Health At Every Size ( HAES® ) is highly relevant to massage therapy and the work of its practitioners. And I hope it will be more explicitly discussed in the future.
Let’s start with some basic information about Health At Every Size® (HAES®).
HAES® came about as a way to shift the negative influences of weight stigma on healthcare, and outcomes for folks in larger bodies.
The Health At Every Size® Principles are:
- Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
- Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
- Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
- Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
- Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.
Source: Size Diversity And Health
Why is HAES® Relevant to Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy bridges the worlds of wellness and healthcare. And as such, we employ principles that govern healthcare, as well as offer massage therapy. These principles include:
- Do a professional intake before the massage to assess and plan session
- Do no harm by awareness of cautions and contraindications
- Use informed consent
- Refer when needs are outside your scope of practice
- Employ profesional boundaries
- Be aware of power differential and transference
In my professional experience, if we are truly to do no harm, these professional principles should also include a Health At Every Size® approach to bodywork and massage.
When you live in a larger body, going for massage therapy can trigger a lot of negative emotions, particularly those associated with being around health professionals.
Certain aspects of getting massage will bring up these negative associations. This is because getting a massage often includes:
- having your body assessed and discussed
- disrobing to a certain extent before getting on the massage table
- trying to get comfortable on a narrow table
- being asked to turn over or move around on the table
- topics of health and lifestyle
- talking about your exercise routine or daily movement
- discussing past surgeries or injuries
When you go for a massage with a non-HAES® practitioner, you are often the unwilling recipient of:
- conscious or unconscious assumptions about you, your intelligence and your life as a whole
- potential judgement on a range of topics
- unwanted advice
- overt weight stigma and fat shaming
In conclusion, all of these experiences can add up to emotional distress that stops you from getting massage at all when you are in a larger body (let alone routine or much needed general healthcare).
And massage is such a gift and important tool for ALL bodies!
It’s my privilege to work to make a small difference in my corner of the massage world. In order words, this is why I work from a HAES® perspective.
For more on what a body positive massage with me and all body positive massage therapists should be like, read about your body positive massage therapy session here.
For more on finding practitioners or all kinds that work with HAES®, visit the HAES Community website.