Metro Weekly

Every Body Welcome

Capitol Hill's Freed Bodyworks specializes in "radical inclusion" and client-centered care

Frances Reed and Jessica VonDyke, co-owners of Freed Bodyworks, a wellness center on Capitol Hill, have rolled out the welcome mat for potential clients. It starts with their business cards, emblazoned with the words “Radical Inclusion” and “All Bodies” in black-and-white lettering on red background on the backside. On the front, alongside their contact information, they’ve placed five logos — a Pride flag, a BDSM flag, a trans flag, a “fat-positive” seal and a “no shame” seal, making it clear that these specialists in healing and holistic body treatments are intent on opening their doors to as wide an audience as possible.

“That is the first things we put out there, at all times, that you are welcome no matter what,” VonDyke says of the company’s branding and advertising strategy, which she calls “overt and unapologetic.”

Freed Bodyworks Photo by Julian Vankim

Freed Bodyworks
Photo by Julian Vankim

“All of our marketing materials and graphic design is geared towards folks who aren’t looking for the massage or acupuncture or holistic treatments that have the lotus flowers on them,” she says. “Not anything against those places — there’s nothing wrong with those places — but that’s not us. We’re intentionally talking to people who are like, ‘Oh, I see, this is bold colors, this is big graphics, this has got my attention. And also, now I’m noticing that it has this message that says I’m welcome there.'”

That inclusion is apparent within the first few minutes of a client’s arrival. In what would normally be a mundane ritual — filling out intake paperwork — Freed Bodyworks spices it up, asking clients not only personal questions about their body, such as whether a person binds their chest, wears hair extensions, or even carries a messenger bag on their shoulder, but their legal name and the name they prefer to be called. And the therapists will then use whatever preferred name the person writes down.

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“I will call you Cupcake if you write it as your preferred name,” says Reed, who identifies as genderqueer, meaning neither male nor female. “I won’t even remember your legal name.”

Reed, who first founded Freed Bodyworks as a solo practice in 2011 before launching a joint venture with VonDyke in 2013, wanted to ensure clients did not have to explain or defend their identity to the therapists that work on them.

“I wanted to do away with that, and have a place where we would do the work to know a broad swath of identity information, so that when people walk in the door and say, ‘I identify as fat-positive,’ we knew what that meant,” Reed says. “And not only did they not get judged for it, but they got a feeling of belonging and being met in their identity.”

To perform specific therapies, Freed Bodyworks hires out qualified independent contractors. Clients pay Freed Bodyworks, which acts as an umbrella organization, and takes a cut to pay for supplies, cleaning and laundry services, and maintenance of the physical space, which currently includes a waiting area and three treatment rooms inside a converted row house near 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Every therapist — eight in all, including Reed — is responsible for maintaining their own client relationships, though it is common to cross-promote or refer clients to their fellow colleagues within the company.

“We have a lot of clients who see more than one of us, and as we expand to offer more wellness services, that’s our vision,” says Reed. “That piece of sharing and building up clients goes to a core ethic of client-centeredness. The wellness of the client is our guiding principle. We believe if you just move the client towards wellness in the greatest possible fashion you can, you’ve made your best customer.”

Among the therapies and services offered at Freed Bodyworks are psychotherapy, acupuncture, reiki, reflexology, neuromuscular, deep tissue massage, sports massage performed by a certified personal trainer, and various relaxation therapies such as Swedish or Esalen massage. Rates for each therapy range from a one-hour standard massage, priced at $80, to a combined acupuncture and massage session, which costs $125. Freed Bodyworks also offers short 30-minute massage sessions for $42 for clients who wish to stretch their dollars a little more.

Most therapies are not covered by insurance, although the State Department’s insurance is the only company in the area that covers massage or other bodywork therapies. Other therapies, such as acupuncture or psychotherapy, are recognized by insurance companies, offering clients the chance to be reimbursed for those expenses.

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VonDyke and Reed, who are both business partners and life partners, hope to further expand the company’s offerings. They want to start offering hot stone therapy and art therapy, as well as bring on an herbalist and a nutritionist. They also have long-term plans to hire a receptionist, although Reed notes that there is not currently a need for one. The business does not accept walk-ins, requiring potential clients to book an appointment through their website or via phone, preferably a few days in advance.

“Until I can have enough therapists free for large chunks of the day, we just can’t accept walk-ins,” Reed says.

Part of the company’s expansion also includes moving into a bigger space, which will be located just a few blocks from the current headquarters. The new space will offer five treatment rooms, a movement studio for yoga and tai chi classes, and a a classroom space that can be used to host various workshops, from massage for those who bind their chests to adult-geared body-based sensual education focusing on finding pleasure in the body. Reed foresees offering that classroom space as a meeting place for special outside groups, such as community LGBT organizations or meditation groups. The space will also be wheelchair accessible. Currently, the business offers outcall services to clients with mobility issues to compensate for the lack of accessibility in its current space.

Above all, Reed and VonDyke are dedicated to hiring therapists who are not only well-qualified, often in several different types of therapies, but who also have good people skills, in order to ensure their clients have an enjoyable experience and will return, hopefully recommending the business to their family, friends and colleagues.

“The quality of work that our therapists do is astonishing,” VonDyke says.

“Not everyone can work here,” adds Reed. “Particularly now that we really have 15 months of reputation under our belt. We pick really carefully. We owe it to the other therapists, and our 1500-plus clients, to only be bringing in people worthy of our brand.”

Freed Bodyworks is located at 1426 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. To make an appointment, or for more information, visit freedbodyworks.com.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com