From The Archives: Massage Treatment Review

From the dusty archives of the AMT journal, In Good Hands, I found this peach from December 2002. Thank goodness it’s not an actual peach because, ewwww! It seems that R.Barnett has always had a penchant for a good rant and this is a fine example. Rebecca reviewed a massage treatment for In Good Hands that remains relevant 16 years later. How has massage therapy changed in 16 years and how has it not changed? Read on …

Another Modality Bites The Dust? By Rebecca Barnett

I have a theory. Well actually, I have many theories but not all of them could be classified as products of a sound mind. However, I certainly have at least one theory that has stood the test of many massage treatments. It goes something like this: the quality of any given massage is inversely proportional to the amount of oil applied in the first few minutes of the treatment.

As far as I am concerned, you can gauge how good a massage therapist is likely to be long before they lay their hands on your body. One of the key indicators is to count how many squirts of the oil bottle go by before the therapist is satisfied they have enough crude to lubricate the square-acreage of your integument. Which brings me to the crux of this review …

In the beginning, there was no history

We will call the therapist in question L. (wow, I imagine this is how Albert Camus felt when he was writing The Plague!). L. practises a form of treatment known as body contouring.1 Apparently, one of the central precepts of this discipline is the belief that the body is absolutely perfect as it is. This may explain why L. did not feel compelled to take any sort of history – after all, what a piece of work my body must be: a paragon of perfection, in form and moving, how express and admirable; in flexion and extension, how like an angel; in hypertonicity, how like a god. This belief may also explain some of the focus and time that went into effleuraging my philosophically faultless buttocks but now I am just getting ahead of myself.

L. was visiting from interstate, doing a few weeks of treatments while he was in Sydney (he still has clients over here apparently). A friend of mine asked if I would be willing to lend him my portable massage table for the duration of his visit. I happily agreed to do so, thinking I would be doing a fellow therapist a good turn. L. offered me a free treatment as a way of saying thank you for the loan.

No Privacy Policy?

The problems started before the treatment had even begun. L. instructed me to “Strip to undies and lie face down” and then showed no signs of leaving the room to give me some privacy in which to complete the process. Now, I know it is always difficult to make assumptions about the way someone normally practises based on a colleague-to-colleague interaction. You might just let a few things slide because you assume shared knowledge and you are amongst friends. But I can only compare this scenario with another recent treatment I received from a male colleague (M.) I know considerably better than L. and with whom I have a far more established rapport. M. dropped in on his way back from the AMT conference and kindly offered to give my overused body a much-needed treatment (god bless him!). Even though the situation was not as formal as your average client treatment, M. still took the time to do a verbal case history and a thorough postural observation. He then insisted on leaving the room while I changed down. Slight difference in approach and attitude.

Cheeky or Ewww, you decide

Back to L.’s treatment – I stripped down to my underpants hurriedly (floral, bikini brief … but a good therapist would never pass judgement on my choice of smalls!2) and flung myself onto the table. L. began with a few simple contacts on the back without oil but then the marinating began.

L.’s oil supplier

L. tucked the towel into my underpants and pulled them down to the level of my ischial tuberosities, exposing The Full Botty. I thought this was a little odd at the time but I figured that access to the glutes is a recurring theme amongst therapists who are agin the underpant3 so I wasn’t overly concerned. He then proceeded to apply so much oil I felt like a fairy penguin4 awaiting the arrival of the animal rescue team after the latest oil tanker disaster.

In the hour or so that L. worked on my body, he never really moved beyond the most basic of palmar effleurage strokes. It is the first time I can say I was actually bored by a massage. In fact, I wavered between boredom, irritation, censure and aversion for the entire duration of treatment. There was not a single moment where I felt like I was truly being palpated … the quality of L.’s touch seemed to lack any sense of purpose or intent … at least until he made it to my glutes which received a lot of tender loving care and circular motion. I am not sure what was more unnerving – the fact that L. started breathing rather heavily at this point or when he appeared to stop breathing altogether for three minutes. Perhaps I should not quibble about this, though, because at least there was the slight suggestion of downward pressure from the thumbs when L. moved onto my lower back 15 minutes later.

At the risk of offending the sensibility of some readers, this languorous attention to my bottom felt like a double insult. Not only did it suck as massage, it also sucked as foreplay – outrageously inappropriate in the context it was performed anyway. The point here is that I’ve had far more private areas of my body palpated (chiropractic adjustments to my pubic bone, for example) and never felt even remotely violated. It all boils down to a simple matter of intent.

Butt, What About the Rest of the Treatment?

L. covered the grease trap that my back had become with the towel and began working on the back of my legs. More non-specific and purposeless effleurage. Thankfully, he pretty much avoided my adductors completely so there was no suggestion of groping.

When L. turned me over, he respected my privacy enough to hold up the towel. Problem is, he then proceeded to peer over the top of it. Then he stood behind my head and lifted the towel up again so I could put my hands underneath it, completely undraping my chest in the process. At this point, I seriously believed there was a chance I might have to call a halt to the whole process because I was now utterly convinced the guy was a sleaze-bag.

Sloppy or Sleazy

For those of you who are wondering why I let it run to this point, let me explain: sometimes I think it is hard to draw the line between deliberate sleaziness and plain old sloppiness or slackness.

The sloppy and slack need to be aware that anything they do during a treatment can be misconstrued.

However, the dispassionate professional in me just wanted to see exactly how bad it could get – after all, this is the sad reality of an internally diverse industry, with a largely ignorant and uninformed public at its mercy.

Is It Over Yet?

How to cook a battered sav? Nah, just an excuse to include a picture of a penguin.

Fortunately, the rest of the treatment was so unremarkable I can’t recall anything specific. It was neither ethically questionable or technically memorable. To borrow John Cassidy’s well-turned phrase, he must have been an arse man. But there was one last crowning glory. When the treatment was finished, L. left the room without saying anything. It was half a minute before I realised he was gone because I was lying supine with my eyes closed wondering when it would all end. I registered his absence and assumed (hoped!) the treatment was over, skidding off the table like an undercooked, battered Sav.

I suspect that the whole experience was meant to be deeply spiritual and that L. may even have believed that he was reconnecting me with some deeply repressed primal energy but it was basically just offensively lame and dodgy. He told me that I was obviously a very intuitive person and I am not sure what stopped me from saying “So, does it bother you that I have intuited you as a scumbag?”

This will definitely be the last time I lend a massage table to a fellow therapist without being thoroughly convinced of their professionalism and ability. I was ashamed to think that I let this guy loose on members of the public using my table … insult to injury!

Final Marks

I desperately wanted to resurrect “The Finger” for L. because I really believe he warrants it. Instead I have given him half a star5 in acknowledgement of the fact that he at least performed a hair pull. The rest of the treatment was the most woeful I have ever experienced.


  1. Not to be confused with “body contouring” or “body contouring”.
  2. More information on Barnett’s fascination with underwear.
  3. Refer to 2 for Barnett’s slightly eye-twitching use of the singular “underpant”.
  4. This story may have been chosen purely because it mentions fairy penguins (proper common term is “Little Penguin” but we’ll let that slide for today).
  5. There was a star rating system in place but while I was wandering through the dark corners of the AMT archive, I misplaced it somewhere around 2008. I think. All I know is that I tripped over a spacesuit and the stars were lost.
Final word

The editor has done much Googling and is unable to find any reference to a massage modality called “body contouring”, so we can only hope it has, indeed, bitten the dust. We are happy to hear about your experience of a body contouring massage or if it does still exist in an oil slick somewhere.

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  1. Haha, That’s pretty hilarious and I’m sorry you had to waste your time there.
    I honestly believe I’ve had worse experiences in strange corners of the world. 😛 !

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