About Bodywork Therapy – and scars
Most of us adults have a diverse relationship with our scars. They are either sources of pride or, most likely, reasons for shame and guilt. While the stories behind their origin may sometimes be beautiful and gripping, most of us do not like having them. We prefer to hide them, not to bring them up in conversations, and to banish their presence from our consciousness.
Depending on their location, it often becomes hard for clients to keep them concealed in a bodyworker’s treatment room. Especially when a client is already trying to overcome some discomfort with being undressed, a sudden realization that his or her scars may attract the therapist’s attention will almost always prompt a reaction. The magnitude of the reaction is usually related to the size and location of the scar, as well as to the story behind it. There will often be some expression of shame or guilt. Silence may follow. Tears may come up. A hand may promptly and perhaps even intuitively reach for a something to cover things up again.
Of course, from a rational perspective, a simple fact remains. Hiding the scar will not make it disappear. One irrefutable aspect of scars is that they are permanent. They may change and perhaps even fade somewhat over time, but they will never vanish completely. What most of my scarred clients seem to struggle with is not that they are scarred but that they will remain so for life. Literally, of course, and oftentimes figuratively.
For clients who feel emotionally challenged by their scars, having to deal with them again in the presence of a bodywork therapist can sometimes be extraordinarily difficult.
There is a story behind every scar, and each is therefore a story about us. Those are the stories that made us what we are today. If we are ashamed about our scars, we are essentially ashamed about ourselves. In my treatment room, there is no need for that. Irrespective how ugly, horrible, or repulsive you may perceive your scar to be, you may not longer be able to hide it in my treatment room. It would be a shame if you tried.
What are scars anyway?
Scars develop from the normal biological healing process of wound repair and happens when your body builds skin and other tissues to close gaps that were caused by an injury, a skin condition, or surgery. Unless they are very minor, all wounds will eventually turn into scars.
Scars form when the deeper and thicker layer of skin (dermis) is damaged. Your body responds to this by forming new collagen fibers to fill and close the wound’s gap. Collagen is a protein that is naturally present in our body. This process becomes visible as discolourations that are most noticeable around the wound. On light skin, these discolourations may be pink or reddish. On darker skins they show as darker tints. Eventually, when the colour fades, scars become most noticeable by a texture that differs from the surrounding and undamaged skin. They may itch and may be – or become – painful or tender.
How a scar will look in size, shape, and texture is usually determined by the cause of the wound. Scars that form after surgey will look different from those caused by burns or severe acne. Their size is determined by that of the wound and the wound’s treatment. Age, genetics, ethnicity, and a person’s overall health also play a role.
Most scars are flat and pale. Those that are raised are called hypertropic or keloid scars and are usually the result of the body’s overproduction of collagen. One noticeable characteristic of keloid scars is that they can grow and extend beyond the injured location. When they become excessively large, keloid scars are known to limit a person’s movement and range of motion.
Scars that seem to have a sunken or pitted appearance are usually formed over areas where the skin’s support structures have weakened. Surgical scars usually have this appearance, especially where fat or muscle was removed.
Stretch marks are also considered scars. These scars are usually caused when the skin is forced to stretch much faster than normal, which might happen with growth spurts or pregnancies.
Scars are common
I still have to meet a client who isn’t scarred somehow, somewhere. Most of us will have sustained some form of injury when we were young. We may have fallen off our push bikes, been bitten by a pet, or cut ourselves with a knife or a pair of scissors. Even minor injuries cause lasting scars. We tend to forget about these ‘house hold’ scars because they are usually small, often nearby invisible. Oftentimes, their causes were not particularly traumatic and therefore memorable.
As we venture through life many of us must learn to sustain more severe injuries. We learn to drive motorized vehicles, which exposes us to road accidents. Some of us learn a trade that involves the handling of machinery. We learn to operate household devices that feature fast-moving parts, and put our hands to power tools that help us renovate our houses. As we become increasingly exposed to faster and bigger tools and equipment we become also more prone to injury.
Growing older also means that we become bigger candidates for surgery. We might become more dependent on dentists and medical specialists. Women may choose for or require surgical support to give birth. Other invasive interventions may be required to keep us healthy, happy, or even alive.
As we continue to add scars throughout out life, we actually turn our skin into something like a journal that tells our tales. Each scar comes with a story, and each serves as a reminder of our experiences. These stories do not need to be heroic for the scars to be significant. The true meaning of every scar lies with its owner. And it is up to each of us, as the owner of our scars, to either lament their presence or, alternatively, to somehow honor their causes.
Scars and the Image of Bad
For centuries we have been taught to associate perfection with beauty, and imperfection with ugliness. In commerce, things we believe to be beautiful are usually more expensive than the things that are not. Beauty is sexy, and sexy sells. Ugliness does not.
If we believed what we see in movies, then beauty is good, always comes dressed in white, and always wins at the end. Ugliness, on the other hand, is bad. It comes dressed in black, and must always lose. For villains to be a proper villains, they need to be scarred – preferably in their face but, really, anywhere will do.
Think of Ernst Stavro Blofeld in James Bond, Darth Vader and Kylo Ren in Star Wars, Tony Montana in Scarface, Freddy Krueger in The Nightmare on Elm Street, Kakihara in Ichi the Killer, The Joker in The Dark Knight, Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire, Miles Quaritch in Avatar, Dr. Poison in Wonder Woman, and Thanos in Avengers. All characters are villains, and all are made to look scarred.
Even children movies are not exempt from this. What is the antagonist’s name in The Lion King again? That’s right: Scar. He even features one around one eye.
No wonder we learn not just to dislike scars. We are taught to despise them. If we are taught that scars cannot be beautiful, and that scars are inherently associated with badness, evil, and criminality, how does that make us feel about our own scarred body?
Scars and bodywork
There is something inherently special, something mysteriously wonderful about the scarred men and women who visit me for bodywork. Not all find it easy to talk about their scars, especially when the are relatively large and prominent. But they come anyway, and they find the courage to tell their stories. The irony is that the most scarred among us need bodywork most – but are least likely to seek it.
Social media does not help here. Look for the pages and channels that are published by bodyworkers and you will very quickly notice that they almost always treat ‘beautiful’ people. Clients are typically young, apparently fit, and invariably whole-bodied. Of the hundreds of bodywork videos I watched so far, none featured a scar larger than a finger width.
In real life, bodywork therapists do not choose only unblemished models to work on. In real life, bodywork therapists work with a real clients. But that is not what we are shown.
Scar work: Bodywork’s Pinnacle
To me, it is the emotional and physical diversity of my clients that makes bodywork so intriguing, wonderful, and rewarding.
Bodywork is about learning what it’s like to be a human being. It helps me understand who I am, what I am, and what my own scars actually mean. In as much as those of my clients give them depth, a dimension that comes from true lived experience, and a signatured physique, I hope others will see mine as such too.
In my treatment room, no scar should ever be hidden. Every scar, no matter their placement, size, shape, or origin deserves to be seen. Moreover, scars often need additional or specialised bodywork treatment to ensure that other work remains meaningful and effective. That specialised work is often referred to as scar work, and entire sessions can be designed around just that. I find scar work amazing, rewarding, and humbling. No other type of bodywork can help me forge closer and deeper bonds with my clients.
While we don’t necessarily need to celebrate our scars we can, at least, re-learn to honor them. To do so we need to change our conversations about scars. I believe it is time we start valuing scars as highly personal Marks of Distinction. Although it may be easier said than done, no one should be ashamed of those.