Becoming Visible: photos of non-airbrushed massage

Confession: I don’t like photos of myself.

I love photography as a medium, but I feel… uncomfortable… when I see myself on a screen or in a flat image. My face looks strange to me, and I struggle to recognize myself in photos. I’ve strenuously avoided taking professional headshots for previous careers. While I’m friends with very gifted photographers, I’ve always felt trepidation about volunteering my own image for most projects.

I’m trying to get over it.

In part, because of this issue of visibility. At Freed Bodyworks, we work to counter the standard image of massage — both in who clients are, and who practitioners are. We have non-normative bodies, and we work on non-conforming people. Many of my clients are larger than I (and I’m no tiny thing), and many are stronger. We want our space to showcase that our tables are welcoming of people of all shapes and sizes. While many studios and spas are permissive and allow all people to receive care, there’s not a specific invitation. And that, in my eyes, is a rejection.

So when were looking for “massage images” for building our website, we came out empty-handed and frustrated. Nothing looked like us, or heck, looked real.

Go ahead. Google massage. Here’s my image search results:

Massage Image Search

Massage Image Search

I’m seeing:

– slender white women

– detached hands

– flowers.

That’s not me. Those aren’t most of my clients.

I’m not seeing POCs, I’m not seeing larger bodied people, I’m not seeing men, I’m not seeing queer people. I’m not seeing tattoos, chest hair, veins, bruises, birthmarks, freckles, and wrinkles.

Honestly, I’m not seeing all the things that read as ‘human’ to me.

I’m not seeing pregnancy, or the markers of age, or people in transition. I’m not seeing Capitol Hill and Washington DC and the larger DMV.

 I’m seeing the absence of myself, and all of the work I do, and most of the clients I see. I’m seeing us airbrushed away.

That’s not cool.

So, courtesy of Devon Rowland, awesome photographer who you should check out, we did a photoshoot, Frances and their client; myself and my client that day, the excellent Ignacio Rivera, filmmaker, activist, performer, and artist. I’m happy to let you see where (and how) I work.

Here’s some of the shots (the rest are here):

This is our lobby, designed by Jessica, interior design wizard / business manager / saver of my sanity.

Welcome to Freed

Welcome to Freed

And this is how I see my clients.

My viewpoint

My viewpoint

Fun fact: it was really hard to “look natural” during this shoot because my face makes weird shapes when I’m massaging people. I have a “why is that knot there?” face and a “your shoulder is so flexible” face that are very… authentic, but not very photogenic.

It was differently challenging here to avoid goofy-massage-face. Ignacio is one of my heroes, so I was overwhelmed with joy to work with them as a model.

Aries and Ignacio

Aries and Ignacio

I’m gonna lean into it!

Hands being handy

Hands being handy

You’ll note that I don’t have fingernails.

Actual hands actually massaging!

Actual hands actually massaging!

I really like this shot, because I’m super into doing lat work, and my hand is sneakily doing that.

Actual people actually massaging!

Actual people actually massaging!

Frances, in mid-stretch!

Frances!

Frances!

Another moment of neck work.

Neck work with Ignacio

Neck work with Ignacio

This is my space. I’m happy to show it to you, and I hope you feel welcomed here.

My space

My space

Many, many, many thanks to Devon Rowland and Ignacio Rivera for their time and energy. I was so happy to see my space through your eyes, and filled with your energy and laughter.

To see more photos from this shoot, please check out Devon’s gallery here.

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One thought on “Becoming Visible: photos of non-airbrushed massage

  1. This is amazing. I hope there are more and more and more of these! I love the (seemingly glacial but still present) trend of presenting real human bodies as alternatives to the mainstream narrative of what a body is, and I love both the therapeutic and inclusive emphasis of your photos. I was scared before my first massage because I didn’t know what to expect. I was smart enough to know that it WASN’T going to look like stock photos, but that meant I had zero idea what it would actually be like. I think if there were more photos of real people doing real massage therapy on real bodies, a lot of misunderstandings and trepidation would be helped. Which you clearly don’t need me to tell you, because you are all over it! I love seeing your posts about what you do, thank you for sharing your gifts with us!

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