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Professional Massage Therapists Protest Lifetime’s The Client List

This isn’t the first post I’ve done about this topic and it most likely wont be the last. In case you haven’t heard, Lifetime Network has a new show set to air in March called The Client List. Starring Jennifer Love Hewitt in the lead role as a single mother who decides to go to work in a day spa. She finds herself confronted with the reality that the day spa is in fact a brothel and that she is expected to sell sex to make her living. The show recently changed its description in a bid to pacify a group of pissed off Massage Therapists who have banded together to protest the show. The official website protesting the show can be found here. Massage Therapists are required by law in most states to undergo advanced training, to complete continuing education yearly and work hard to separate themselves from sex work and sex workers. The potential for an uptick in abuse and soliciting of sex from Professional Massage Therapists in response to a show that glamorizes sex work is real. There are numerous States that have no licensing or regulations for Professional Massage Therapy and uniform education standards nationwide is something Professional MT’s have been fighting for, for many years. This has allowed sex workers to infiltrate the territory of professional massage work in some states and needs to be stopped in its tracks.

I for one like television although I don’t watch a great deal of it. I don’t have a problem with Lifetime networks dealing with a real issue faced by more women than men, who want the legitimacy of status provided by an organized network common in Professional Massage Therapy like The National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork or The Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals or The American Massage Therapy Association. But I do have a problem with women and men who want both these organizations and the paycheck that comes along with selling sex. (Yes, some men sell sex as well – ask a male stripper about what he’s been propositioned for if you don’t believe me.) Lifetime has recently changed their description of the show in a half-hearted attempt to acknowledge the damage the show may cause to the livelihoods and reputations of Professional LMT’s.

This is the new description:

Everyone’s got something to hide and Riley Parks is no exception. Jennifer Love Hewitt plays Riley, a single mother, living in a small Texas town and leading a shocking double life. Her secret would send shock waves through the community and possibly land her in jail if it was ever exposed. Riley’s taken a job at a seemingly traditional day spa but soon realizes that the parlor offers a little more than just massage therapy. It’s not the happy ending she was expecting but it does open her eyes to a world she’s never seen before. The series follows Riley balancing these two worlds – one that revolves around her kids and family – and the other that revolves around the massage parlor and it’s special clientele. These two worlds couldn’t be farther apart, yet she’s totally comfortable in both. Keeping them separate…now that’s the tricky part as she discovers she’s not the only one with secrets.

This new description is hardly an improvement but the video showcasing the movie below is a better ad than some of the others that Lifetime has aired for the sitcom. In the movie, Jennifer Love Hewitt goes to jail and supposedly, this is not the route the sitcom show will take which has many people upset.

 Lifetime has responded to a public protest by the AMTA or American Massage Therapy Association with the following comment:

“We appreciate your feedback concerning the new Lifetime Television series entitled, The Client List. For many years, Lifetime television has explored the complexity of women’s lives and their stories through fiction and non-fiction movies, series and programs. The Client List is a fictionalized story about the experiences of a single mother as she unexpectedly faces dire economic circumstances. The series also features a broad range of characters with alternative points of view who make different choices. The Client List is not intended to depict any specific spa or massage entity, nor in any way demean or disparage the therapeutic massage profession and its benefits and contributions to the health and wellness industry.”

A group protesting the show has organized on Facebook and can be found here.

There have been a variety of comments in discussion forums on LinkedIn and there are a number of dissenters who weren’t willing to sign a petition to get the show changed or cancelled altogether and while I did sign the petition, I don’t expect Lifetime to cancel the show. I think the best that can be hoped for is to present alternative narratives that the shows creative directors and writers can capitalize on that don’t involve selling sex. The website of the petition to Clip the Client List can be found here. This is bringing up a number of issues of importance to Professional Massage Therapy that I plan to cover in future updates about the show as it gets closer to airtime. Issues that allow prostitution to flourish, such as low education standards in some States, the permanent underclass created by sex work and social stigmas make for stimulating and sometimes aggressive debate. I am no exception to finding the controversy created both exhilarating and tiresome. My real concerns however are about how tackling issues not directly related to massage therapy are dragging the ensuing conversations into less than productive territory and having a negative impact on Professional Massage Therapy by promoting division. Professional Massage Therapy has a healthy number of male Massage Therapists, many of whom are joining in to protest The Client List. This portrayal of the Profession will no doubt give us much more to talk about in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned for further updates both on the show and about Professional Massage and Spa therapists reactions to it! But meanwhile, what do you think? Do you think this show has the potential to create a surge in requests and demands for ‘happy endings’? Do you feel that people are over-reacting to media hype? Leave your comments below and I will post them and reply.

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