I’m irritated. No sugar-coating, no spin, no kid gloves. Every time I turn around and see how massage is represented, specifically in media through images, I’m upset. Even in trade magazines, the imaging of massage is unrealistic. Images depicting massage therapists in awkward poses with god-awful body mechanics in over-idealized settings like the middle of the woods look like photos of interpretive dance. Not that there’s anything wrong with interpretive dance, but it’s not synonymous with good body mechanics.
I’m not naive. I know that marketing materials are intended to evoke an emotion through idyllic imaging, but what I’m seeing is less massage and more of a Dhali-esque juxtaposition of settings and activities. I might kick up a little bit of a storm, but I’m going to get specific. I was reading an article in in Massage Today, A Successful Man Working in a Woman’s World, that was accompanied by a photo which is clearly staged, but it’s so far from realistic that it may as well have had centaurs and magicians dancing around in the background.
It looks to me like someone carried a massage table out on the trail in the local state park and set up what they thought a massage should look like. Except that their idea of a massage starts with the rose-petal covered honeymoon suite, which would wind up in a less than professional situation. To make matters worse, the article is about succeeding as a male therapist, in which the author suggests keeping his client conversations really clinical and professional.
Aside from potentially appearing like the prelude to intimacy, that photo looks nothing like any massage I will ever do. There will never be scattered rose petals, I will never look like I’m about to do “the itsy-bitsy spider” up my client’s spine, I don’t hunch over my clients like some sort of nurturing Quasimoto, and most of the time my clients aren’t lying on the table with a blissful smile on their face. We get work done in my massage sessions, and that means that I minimize the “fluff” in my set up and in my work. It’s just not my style. My point is that it’s not a fair representation of what clients should expect. But that’s how we are consistently portraying massage therapy, as we are also making a push to have our work accepted by western doctors, with the hopes of having massage therapy integrated into their treatment plans.
Look at the photo again. Seriously, it’s like a cartoon! No wonder people (therapists, health professionals, managers and clients) manage to get the wrong idea about what a massage might be. Frankly, the therapist’s body language in that picture looks creepy to me, and portraying massage like that is not helping anyone.
Beyond the issues of how that portrays the work, itself, or the possible intentions of a therapist, there’s the issue of body mechanics. As a massage educator, I am constantly working to drive home the concepts of quality mechanics and how important they are for effective work and career longevity. If any of my students took one look at that photo and believed that’s how they should look when they practiced they would have all kinds of problems in their neck, shoulders, low back, triceps, fingers, hands, and wrists.
Take a look around at massage portrayed in media, and ask yourself if that looks like any massage you’ve ever experienced, as a client or as a therapist. If you are marketing your own business, I encourage you to find imaging that will represent the work you do, or the results you aim to achieve with your clients, rather than portraying a fallacy. If you want to portray someone who is relaxed – good for you – just make sure they are portrayed in a realistic environment receiving that healing, relaxing work.