My upper arm, circa 2001.
My upper arm, circa 2001.

A big obstacle to fully expressing myself in my fashion has been my dislike of my upper arms. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been ashamed of them. When I look back at what they were like at a younger age I don’t understand why I felt that way at the time. They were just big, that’s all. When I look at my arms now I fully understand why I feel this way. Years of yo-yo dieting and an eventual significant weight loss has left the skin stretched beyond its limits, just hanging there like it’s given up hope. A cautionary tale for those striving to lose weight: it doesn’t necessarily make you feel any better about yourself. I liked my arms better when I was 80 lbs heavier.

But enough arm bashing. Fat women and their fear of showing their arms has started a cottage industry. Who else props up the “shrug” manufacturers of the world? There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to the topic. I desperately want to be one of those fabulous fatshionistas who wears sleeveless dresses and strapless bra tops. I don’t know if I’m not seeing arms like mine on other women because I don’t view other women’s arms in the same harsh light as I do mine, or if other women who have arms like mine are also reticent to show them. As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’ve realized that it’s pointless to try to conceal them totally, so now I wear short sleeved dresses and tops — but not too short sleeved. Cap sleeves are a no can do for me. I’m sorry, I’m just not there yet. I feel like it’s a part of my body that I still, after 20+ years of being fat, haven’t come to terms with. They’re kind of a map of my history. Each stretch mark denotes another failed extreme diet, another rebound weight gain. Maybe I’m not so much ashamed of my arms as I am ashamed of what abuses brought them to the point they’re at now. Thinking about this now, I’m asking myself if I’m so self-conscious of them because they’re a “tell” for the shape I really am, the body that is hidden under these stylish clothes.

I’m old enough to know I’m probably not going to get over this in a hurry. Even after writing this, I’m not going to go out and buy a strapless dress. I’m just not. But I do need to stop being so damn conscious of what my upper arms look like all the time. I also need to accept the mental state I’m at now and stop hating on myself for not being able to process my body in spaghetti straps. I feel somewhat exposed because saying this is not marching lockstep with the fat-positive band, I’m admitting that hey, I’m fat and proud but I still have issues and I still need to talk about them sometimes just to deal. I’m not leaving the party, I’m just going to the bathroom to check my makeup. I’ll be back dancing in a minute.

12 thoughts on “Disarming questions

  1. I had to deal with my upper arms this morning. I'm not a fan of mine either, and usually wear sleeves with volume to camo them. However, today I decided to wear a shirt I haven't worn in awhile than happens to have fitted sleeves. I looked at my arms, knowing that I probably shouldn't wear the shirt because of them, but then I looked again and saw that the world wouldn't end because people could see them. They probably won't even notice them, because of the print on the shirt and the cleavage I'm rocking.

  2. you're the only one who notices! i have to keep convincing myself of this as well, as i'm in the middle of losing a pretty significant amount of weight too. i started doing some small arm exercises but i don't think i'm doing enough of them.

  3. I have big arms. Like big ones. With stretch marks, sagging and such. I hated them for years and would never wear anything that came above my elbow.
    Last year I was shopping and came upon a sales associate trying to convince another shopper to try a tank with her outfit. The shopper responded with a comment on how she didn't like to show her arms. The sales associate, noticing that I was eavesdropping asks me how I deal with the arm thing. She knew me as a regular in the store so I wasn't offended at all. I say to her, "You just wear them." Which kind of surprised me. It just came out. And really that's all I learned to do. I just started wearing my arms, forgot about them and so did everyone else. Confidence and style will soon eclipse them and they will just be there like the rest of your body.

  4. I am in the other other group propping up the shrug industry, I guess: I have a bunch of shrugs because I have cute sleeveless tops and sundresses that are okay except for bra strap exposure, and that does not fly at my job. But when I'm out of work and I don't care if my strap wanders out from under my dress? My arms are freeeeee. Because some days it is just too damn hot for sleeves.

  5. Hi, I just wanted to say that this particular post was very brave of you to do, and I applaud you for it. I try to hide my upper arms as best as I can. They, along with other parts of my body, have been covered by stretch marks since I was in middle school. Hot summer months are often a nightmare!! If I have to go sleeveless, or wear something with a shorter than 3/4 sleeve, I use a shawl or pashmina to cover up my shoulders because I'm so unsatisfied with the designs/material/fit of most affordable shrugs out there. It's come to the point that I'm rarely seen without a shawl,even in the winter months but for (perhaps?) different reasons, without it I would feel naked..and exposed to (silent) ridicule. I guess I have negative experiences of exposing my arms. But looking back I'm not sure what I'm afraid of. People in changing rooms are curious…friends may fix their eyes on my stretchmarks/size of my arms at certain times, and I may catch a boyfriend looking at them in fascination…but its not like they are recoiling with horror, it's just plain animalistic curiosity. I admire people who expose their stretchmarks, and, like a tiny bruise on a knee, do not find that it detracts from a person's beauty. But like you I am still not there yet personally. But I do not find arms like ours that unattractive. Or at least, that is what I try to tell myself when I'm faced with exposing my arms at a gym (on extremely rare occasions, the last time I wore a t-shirt to the gym the attention given to my upper arms induced a paranoia that made me cut my exercise class short, and turn my back on the gym forever.)
    Keep up the great posts, you're very talented.

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