An Open Apology Letter To My Arms

Outfit is from Eva Mendes' line from New York & Company

After a lifetime of covering them up and forcing them into uncomfortable situations, I’ve recently come to a bold realization: I owe my arms an apology.

Now, you may look at the picture above and say "those are perfectly normal, fine arms." And indeed they are. But you see, for the overwhelming majority of my life, I have looked at both of my arms through eyes filled with shame. Attached to my body, they always seemed to stare back at me in the mirror like two oversize marks of my perceived “failure”. Full of stretch marks, extra skin and yes, even cellulite, my arms are, most days, the final frontier of my journey to self acceptance.

My hate for them was part of a long, slow and ever-building disappointment in myself. In spite of being a body positive warrior, as so many of you know all too well, loving your body does not always mean you love all of it. Worst, it does not always mean that you fully accept yourself.

I can remember 8th grade, when a boy on the bus commented on how my arms were “bigger than Hulk Hogan’s” and started calling me “The Hulk” every time I walked by (let’s just ignore the fact that he couldn't tell the difference between two entirely different characters). Or when in high school gym class, during the medieval torture that is the “rope climb,” when the girls snickered about how one would think I would at least be able to lift myself up because of the size of them. Or how little kids would innocently ask why they were so big. Or the mockery of blazers and dresses not going over them.

A litany of memories. A list of comments that my insecurities used as proof that I was less than everyone because I weighed so much more.

It was in this mental state – this place of regrettable sadness that always gives birth to toxic habits – that I began to resent two very critical parts of my body. It’s a soundtrack we hear from so many women, just with different lyrics : my stomach is too big. My boobs are too small. My thighs are so huge. If only I had a smaller waist. For me, my poor arms bore the brunt of these insults in my head.

At both my smallest (first pic below) and my biggest, I hated them with equal vigor.

And so, I hid them. Locked them away under perennial long sleeves and blazers, behind lies of “oh, I’m just so cold,” and a closet full of cardigans I couldn’t stand. I shamed them every chance I got – preempting any potential comment with self-deprecation. I dreaded summers like I was back in gym class – to be hot and constantly covered was exhausting.

And then, this summer, I honestly just got sick of being hot. I decided that enough was enough. I started wearing sleeveless – First for maybe a few minutes at a time, mostly around women with whom I was comfortable. Then I graduated to recently wearing a sleeveless dress to a barbecue. About an hour into it, terrified, I asked my husband if he thought people were looking at me, to which he replied in that glorious male “I’m not entertaining your crazy” tone: Allie, no one even cares.

This of course, was the most foreign of concepts to me. How could no one POSSIBLY care, when I cared so much? But he was right -- they didn’t. And since then, I’ve been rocking out with my arms out fairly consistently. And it has been a freedom I could not have imagined.

Here I am, with no makeup, toothpaste on the mirror and arms free :)

I still cringe when people glance at my stretch marks. Or when I motion, ever emphatic, forgetting that my arms are uncovered, and my “flags” fly. For a moment, I am flooded with shame all over again, but then I relax, realizing that people have way too much to think about to be focused on my arms. And I remind myself that if someone did care that much, that their opinion of my body is none of my business.

And in this state of independence, albeit forced and unsteady, I have realized something: I really owe my arms an apology. For these are the arms that I have used to pick myself back up on the many occasions that I have fallen. These are the arms I use to hug my husband. They house the hands that type these words; the fingers that transport my thoughts onto papers and screens. They have helped to make me a professional writer. They have picked up my nieces and nephews, and one day, God-willing, babies of my own. They have cooked meals for loved ones and picked up phones to dial old friends. They have allowed me to swim through oceans and climb trees as a little girl. These are the arms that have always forgiven me and still functioned perfectly, even as I was ashamed of them. Even as I unloaded on them all the weight of my own self-judgment, they still unloaded groceries to eat and luggage to travel with and books to read. They have always carried me.

I am so sorry.

I promise not to hide you anymore. I promise to let you feel the sun on these shoulders and to adorn you in any and every sleeveless garment I please.

I love you, at any size you may be. Just as you have always done for me.




Unknown said...

Definitely have a love hate relationship with my arms, I always cover even with weight loss I don’t feel confident about them

Unknown said...

Oh my goodness!! I am the same way with my arms, I am definitely where you used to be with hating them and covering them up because honey these "flags" or as my nephew likes to use them "punching bags" (seriously I hold them up as he punches them with uncontrollable laughter...he really enjoys it!) are something else! I am going to begin your approach and free myself! Great post!

contat05 said...

Beautifully wrote! I think all plus size women go through this, hardship of thinking don’t show the fat knees or arms or stomach or whatever we deem as unseeable. I do wear sleeveless for some things but I mostly throw an over shirt on and go to the store.. I don’t need Hansel and Gretal waving with my hands ��

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