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Client Shaming – not a good marketing technique

I started this post last week. August 29th, to be exact. Sparked by the same Facebook post that inspired Allissa Haines to write about not making fun of your clients in a public forum. Then, a couple of days ago, Dale Favier wrote one of the most beautiful explanations of how most massage therapists view their clients’ bodies. These two posts, written by 2 of my favorite bloggers, are a part of what I want to talk about today. And because of these 2 posts, I’ve made a few edits.

Do you really understand how self conscious most people are about their bodies?

I don’t think you really do. Everyone has their own set of physical flaws and most of us exaggerate the scale of those flaws in our own heads. Even the most beautiful people on the planet get plastic surgery and request airbrushing to cover up the little imperfections. The magazines at the supermarket checkout feature celebrities with cellulite (gasp), or paunches (no way), or, brace yourselves, without makeup.

And these are the beautiful people.

Most of us, however, aren’t blessed with perfect facial symmetry, flawless skin, six pack abs, or a full head of hair. And we, everyone one of us, is aware of just how imperfect we are. Our comfort level with that lack of perfection is probably all that really varies from person to person.

Our clients are just as concerned with their imperfections as we are. The big difference is, they are undressed during the massage. We are fully clothed.

How many people do you think won’t get a massage because of body issues?

I’ve taught enough massage students and massage therapists to know the prevailing attitude amongst practitioners: clients should just get over it, no one cares. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you, you’re wrong. Want a really good idea of what the public thinks? Read the comments on Dale’s blog. These are real people. Their comments included:

“Always wondering what they [massage therapists] are thinking.”

“I have never had a massage. Always worried about the “undressing” part. I am very self conscious.”

“I don’t go for massages for the reason you mentioned above. I don’t ever think I’m good enough. Your words have made me think twice about that now. Is it possible that most massage therapists view the human body as you do?”

“I’ve never had a professional massage because I was afraid of what the therapist would think of my body.”

That’s 4 people that publicly stated they wondered what massage therapists would think of their imperfect bodies.

Which brings us to Allissa’s post. “It bothers me that a few hundred massage therapists think it’s okay to publicly joke about client requests.”

The example Allissa used was pretty common and actually pretty benign. More often, I see massage therapists post stuff like:

“I had a client today whose feet really stink …”

“I had a client today who’s really hairy ….”

I could go on, but you get the drift. Yes, I know, you’re not posting this for your clients to read but, guess what, these posts aren’t as private as you think they are. I’m going to give you an example of social media done wrong.

I was at a non-massage related conference (just so you know that this isn’t about any of you). A friend of mine came up to me during a break looking rather shocked and upset. It seems that she had introduced herself to someone she follows on twitter. They chatted for a couple of minutes and then my friend went on her way. As she was reading her twitter stream, she saw that this person posted on twitter about having just met someone and how she was now ‘infected’ by this person’s unpleasantness. (The actual tweet was pretty offensive, so I’m not going to go into it).

My friend ‘knew’ that this tweet was about her. She was embarrassed. Disappointed. Humiliated. Angry. She was the unacceptable little troll that had had the audacity to introduce herself to some D-list blogger and ruin this blogger’s coolness.

I had to point out that the blogger’s tweet went out about 2 hours after the meeting, so it was highly unlikely to have been about my friend. But that’s not the point. Without knowing it, this blogger had probably hurt several people she met that day with that one little tweet. A lot of people who follow her on twitter and went out of their way to very briefly and politely introduce themselves. A lot of people who were now worried that tweet was about them. A lot of people who may have been potential customers.


When we post the jokes and the comments about our clients, you can believe they are paying attention. We all slip up and do stupid stuff online; even me. But I see a lot of therapists throwing stuff out there online without really thinking about how it looks from the client’s point of view. If you had a massage today and then see that your therapist is talking about a client with stinky feet, even if your feet smell like roses, you might still wonder if it was about you.

If you were a little shy about getting a massage because you were self conscious about your body and an MT was posting about a client’s body, wouldn’t you be less likely to schedule a massage?

Can we use just a little bit of common sense when using social media?

To give you an idea of how big an issue this is, Dale’s post had over 20,000 views. I know Dale; he doesn’t have 20,000 regular readers on his practice’s blog. So, he obviously struck a nerve with the general public.

Those 20,000 people who viewed the site are potential clients. Many of them probably want some assurance that they don’t have to look like an airbrushed model to get a massage. And honestly, I’ve only ever met a teeny, tiny handful of MTs who cared about a client’s appearance and none of them are in business anymore. Every single one of you finds the human body as fascinating and beautiful as Dale does. In its infinite variety; tall, short, lean, muscled, young, old, and everything in between.

So here’s your marketing tip: watch what you say online. There are 20,000 people out there that would really love to get a massage if only they believed that you aren’t going to judge them.

Oh, and there’s one marriage proposal, but he’s already married and Oregon doesn’t allow multiple wives.


You'll find this filed under: Ethics

5 Responses to Client Shaming – not a good marketing technique

  1. Really appreciate this post, Kelly. Also want to add another area for consideration. As someone with an extensive reproductive history (surgeries, infertility & miscarriages), filling out a medical history form can be triggery. It requires a certain amount of internal preparation to see the raised eyebrows when they read about my history, to be willing to answer questions about my medical history, to listen to the occasional speculation about why it happened and to be willing to educate when I seek out bodywork. As therapists, I think we need to be mindful that not only are we dealing with body shame that can be seen but body shame that may not be able to be seen. It’s so easy to speculate about why things happen – I’ve heard some interesting ones to say the least. It’s understandable, we all want to make sense of it. But there are rarely clear cut, simple answers as much as we may think there are. Tread lightly, my fellow therapists.

  2. I think we all have to be mindful of our words. Even bloggers have used foul language, accused people/organizations etc., without ‘all’ the facts, which I don’t think is any better.

    Let’s look in our own mirror first!
    Let’s all be kinder!

    Who is judging who?
    Sometimes I feel some of the posts I see, blogs I read, comments on group
    pages are just another way for people to promote themselves by speaking about someone else.


    • Thanks for commenting, Gloria.

      As someone who uses foul language online, on very rare occasions, I do try to be mindful of what I’m writing and who might be reading it. And, no, I may not know all the facts of a situation, but I have seen a few massage therapists write something so egregious and so specific that, if I had been their client that day, I would be utterly humiliated and would likely never return. It wouldn’t matter if it had been about me. We sometimes feel that Facebook is private and no one can see what we’re posting, but all it takes is for someone to take a screencap and email it to their friends or post it online and all that privacy is out the window. I’m hoping that we all keep that in mind as we post on social media.

  3. I’ve admitted to friends that, if I had researched massage therapists before enrolling in school, I’d probably never want anything to do with them.

    Bright-eyed and busy-tailed, I joined the most popular massage website at the beginning of my studies, and quickly learned that massage therapists are among the most damaged people the world has to offer. At least, that’s what this website showed me. If you were to post a question on ethics, the users would rip you a new one for even THINKING X or Y might be okay. If you want to try something unconventional to boost your marketing and want feedback, they’ll tear you down for being so naive (even if it might have worked). Or, a newcomer could post a benign question or greeting, then watch as the users try to one-up each other on who knows best: “Oh, wow, you’ve been in this industry 5 WHOLE YEARS???”

    And, yes, these people “anonymously” discussed their clients bodies all the time. Even if they’re not posting names or pictures of clients, who wants to risk being one of those repulsive clients? And even if they’re not talking about clients at all, who wants to risk being trapped in a room for an hour with such an angry person?

    • Jessica – I think I know which website you’re talking about. It was the same one I used to read when I was in school, back before there were a lot of us on Facebook. Things got ugly there very quickly and some of the advice given was so wrong it was laughable. The school I went to was a nice antidote to that. Unfortunately, I have found that there are some very angry people in the industry. The more of them I meet, the smaller the percentage, though. I think the very cool ones tend to avoid the big public venues. Perhaps they’ve been burned once before and choose to avoid the crowd so they don’t get burned again. Now I sound like that Who song, but you get the point.

"Dream large, laddie!" - Local Hero, 1983