Massages aren’t supposed to make you want to cry right?
After my first Thai massage a few days ago, I decided to try out the oil massages that are advertised everywhere to work out which one would be my regular now that I’m an honorary Chiang Mai resident.
And this, just like many others before it, was another weird and wonderful experience.
Oil me up Buttercup
It started off with me having the masseuse in hysterics, and I mean hysterics, because I thought she’d given me a paper shower cap to protect my hair from all the oil. When she walked back in, I was naked with essentially a black paper nappy on my head.
Anyway, comedy performance out of the way I lay face down with my head through the hole in the table and she starts with my back.
With oil being involved, I’d imagined a nice relaxing aromatherapy massage but that wasn’t quite what I got. What is it with Thais and their superhuman strength? I called out jep! (pain) a few times and she softened up slightly, but no matter how much I pleaded, she was really determined to get all of the knots out.
After flipping me over and grinding out the cartilage in my knees, she whipped away the towel to leave me lying their face up in my shower-cap-come-paper-nappy contraption.
Now, what society has always told me is that stripping away my clothes is like stripping away my dignity; I should feel coy, embarrassed and ashamed. My naked body is something private and shouldn’t be shared with others, and I should instinctively want to cover up.
I did feel all of those things at first, but then I made the mindful decision to let go of all my judgements, all my self-criticism and all of my apprehension about what she might think, or even what I thought myself. I focused my mind, relaxed my body and just prayed she wouldn’t get the elbows out on my abdomen.
The day I get a normal compliment, in a normal, real-life situation, from a normal man who is genuinely interested in me, is the day I will believe in miracles.
Until now, it’s only ever been the homeless guy who sits at the top of Bold Street in Liverpool who heckles me for my cow bag, kimonos and top knots. It’s usually clobber related comments but on the odd occasion, he has asked me out. This time, however, the flattery was coming my petite little Thai masseuse called Ning as I lay there vulnerably bare-skinned with her hands all over me.
I’m not sure on cultural differences with massages around the world, I can only speak from my own experience, but I would say that it’s usually deemed inappropriate to comment on a person’s body, or looks in general – and that’s why the next thirty minutes were so bizarre. I had a running commentary of feedback, compliments and questions wherever her fingers and thumbs went.
As jet-lag had destroyed any chance to get up for my morning run for my first five days here, I wasn’t feeling particularly fit, so when she said “you like exercise, you strong stomach”, I couldn’t hide my beaming smile and in my head I quickly, and triumphantly morphed into Jennifer Ennis crossing the finish line with my imaginary six-pack on show.
She then moved onto the breastal region and I didn’t quite know where to look so I just closed my eyes and tried stop tensing. It lasted much longer than expected and the comments and questions kept flowing, “you single?”….”you like boy or you like girl?”.
It’s quite surreal being interrogated about your sexual orientation by a woman you’ve just met while she circumnavigates your nipples with her knuckles, but to be honest I’m at a stage now where absolutely nothing baffles me.
And at last, it was time for my favourite part, the finale, when the pain turns into pleasure and she gets to work on my head, neck and shoulders. She leapt up onto the bed and sat on her bent legs with a pillow resting on them and beckoned me down.
I noticed that in between sensory scalp action, she kept pausing to take a few strands of sun-dried curls and stretching them out in silence. I tried to explain the sun had made them but she was too busy being mesmerised by the colour, texture and springiness of my locks. When I was sat up letting her lay into my shoulder blades with unwarranted aggression, she again paused, this time for some light zhooshing of my hair and a few outbursts of “you blonde curly, you sexy”.
I burst out laughing and she giggled too.
For the final moments of the massage I lay there, smiling to myself and thinking about how pointless self-criticism is and how that inner voice needs to shut up. It’s pointless and destructive and every single one of us have it. What’s ugly to me is beauty-full to somebody else.
Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.