Seeing the body with generous hands
I recently began practice as a Licensed Massage Therapist, and I’ve had the privilege of attending to a wide variety of clients. I treat 3-4 clients per day, and I have been fascinated by the superficial diversity of bodies that have climbed onto my table. Differences in sex, age, skin color, skin texture, and tissue quality and quantity. And what I’ve noticed is that my hands move with curiosity and care with each person. There are many differences in the way people’s bodies feel to the touch. A 20-year-old’s skin has a different quality compared with an 80-year-old, and yet, I was delighted to find my hands don’t seem to have judgments about people’s bodies. They don’t say, “this person’s body should feel different than it does.” Instead they will just notice. Moles and freckles, birthmarks, acne, scars, tattoos, skin tags, scrapes, hair, lack of hair. I don’t comment about these things, unless I have a therapeutic question. My hands have taught my eyes to notice and not judge.
Then recently, I was trying out an hour-long, guided self-pleasure practice with written instructions. It invited me to undress in front of a mirror and then to look at my body with the eyes of a lover, starting with the parts that are easiest to gaze at with appreciation. I looked at my nude body. I rubbed my hands over my shoulders. They are strong and pronounced. I enjoy the way they look. I looked at my breasts that nursed for 2.5 years. I looked at my round belly with its stretch marks. I looked at my thighs, muscular yet dotted with cellulite. What a quandry. How do I show genuine affection to this body that has accompanied me faithfully through 45 challenging years of life. I watched in the mirror as my hands made their way down to my thighs. My thighs enjoyed the feel of being stroked. My hands noticed the texture of dips and dimples. When I felt my body while looking in the mirror, something amazing happened. My gaze softened.
The next instructions were to lie down and spend time caressing parts of the body. I got out some powder I had bought but never used. I laid down and sprinkled the powder on my belly and let my hands glide over the curves. That’s what my hands felt. Curves. My hands moved back and forth, around the contours of my plump stomach. It felt nice. And I noticed, my hands don’t have judgments about my belly. I watched more closely then as my hands moved up onto my breasts. Soft. That’s what my hands saw. And because my hands were experiencing pleasure, and my skin was experiencing tender, appreciative touch, my eyes were able to look at my stomach and breasts and thighs with a new kind of acceptance. This is my body. It feels good to touch it. It’s not a body you would find in a magazine advertisement. And still my hands’ experience is that my body has its own sensuous beauty. As I continued to move my hands around my body, my hips began rocking back and forth. As I relaxed into the pleasure of self-touch, gentle moans and sighs rose from my throat. I continued following the prompts to an enjoyable conclusion. During massage, my hands have learned to attend to others with patience, gentleness and generosity, and now they are teaching me how to engage myself in this way. They are giving me an honest way to enjoy my body. A way that doesn’t try to convince my mind it is wrong, but rather offers an additional perspective to a visual-cues-only approach. One that gives me a felt sense of what’s right with me. If my eyes see the ways my body is different from a model, my hands show me the ways my body is a sensuous delight, and my body responds with a purr of gratitude for being seen and engaged as worthy of love and affection.