Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Massage and Body Image

In Cancer Nursing: Care in Context by Jessica Corner and Christopher Bailey, it says “Body image is subjective, an inner representation, and may bear no relationship to how a person’s body appears to others. One might, for example, imagine one’s body at different times as fat, thin, ugly, pretty, when in reality one’s external physical appearance has not changed.”

In Body Image: A Handbook of Theory, Research and Clinical Practice, massage is named as being helpful in positively affecting body image “by helping the client reconnect to the body in a very concrete manner.” Massage gives you the chance to reflect on your thoughts and emotions. It allows you to become aware of your body giving you the chance to listen to what it has to say. It also allows your body time and space to be nurtured and pampered – just as it deserves.

Just by agreeing to a massage indicates that you are accepting yourself and, in turn, changing your own body image, says Mario-Paul Cassar and Clare Maxwell, authors of Handbook of Clinical Massage: A Complete Guide for Students and Practitioners. They say that massage helps you to build up a new body image and, in doing so, restarts the process of loving yourself.

Massage is just one way of altering your body image but there are hundreds of ways that can help to improve how you feel about yourself and your body. Take time to do nice things for your body such as taking a relaxing bath, putting on a face mask, having a massage, a manicure or a pedicure, or treating yourself to a new moisturiser or perfume.

Being truly happy about yourself is about changing your head, not your body, says Marcia Germain Hutchinson, author of Transforming Body Image: Learning to Love the Body You Have. She suggests that if body image is a product of the imagination, then it can also be changed using the imagination. By incorporating activities such as meditation, visualisation, going for a walk in nature, and positive affirmations in to your life, your body image will become more positive.

In 2007, a researcher from Korea studied the effects of Aromatherapy massage on abdominal fat and body image in post-menopausal women. Participants received six weekly full body massages and massaged their own abdomens twice a day for five days a week for the duration of the study. The results of the study were very positive showing a reduction in fat and waist circumference in the experimental group compared to the control group (they also received massage but without any essential oils). The study also showed that body image was also significantly better after receiving the aromatherapy massage compared to those receiving normal massage although their body image was also improved.

If regular massage and aromatherapy helped reinforce a more positive body image for these women, then I would suggest it can help improve everyone’s body image – male or female, young or old.

Research on the effect of massage on body image has also been carried out on people with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, people with Multiple Sclerosis, and on women who have had a mastectomy all showing positive results.

Effect of aromatherapy massage on abdominal fat and body image in post-menopausal women. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2007 Jun;37(4):603-12

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