Last week, I went for a massage. I’d booked it in advance, at a spa I frequent often and with a male massage therapist I’ve seen many times over the years.
I mention that he’s male, because last year, a friend of mine had a disturbing experience with a male massage therapist. Since then, I’ve made it a point to request women. This is in no way meant to disparage all male therapists, the great majority of whom are consummate professionals, but her terrible experience made me feel uncomfortable about being alone (and let’s face it, naked) with a man.
I sucked up my discomfort for this particular massage, partially because this therapist wasn’t new to me, and also because I’d bumped into him shortly after my hip operation, when I was still on crutches, and he told me to come see him when I was a little further on in my recovery – at which point he’d help alleviate some of the pain and muscle soreness that often follows surgery.
So I had the massage. It was great. He worked out the kinks and I felt both relaxed and energized. I even took him up on his suggestion and booked another appointment for the following week. I paid, left a generous tip, and was about to leave when he asked my permission to say something.
“Of course,” I replied, sure he was going to tell me to drink lots of water when I got home.
But instead, I got this:
“You’ve put on weight since I last saw you.”
I got defensive. “No. I haven’t!”
“Yes, you did,” he insisted.
I stood there, completely at a loss for words. He continued by telling me that he was used to me being “very fit” and in “top shape” and that I wasn’t now.
I turned around, left and got into my car, where I promptly started to cry.
There’s no question that he pushed some sensitive buttons. Maintaining a healthy body image is a work in progress for me. It’s been especially difficult in the last few months, when my activity has been limited and I’ve been much more sedentary than I’m used to.
But also, I felt violated. Why was he looking at my body that way?
How could he possibly remember what I looked like 6 or 7 months before, the last time I’d gone to see him? Had he spent the hour of my massage evaluating and criticizing my body?
And who was HE to comment on my body? My weight? My fitness level? What possible reason could there have been to leave me with that as a parting comment?
It was, as I think it would be for most women, a punch in the gut. I ruminated about it for a week. I told the story a dozen times. I thought about calling the spa but I held back because, truth be told, (and as crazy as this sounds)I was afraid he’d get into trouble.
But finally, I decided that I needed to put the whole episode to rest, and I wouldn’t feel settled unless I spoke to the spa manager and told my story. So I called, told her what had happened and she was horrified and promised to speak to him and make it clear that his comments were unacceptable.
I’ve been told I’ve made too big a deal of this experience. That I should have let it go and put it out of my head.
But at the end of the day, I wanted to eliminate the possibility that he could say this to another unsuspecting client.
Because man or woman, it’s NEVER ok to offer unsolicited advice to someone about their weight – unless you’re a doctor concerned about your patient’s health.
Also, if I could go back in time, instead of cowering at the spa reception desk, I’d tell that massage therapist how hurtful and inappropriate his comments were. But since I can’t, learn from my experience.
Faced with an unkind or inappropriate remark, stand up for yourself. I believe that women avoid speaking their minds because we’ve been conditioned to be soft. We’re afraid of being perceived as bitches or aggressive or abrasive. We want to be liked.
But there’s NOTHING wrong with asserting yourself, standing your ground and reclaiming your power when someone has taken it from you!
Wise Women Canada, by Liz Wiener and Lisa Brookman, is a lifestyle blog that aspires to bring the community together by sharing the stories that make us human.