Sometimes having an ethics wake-up call can jolt you to a higher level of consciousness that no coffee or energy drink could give anyone. This morning, Jason Erickson, current president of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) of the Minnesota chapter, “schooled” fellow colleagues on a massage Facebook page who had made inappropriate public comments about clients’ bodies.

In response to the public display of unprofessionalism and childishness, Erickson stated:

Recent comments on this page have included unprofessional statements about clients that run counter to our professional ethics. For me, the most infuriating were comments about clients’ bodies.

Worse, some people defended those posts with statements that effectively blamed the victims of their comments.

It took me a while to calm down before writing this post, and I’m still a bit hot. Before anyone tells me to stop worrying because it was all in fun, I need to express a few things.

I’m fat.
I’m aging.
I have a lot of body hair.
I am balding.
Sometimes I have body odor.
Sometimes my feet are sweaty.
Sometimes I have gas.

These are all things that have been called “gross,” “yucky,” “icky,” “disgusting,” “ewww,” and other pejorative terms. Additional insulting comments about such physical characteristics have included suggestions of charging higher rates, refusing their business, and in other ways treating people with certain characteristics like there is something wrong with them.

I have all of those things. How do you think I feel about those comments? Here’s a clue: They don’t make me feel good.

When I see/hear colleagues making such comments, I see/hear a person who I will never refer to. Unless I’m paired with them in a class, they will never touch my body. If they run for an elected position, they won’t receive my vote.

As the owner of a large massage practice, I occasionally receive e-mails from people that have one or more of the characteristics noted above. They want to try massage, but suffer from extreme body shame, usually from years of hearing negative comments. They ask questions that only a people with deep shame would ask, and my heart breaks for them because their longing to be accepted as humans in a safe space is nearly palpable.

Many of them check out many massage businesses online, looking for one that feels like it might be safe for them. Some will look for those businesses/therapists on Facebook and other social media to see their blogs, articles, and whatever else will help them gauge the personality of the business before deciding whether to make contact. These people are already deeply wounded, and will avoid any massage therapist/business that seems likely to wound them further.

Our clients are beautiful. They come in an amazing variety, each one a fascinating being with a whole life story that we may briefly participate in.

It’s hard for me to see colleagues make public comments that may prevent some people in need from giving massage a chance. It infuriates me that some of us would also blame them for being harmed by our words. We claim to be professionals; that makes us ethically and professionally responsible for our words – ALL OF THEM. We don’t get to pick and choose.

The nature of our work is intimate and predicated on trust. If they can not trust us, regardless of the reason, we’ve lost them.

This page is a public place. EVERYONE can see what is posted here, and at least 30% of our page members are clients who simply enjoy massage and learning a bit about it. Your posts here show up elsewhere, too. There are NO secrets on this page. Whatever you post here, be willing to accept the consequences.

Further, some of the people on this page are massage students, or people thinking of becoming massage therapists. What kind of role model do you wish to be? Is your example going to influence them to become better professionals?

The goal of this page was to provide a place for massage therapists and others interested in massage to discuss it, to develop critical thinking and professional communication skills, to learn about relevant science and discard outdated myths and ways of thinking, and to promote ethical, professional best practices. Juvenile, body shaming posts go against every one of those desired outcomes.

Many medical/fitness professionals are also on this page. How do your posts reflect on the field of massage therapy as a form of health care? Do they represent an ethical, professional, knowledgeable practice?

We can do better.
We MUST do better.

Our clients, and everyone else, deserve to be treated with care, respect, and sympathy. It’s not always easy, but it is our responsibility.

If you can’t/won’t accept that responsibility, please consider finding other pages to express yourself on… preferably pages whose contents can not be seen by outsiders.

In closing, I thank you for reading this long post, and I ask that you go one step further and read this beautiful essay by Dale Favier.

If the body-shaming comments were on a nursing or physical therapy forum with the commentators’ name and workplace publicly shown, we most likely would not want to be touched or cared by those people. Unprofessional behavior on social media reflects not only on those individuals but also the entire profession as well.

As Erickson had pointed out, clients, potential clients, massage students, and potential massage students are in such forums. They may often silently watch and may not likely respond or comment. How we appear in their eyes is up us.

Please think before you post.

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A native of San Diego for nearly 40 years, Nick Ng is an editor of Massage & Fitness Magazine, an online publication for manual therapists and the public who want to explore the science behind touch, pain, and exercise, and how to apply that in their hands-on practice or daily lives.

An alumni from San Diego State University with a B.A. in Graphic Communications, Nick also completed his massage therapy training at International Professional School of Bodywork in San Diego in 2014.

When he is not writing or reading, you would likely find him weightlifting at the gym, salsa dancing, or exploring new areas to walk and eat around Southern California.