What Body Shame Took From Me

I always loved the idea of a massage. It seemed like the ultimate downtime: 50 minutes all to myself, with someone else working out the invisible tension weighing me down. It would be a calm, serene oasis, a reward for doing this whole adulting thing right. And a perfect escape from all the chaos that came with my day-to-day. It also would be nice to have someone taking care of me for once, seeing as that’s my job 150% of the time. The only problem? The thing that stopped me for a long, long time? I felt like all the massage therapist would think the entire time was that I was too big — too fat — to be getting a massage.

Even typing that out makes me physically cringe. I know how ridiculous it sounds. But truthfully, it’s how I felt.

It was far from the only thing I avoided because I was insecure about my body. Yoga, rock climbing, even doctor’s appointments — I always told myself that I’d finally do these things once I lost a little weight. Even something as simple as a massage paralyzed me with fear. Fear of being judged, fear of being ridiculed. I felt an unwavering certainty that this body, my body, wasn’t worthy of participating because of my size.

Before we go further, let me put things in perspective. Since I was a young teen, my body shape has always fallen somewhere between mid-size and plus-size. Existing as anything other than a single-digit size at the same time Kate Moss said “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” was hard. And when I say hard, I mean incredibly painful, physically and emotionally. Living with disordered eating habits when you aren’t super slim is a particular kind of struggle. Every pound you lose is celebrated, no matter how you lost it.

Trendy clothes were designed with straight-size bodies in mind, and oh, the looks you would get if you dared to try and pull it off regardless. You hardly saw a model bigger than a size 4, and you never saw them in all their natural, non-airbrushed glory. The message was clear, even if it wasn’t always explicit: being thin was what mattered. Even when body positivity started gaining traction in the early 2010s, it felt equally complex. As someone who has never had a positive or even neutral thing to say about my body, it’s been difficult. Body positivity never felt authentic.

After having my daughters, I decided I didn’t want them to inherit the same struggle. Just thinking about them ever talking to themselves the way I did brings me to tears. I want them to accept and appreciate their bodies for all they can do, instead of what they look like. All the same, body acceptance has been a long road for me.

About six years ago, I finally got to the point where I felt brave enough to get that massage I’d wanted for so long. I stripped down, laid on the table, and wasted the entire experience with irrational concerns rocketing through my mind instead of relaxing. What was Wanda (my massage therapist) thinking as she worked out my kinks? Was she silently saying all the awful, horrible things I was thinking to herself?

Looking back now, it’s clear that my back rolls and BMI never crossed her mind. It was just business as usual for her. Presumably, she sees a whole range of bodies over the course of every week. Thankfully, after a few more visits, getting a massage became what I’d always hoped for: a chance to rest, relax, and appreciate my body for all it does. I turned into a massage regular.

Recently, after six years, Wanda told me she’s retiring. Truthfully, I’m absolutely devastated. Is it because she gives incredible massages? Yes, but more importantly, I worry about taking a step backward.

I don’t want to get stuck in the cycle of hating my body again. Getting regular massages has been a huge step forward for me when it comes to body acceptance. It’s helped me feel comfortable in the skin I’m in. I mean, if I can get nearly naked for a massage, then I can totally wear a two-piece swimsuit. It feels really vulnerable to put my body and my tender feelings in somebody else’s hands — literally. But even though finding a new masseuse I feel comfortable with will be an uphill battle, I think I’m up for the challenge.

Holly Garcia writes about parenting, mental health, and all the lifestyle things. She hails from the Midwest, where she’s raising her daughters and drinking copious amounts of coffee.

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