was clear to me from day one after the initial anxiety that the other student was focused was anxious about finding the muscle structure and remembering the names of the muscles. She had no concerns about how I was viewing myself. I suddenly became just…a body. Not a good body, or a bad body, not beautiful or ugly. Just human. It felt a little disconnected, but somehow also powerful and empowering. I was free in a way I had never been. I wish I could give every single person in the world this feeling, but I can’t. Instead, I give you my true confession in the hopes that it will help you achieve this feeling yourself:
Once the clients are on the table and I start working, they become human versions of those body charts in my eyes, for lack of a better description. I don’t care whether or not their body conforms to an extremely narrow definition of “attractive.” I care about where their problem muscles are and how best to treat them, and how they have an impact on related muscles and how best to treat those.
That’s all, you are a body, no adjective, no judgement. Just a puzzle of muscle and bone that I get to unravel until you feel better. The massage room is a judgement free zone; it should be a safe space where you can stop judging yourself and where your therapist does not judge you. Where you get to just be a body.
Now, what DOES your massage therapist care about? Only one thing:
YOU! Massage therapists are healthcare professionals, and we care very deeply about the well-being of our clients. If you need massage to treat an injury or just want to lie down in a dark room for an hour, your therapist is there to help you on your journey to wellness. Our goal, always, is to be client-centered. This means that we approach you with respect and compassion, without ego or judgement, and use our knowledge to address your concerns in whatever way is best for your particular body at that particular time.
Communication is key in the relationship between client and massage therapist, and hopefully every massage therapist creates a setting where clients feel safe and comfortable voicing their needs. As good as you feel after a massage, as a therapist, I feel even better. Having the ability to provide comfort, stress relief, and pain alleviation to fellow human beings is a gift, and on behalf of committed massage therapists everywhere, thank you for letting us share it with you.