So I had one of those really mortifying moments on the weekend. Super-awful-cringe-worthy mortifying. I was at the massage parlour that I sometimes go to, hoping for my neck, shoulders, arms and head to be pleasantly pounded into blissful relaxation. It’s one of those cheap places in a shopping centre where you can just walk in, no appointment necessary, and I love it because they’re all really good and sweet and lovely. A nice, little cheap and cheerful place.
The usual process happened on my way in – I spoke to the receptionist, then was greeted by the masseuse, who sits me down in my chair and asks me if I have any sore spots, to which I reply ‘no’, and the pleasant shoulder pounding begins. Just the usual.
Then, after about five minutes of massaging, with me slowly zoning out, I hear him call the receptionist over, and they begin to converse in Chinese for about a minute. Then she leans in and taps me on the shoulder and says ‘Excuse my, are you pregnant?’
At which point I am mortified.
At which point I am astounded.
At which point I am kinda gobsmackingly flabbergasted and embarrassed and can only smile and shake my head.
No. I am not pregnant. But thank you so much for asking. And so loudly, too!
Needless to say, I did not really enjoy the rest of the massage. I kept half opening my eyes and trying to surreptitiously squint downwards to see my tummy area and try to determine whether I indeed did look pregnant. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. With my brain screaming its mortification and shame at me, it was more like trying to determine if I did look as fat and awful and worthless as I suddenly felt.
I’m lucky that a slightly rational part of my brain was able to maintain a slight foothold on my general countenance. I didn’t look pregnant. This wasn’t denial or ignorance or oblivion: looking down, I knew that I didn’t look pregnant. Maybe I’d been slumped into some bad posture or something in the moment that he felt the need to have my gestational state questioned. Looking down, in fleeting moments, I could see that there was no basis for what he’d said. And yet in every moment between those fleeting rational thoughts (which were tiny and few and far-between), there was an element of puzzlement and confusion mixed into the mortification. And let’s not forget, a very healthy does of shame.
On top of my confusion as to why he had even asked the question, I was then further confused as to why the hell it would matter if I was? The entire massage takes place in a chair, so he can only reach my upper extremities. I just didn’t see what the hell it would matter whether the shoulders and neck he was kneading belonged to someone who was up the duff, or whose uterus was quite happily (for the moment) unoccupied. They’re shoulders, for goodness sake!
After riding out the rest of the massage (twenty minutes of repeated thought-cycling through the following: mortification, shame, resolution to never eat again, squinting downwards, realising again that I don’t look impregnated at all so WTF, puzzlement, confusion, and anger. Repeat at full brain volume), I then hastily made my retreat from the parlour, barely able to make eye contact with either the masseuse man or the receptionist girl. Or anyone else for that matter. My brain was busy screaming ‘did they all hear him call me fat? Do they think it too? Has everyone been secretly thinking this about me for ages?’ etc etc.
I exited and immediately rang my sister, needing female empathy and understanding. She (bless her) was as puzzled and weirded-out as I was. She reassured me that there was no way that I did look preggers, and we chatted and commiserated and I felt slightly better, but still felt the need to call other people to get further reassurance.
My Mum was equally puzzled and reassuring and even slightly angry. I think she remembered the days in the not-too-distant past when my eating was, shall we say, less than ordered. And knowing how such comments can have horrible effects on girls/women/anyone really, she was angry for my sake.
These firm refutations of what had happened were somewhat soothing, but there was still a nagging doubt, so I rang my boyfriend. After takin the logical path and questioning whether it was just a matter of massage-protocol (uh uh, boyfriend! I’ve never had that asked before and I’ve been there a bucket-load of times), he then reassured me and told me I was gorgeous and that he loved me and that it was obviously completely uncalled for etc etc.
Again, I got off the phone feeling a little more mollified, but still not feeling properly better. I started mentally trawling through the list of people that I could call/text next. When I finally – finally- realised how dumb I was being.
Here I was, a supposedly self-possessed, aware, young woman, letting other people tell me how to feel. First the man in the massage shop, who I allowed to make me feel awful even though I really knew that his comment was baseless. Then my sister, mum and boy. Sure, the latter three were all being supportive and loving, but in that moment I realised that needing them to tell me that the situation was ridiculous and untrue was just the flip-side of the original situation. All of it was vesting my power in other people. All of it was about letting someone else dictate my feelings.
Which is not to say that sharing problems and commiserating with others is a bad thing. It’s not. It’s healthy and helpful and strengthens our bonds. And it did make em feel better. But there comes a moment in all such commiserations that one has to take responsibility for one’s self.
And so in a moment of surprising (and kind of delightful) self awareness, I decided to just let the whole thing go. In the past, such a statement would have rocketed me to tears and then to either a shameful binge or starving myself for a week. But the thought of all that made me feel tired and it just… didn’t ring true. So instead: I’d felt really good that morning – fit and strong and healthy, and I had so many plans for that afternoon. I did not want to let some random dude’s question (that was unlikely asked out of a desire to hurt me and destroy my self esteem, and more likely out of professional concern) change how I felt for the rest of the day. And upon getting upset, I did not want to have to rely on external reassurances to pander me through it - I want to be less like a sapling that bends whatever which way the wind is blowing, ever reliant on a favourable gust. I want to be firm and stable and… rooted. A big, robust tree. Sure the breezes can tickle the tree’s outer countenance to a degree, but ultimately, it is grounded and centred and unflinching to the everyday eddies that swirl around it.
That is what I want. To be that tree.
So… I went on with my day. I went to the gym, which was awesome in getting me out of my head and into my body. I had an awesome work-out and was reminded of how strong and powerful my body can be. Then I went for a walk outside, and was reminded of how incredible nature is and how insignificant my problems are. Then I cooked myself a deliciously healthy dinner, and was reminded that taking care of one’s self through the normal mundane routines of daily life is such a strong statement of self-love and self-care.
And I went to bed feeling… fine. Happy. Like I had achieved a lot that day. Like I had chosen to look after myself and control my thoughts in a really empowered way. Like I had stretched myself beyond my usual patterns and constraints and had actually grown a bit.
And it felt good.
So thank you, Mr Massage Man, for your enquiry. No, I am not pregnant. There is no bun in my oven. My belly is not filled with new life. But it is, you see, filled with something: strength and awareness and self-determination. And just a little bit of tree. And it feels good.
Images from Inez + Van