I was talking to a friend about a teenager we both know. This child recently got taken out of a sport due to a knee injury. My friend expressed some concern about the teen finding some activity to do in place of the sport. This friend expressed concern over the possibility that this child could become a fat teenager. She called that a “bad thing.”
So, here’s the thing — I was a fat teenager. And in many ways it was a bad thing. It was a bad thing because of the way other teenagers (and some adults) treated me. Because somehow it was okay to be teased at school and to feel shamed at home. It was a bad thing because of the nickname that I got that stuck with me until I moved away from my home town, the nickname that even now I won’t tell anyone because it carries such shame-filled memories. My point is, it was a bad thing because of the way the outside world made me feel unacceptable because my body was somehow unacceptable.
Fortunately, I have a loving and supportive family. Even through missteps and unintentionally hurtful things, I knew that I had worth and value as a human being. Not everyone is that lucky.
This, I am discovering, is a big part of my purpose as a massage therapist. My practice needs to be a place where every human can feel safe and valued in their body, just as it is right now. My very first client in Louisville reinforced that for me. Here was a woman who spends her life working hard, caring and providing. The hard work took a toll on her body and she was finally making a commitment to take some care of herself. After her first session with me, she sat in a chair and wept over the “mess” she had made of her body, and how “bad” she allowed it to get. I handed her a tissue and told her two true things:
1) Every human body that arrives in my office is a successful human body. Period.
2) In my space, no one apologizes for their body. Ever.
She looked stunned for a moment, nodded a little, and scheduled her next appointment.
So, when my friend talked about how bad it would be to become a fat teenager, my overprotective amygdala went a little nuts. I perceived her view as a threat. It is a threat. It threatens the world I am trying to create in and push out from my massage office, where a person can feel safe existing in their body. On a more personal level, it threatens my own sense of worth, which may seem solid but is in fact a tray full of water on the deck of a ship — it could spill at any time.
The wonderful writer behind the blog Your Fat Friend does a much better job of talking about our cultural hullabaloo surrounding fatness and body image. You should go and read her blog. Here, I will just point out that I can think of things so much worse than being the fat teenager, and I am still struggling with a world that still wants us to live somewhere besides in our bodies. It is the struggle that clarifies my purpose.