You Are Beautiful
It has been about fifteen years since I met Mary. I was a massage therapy student in Boston and it was Thursday night clinic. In my last term of school, I usually looked forward to Thursday nights and the opportunity to work with the public but on this particular evening, I was tired. Working fulltime and going to school takes its toll and as I began my intake interview, I was calculating the approximate time I would fall into bed that night. My instructor called me aside during my interview to bring attention to the fact that my client, Mary, was well over 300 pounds and I would need to lower my table. More concerned with my instructor’s critique of my work, I chastised myself as I made the necessary adjustment to table and then went to retrieve Mary. I should have noticed. I am supposed to notice these things. My mind was reeling with insecurities and self-doubt. Still harboring self-criticism, I left her to get undressed and tried to stop the internal disparagement that plagued me during my final term at school. As I entered the booth to begin our session, I had no way of knowing that this one massage would impact every massage that followed.
I began with my usual sequence. Contact first. Draping. Oil application. I had a well-rehearsed massage sequence that had consistently proven successful with my clients at the clinic. Within a few minutes however, I realized that I was unable to maintain hand contact due to Mary’s size and the contours of her large body. Panic set in. All of my training up to this point had taught me that full hand contact is the most fundamental element to a good massage. I stopped for a moment and let my hands rest on her back. As I looked at her, I was filled with compassion. I realized that it was possible that this woman was not often touched. And at that moment, one thought entered my mind. “You are beautiful”. It became my mantra. I continued with the massage, ignoring my inability to keep my hand fully connected to her skin as it travelled over hills and valleys of adipose. I repeated my mantra over and over again hoping that my lack of skill might be overshadowed by the purest of intentions. It went on this way for an hour. While each part of her body brought new challenges in my technique, my intention was steadfast.
As I waited for Mary in the interview area, I was anxious about her feedback. Knowing that I had fumbled through the session and my techniques were far from perfect, I was sure she would emerge dissatisfied. As she walked over towards me I noticed tears in her eyes. She smiled and said, ”I have never felt so beautiful”. My eyes welled. I don’t remember the words we exchanged after that. My memory of the experience ends at that exact moment. The moment I discovered that intention is the most powerful gift I can offer.
Massage therapy is no joke. It requires years of study. To be effective, a therapist must master anatomy and physiology, and perfect techniques and modalities that address tension patterns and injuries. And still, there is more that is needed. I believe that we have a responsibility to be authentic in our touch. We have a duty to make every contact hold meaning. It is pointless to spread oil across the back of a client without first asking permission. It makes no sense to undrape a body and move our hands across the skin without asking the spirit beneath what it needs. It’s irreverent to decide what this body needs and wants based on some muscle adhesions or hyper tonicity. Surely, we know that the body is composed of more than skin and muscle and bones; more than blood and organs. Hopefully, we are able to remember that the body is the house of the soul and that the soul has needs, as well. Most importantly, we need to remember that every body is beautiful.
I have always been a writer, of sorts. Not in the ways I envisioned as a teenager and yet, it has served my heart. I write to quell the yearning, to speak my truth and perhaps, to touch the spirit that connects us.