Privilege and Receiving Bodywork
I don’t know about y’all, but when I was growing up, massage was always something rich white ladies did. Sometimes kids I knew would pool together their money in multi-sibling families and get their mom a spa appointment for Mother’s Day, but in general I thought of massage as being part of another world, one I wasn’t likely to ever have access to. I associated massage with fancy hotels, spas, and all-inclusive resorts, and never thought of it as healthcare.
Fast forward to today, I’ve been getting semi-regular massage for over a year now. Shout out to Aviva Pittle at Freed Bodyworks in DC, who is amazing. The whole business is super awesome, and much more inclusive-feeling than what I used to imagine. I only started even thinking of massage as a possibility when I saw the Freed business card with its emphasis on all bodies and being friendly to trans and other marginalized folks.
On the other hand, I’ve had to work through some guilt about doing this thing for myself—a thing that is pricey, and sometimes feels frivolous. Am I just one of those wealthy white ladies (ok, people) now? Is this a justified expense?
Here’s how I’ve decided that the answer to the latter question is “yes”:
- Bodywork certainly ain’t just for white folks. Like most everything in this society, we stole this one from indigenous cultures, too (cultures that practice some kind of healing bodywork include Cherokee, Shawnee, Zuni, Apache, Chinese, Thai, Egyptian, Indian, Tongan, Malaysian, Hawaiian, Maori, and indigenous Australian—not a comprehensive list). The problem isn’t so much that rich people are getting bodywork, it’s that everyone doesn’t have access to holistic healthcare options as a human right. It’s that bodyworkers and bodywork aren’t valued in white society, and so bodywork and other kinds of healthcare (herbalism, acupuncture, shamanism, etc.) aren’t covered by insurance. Plus it can be hard to find massage outside of wealthy white spaces like spas and resorts, even though that’s certainly not its origin. (Anyone else thinking this is kind of similar to how yoga’s mostly available in expensive fitness studios and taught by white folks in the U.S.?)
- It’s important to support businesses and practitioners that offer this kind of healing. I particularly like that in the case of Freed, I’m supporting a business where most practitioners offer a sliding scale and a diverse clientele are encouraged to take part in services and classes. There are free meditation circles and open houses, and I believe some classes are also sliding scale. The space is inviting and friendly to folks who are new to bodywork—a lot of thought obviously went into everything from the physical space to the design of the intake forms. Because I can afford the full price, I’m glad to pay it to support both the business and my massage therapist. Bodywork is essential, valuable healing work and those who practice it deserve a living wage. In contrast, though there are some great therapists who work in hotels and spas, I wouldn’t be as comfortable there given both the awful general labor practices of many of those spaces and the lack of focus on healing or inclusion.
- Massage isn’t just for women. I have some gender feels when I tell someone in public that I’m going to a massage appointment, because the reaction is usually “ooh, spa day?” or a teasing “aren’t you fancy, getting pampered?” and it comes off very gendered. This may be my own baggage, but I think it’s important that bodywork be accessible to people of all genders. Receiving care is an awesome thing for anyone to do, and I wish it were available for everyone. Also, specifically as a trans person, I find it to be somewhat transformative to spend an hour receiving touch from another human and gently telling myself that my body is valid and worth it.
- Care for my body helps me to focus on what I’m here to do. I find massage to be grounding and helpful in focusing my energies. It puts me back into my body, where I unfortunately have to live, and slows my mind down. It makes me feel ready for the movement I need to do later—movement in the sense of physically moving through the world, in the sense of movement work, in the simple sense of moving breath and energy through my body. It’s sometimes a meditative experience, but almost always a good reset. It helps me to avoid burnout, pace myself, and return to compassion / generosity / gratitude. I think the real reason receiving massage makes me feel guilty sometimes is that I am in fact privileged to be able to afford it — but that’s all the more reason to attend to my health and then do whatever I can to work towards economic and racial justice so that one day everyone can afford healthcare in whatever modality works best for them. I recognize that not everyone has access to care, and that’s unacceptable.