I am teaching a course now where we explore massage considerations and adaptions for various groups : pregnant women, the elderly, people who have chronic illnesses, etc. On our first day of class, we were having a discussion about how and why we might need to classify certain groups as “special populations” and what that label might mean. One student raised her hand and asked me to silently read her written-out question because she “didn’t want to be rude.”
The question was: “Is obesity a special population?”
This was not an abstract question. One of the students in that class is clearly obese. The stress of her weight on her body shows in the way she moves, and in the way she tolerates work from her classmates. The first time I saw her, I wondered if she would even make it through the first quarter. Massage is a physical job. It’s not ultra running, true, but you still work standing up (usually,) and rely on your body to do the work. The first quarter, she could barely make it through a half hour practice without stopping because she was “tired.”
She is now in her third quarter, just barely scraping by. This has more to do with missing classes and failing tests than with her physique. Her endurance has improved, but she still tires easily. I wonder if and when it would ever be appropriate to discuss her weight with her. I have talked to several other teachers, and we all agree that it is outside our scope of practice to discuss this with her directly. We are not physicians or dietitians. We don’t know her actual health details. We know the physical demands of massage therapy, but we also know that you don’t have to have a healthy BMI to do great massage.
It is still a dilemma to me, though. I firmly believe it is not my place to initiate a specific conversation about anyone’s weight. I can speak realistically about the physical demands of the job,
though, and hope students make their own choices to support themselves. Meanwhile, I realize there are more prevalent barriers to her success, which have to do with responsibility and time management. In that she is hardly unique, unfortunately.