Massage to Improve Body Image
Our bodies interact with every situation in our life and our bodily awareness influences our ability to reach personal goals, yet most of us have something about our bodies that we don’t like. For some people their body image affects their whole life, their happiness, opportunities etc, but it is a product of the imagination rather than a reality, our perception of our body's appearance, and as such, can be changed.
Body image is a mental representation of our physical body and a major factor in our identity , created from past experiences. It can be distorted in those with physical health issues:-
• eating disorders eg.anorexia nervosa - bodies going through starvation are deemed as fat
• chronic pain disorders - pain experienced is often projected onto the body when people say things like “My back is killing me!” rather than the pain.
• phantom limb pain - pain can be felt in the absence of a body part and is therefore controlled by our body image.
Research has shown that visual distortions of body image in chronic pain patients will affect their perception of painful sensations. Use of mirrors in amputees experiencing phantom limb pain to activate brain networks for movement, has been shown to reverse common perceptions of the phantom limb . This corroborates the view that as something which is conceived in our imagination, body image can be changed.
When people with body image issues find out that I am a massage therapist, they often feel that a therapist wouldn't be accepting of their body, because they themselves aren't, and so will often have a negative response. Even clients on their first visit will sometimes apologise for that extra roll of flesh or not having shaved their legs. However, massage can be particularly beneficial to those with body image issues, because when our bodies feel better, we feel better about our bodies.
Our psychological experience of our physical body can become habitual and therefore generate habitual patterns of muscle tension, but massage can help release both physical and mental patterns of tension, thus helping us to view ourselves in a more positive way, by promoting an awareness of the body.
Massage, allows us to experience the sensation of touch, which is so important to our sense of self, in a non-threatening way, which helps us view ourselves as physically acceptable, and consequently boosts our self esteem.
Various research studies have shown the positive effects of massage on body image:-
• Research into women’s body image following mastectomy showed that massage therapy may help with adjusting to life without their breast(s).
• A study looking at body image related to abdominal fat in post menopausal women showed improvements in body image and abdominal fat following a course of massage treatments, particularly when used with aromatherapy
• Research looking at body image in those with bulimia and anorexia showed that following regular massage treatments over a month, levels of stress/anxiety/depression were reduced, eating had improved and body image was less distorted.
• By creating a positive body image massage helps the client to engage in more healthy behaviours, and it has been suggested that women’s objectification of their body and perception of not measuring up to society’s ideals is also reduced.
People who have negative body image will often view their body as something that shouldn’t be touched and may avoid massage through embarrassment, but a good therapist doesn’t care how you look and will make you feel comfortable. A therapists job is to make you feel better in mind and body, and once this happens you will start to break those negative thoughts about your body.