The Right to Bare Arms

This post first appeared on the Huffington Post, but I wanted to share it here, too!

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I’ll fess right up: I’m not terribly fond of my arms. I lift weights every week based on a regimen created for me by a personal trainer, and there’s loads of muscle in there. Seriously, just ask me to flex. But there’s also loads of jiggle. And although I don’t want to be, I’m self-conscious about it. And I generally dress to keep them covered.

But it’s August. It’s hot. And I mean HOT hot. Also nastily humid. Ya know, that sticky, icky, clingy environmental moisture that makes you feel like a giant dog tongue has just licked your whole body, clothing included? And under these circumstances, 3/4 sleeves become implements of torture.

And the fact of the matter is that my arm-related self-consciousness is centered on a recently developed, socially generated expectation that – in addition to slender legs, a flat belly, and lush breasts – all women should have toned arms. Absolutely jiggle-free, rock-solid, sculpted and toned arms. Similar to the ones seen on Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Biel, and other celebs who have live-in personal trainers and whose job it is to be in top physical condition. Like all body-related mandates, this is unreasonable, shaming, and downright awful. I know this inside my brain. And it angers me endlessly and I want to fight back. Unfortunately my emotional self still kicks and screams when I pull on a tank top, wailing at the size, the jiggle, the uneven skin tone of my exposed arms. It then becomes an internal battle of wills: Shirk the imposed body mandates and feel exposed and self-conscious, or give in, cover up and relax?

I try to bear in mind that sleeveless garments can be more flattering than short-sleeved ones, and go that route when it’s sweltering. And if it’s cool enough, I do 3/4 or cuff my long sleeves. But other days, days when my outrage manages to squelch my insecurity, I just force myself to remember this important mantra: All women have the right to bare arms, regardless of size, shape, or tone. The vast majority of us HAVE arms, many of us are forced to deal with heat and humidity at some point in the calendar year, and we should not allow restrictive social norms about how our bodies “should” look to shame us into dressing in clothing that makes us feel hot and miserable. Arms come in all shapes and sizes. Flattering them can certainly be a priority, but covering them up on a miserably hot day and risking heat rash in the name of hiding a little jiggle? No way. Not OK, not reasonable, not necessary.

I used to be incredibly self-conscious about my belly, and I still dress to downplay it. But friends, I have come to have a real and deep affection for it as a natural, biological, lovely, and defining part of my physical self. It took years of work, but I got there. So I have faith that my arm-battle will end because I want it to end. And I know what my ultimate conclusion should be: I have the right to bare arms. And so do we all.

Image courtesy Ash in Fashion.

  • http://www.effervescence.me Kylie

    Love love love love LOVE! And this applies to other things, too: the right to wear swimsuits, the right to wear shorts, the right to feel comfortable. The belief that certain people “shouldn’t be wearing that” — whatever “that” is — is unfair and discriminatory. You should be wearing whatever the heck you wanna be wearing. Period.

  • http://notdressedaslamb.com Catherine @ Not Dressed As Lamb

    I completely understand where you’re coming from, Sal – except it’s my legs I’m self-conscious about in the heat! I have no problem baring my arms which are perhaps a little too long and thin (my husband laughs very sweetly at how skinny they are), but my legs are, well, not particularly slender in comparison and to me are way out of proportion with the rest of my body. So of course in hot weather I want to wear dresses and skirts, but I always feel my legs look stumpy without heels… so it’s either suffer wearing heels all day or feel self-conscious about my legs. Or wear the flats, but cover up with trousers and get hot.

    So like you baring your arms, I feel I have the right to save my poor suffering feet from time to time – it’s just hard getting over that self-loathing! Great article… well done for pointing out that we often try to choose style over comfort far too often!!

    Catherine x

    • http://www.mischiefmydear.com Ashe @ Ash in Fashion

      Catherine, like you, I’m always a bit uncomfortable bearing my legs, too! Typically not in dresses, or short ones even– but in shorts. I don’t know WHAT it is, but they really make me freak out!

  • Viktoria

    I remember my grandmother, in her 60´s, for the first time in her life wearing a t-shirt in summer – she had always been fully sleeved. She had seen an 80+ celebrity diva of some sort in a gossip mag at the hairdresser´s, shamelessly baring all of her wrinkly arms in a sleeveless sequined top. She said, “if she can do it, then I can, too!”. She never went entirely sleeveless, but it was a big step for her. I think about that everytime I am shamedriven to cover up.

  • Elizabeth

    Excellent post! I also feel the pressure to cover up. Yes, for arm jiggle, but more for the color of my skin. I am pale, and I burn very easily in the sun. No tan. Ever. Just red painful skin or white pasty skin. I know I look better in skirts, but the comments on how pale I am just make me toss on jeans or long pants, even in the dead heat of summer. I am working on it, and as my daughter looks like she will have skin like mine, I am really trying to come to terms with pale being pretty.

    • Laura

      My skin is exactly the same as yours, and people constantly pick on me about it. Pale skin is beautiful to me, but I always feel the pressure to cover up whenever I’m around my extended family, simply because I want to make THEM feel comfortable and not myself. I’ve been coming to terms with it, but it’s an ongoing process.

      • Elizabeth

        I have always wondered why people think it is okay to pick on us for being pale. It is the way I am, deal with it!

        For a short time, I tried spray on tans. I couldn’t stand the smell. Even the high end salon ones smelled to me. Of course, they also tended to turn me orange. Even the expensive ones. I gave up on that, and I feel better for it. I want to teach my DD that she is beautiful the way she is, without having to buy a bunch of products.

        • http://wheelsamsara.blogspot.com LK

          Back in the day being pale was a sign of high status and great beauty. If you were a wealthy, affluent woman you never went out in the sun for long unlike the worker women who were dark tan. It was considered the most perfect of looks, to be pale. I think of that when people tell me to get a tan! LOL

  • http://eatingasapathtoyoga.wordpress.com Eating as a Path to Yoga

    For YEARS I wouldn’t wear anything short-sleeved or sleeveless. I suffered in silence. Now that I am more comfortable in my body (which has nothing to do with my weight) I proudly wear summer clothing and feel proud of it, too.

  • http://highlyirregularstyle.blogspot.com Kaffesoester

    For many years I covered my arms too. Then a couple of months ago I got the “advanced Style” book. So many of these incredible women showed their arms (and legs) even though they very wrinkled. Like Viktoria’s grandmother above, I thought “if they can do it, so can I”. For the first summer in decades I’ve had bare arms in hot weather. And I’ve had no comments, so I don’t think people notice them. So much suffering for nothing but my own self-consciousness!

  • Gwen

    Hello Sally. Hooray!

    Hello Sally, You are one of a small number of reasonable voices regarding many body issues. At 59 I am becoming more and more fed up and angry with those who ‘decide’ what we should or should not be wearing. All because our body doesn’t fit some kind of ‘perfect’ imagery. I still have that inner battle with myself when I want to wear something that I ‘shouldn’t’, but more and more I’m showing of my arms/legs etc. Let’s not be bullied, life is too short – Sisters in arms – wtf!

  • http://monkeyobsessions.blogspot.com alice

    I had a similar feeling about my thighs, but in the end realized that no one noticed/cared except for me. I think this is something you’ve mentioned in previous posts too, but it’s quite a comfort that no one is deducting points for jiggle when I walk out the door!

  • shebolt

    I love this post!

    I’m not terribly self-conscious about my arms, and I love my legs (I’m a cyclist), but just recently I wore a bikini. Not just in public, but to my office picnic. My abs aren’t perfectly toned, but I’m still fairly slim. My belly hasn’t seen the sun in years and is blindingly pale. But I don’t care. It was a hot day. There was a pool. It felt so liberating to know that I wasn’t 100% comfortable with the state of my mid-section but bared it anyway.

  • Anne

    When I first started to read this I thought, “Well that can’t be true, I saw her arms in an outfit post a few days ago. They look fine.” But I do get it. I have thigh jiggle that vexes me so much that at times I wouldn’t get in the pool or ocean for fear of exposing them. The thing to remember is that your body issue, what ever it might be, is NEVER as bad as you think it is. Don’t let it keep you from enjoying your life. When I used to teach fitness classes, I used to tell my students to play “Bootylicious” super loud before doing anything that makes you feel self conscious about your body. Then rock that jelly!

  • Heidi L.

    Your arms are smaller in diameter than your waist,it’s all good.Also,think of all the useful stuff you can do with them too.

    Heidi

  • http://www.practicalparalegalism.com/ Practical Paralegalism

    YES! I’d so high five or hug you if I saw you :)

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve figured out if I obsess over my less-than perfect, pale, aging, scarred arms – and legs, I’m going to miss a lot of just plain loving life and fashion. I don’t want to be air-brushed or spray make-up’d into the flawless faux women that advertisers shove down our throats; and I don’t like feeling like I’m not good enough for not looking like them.

  • Juliet

    No, I don’t like large, bare arms – mine or other people’s. Loose sleeves are the answer!

    • Sam

      You don’t like ‘em, you don’t have to look.

    • http://theoldshed.me Ros

      You do what you want with your own arms, you don’t get to say what other people do with theirs.

  • Susan

    I am 60 years old and wear sleeveless things all the time. No, my arms are not perfect–but SO WHAT. They are not embarrassing or a total eyesore. I think a lot of time is wasted on being self conscious about arms.

  • http://over60andoverhere.blogspot.com.es/ Sue

    I will be 65 in just over 2 weeks’ time and I still wear short-sleeved and sleeveless tops, partly because I live in Spain and it’s very hot here at the moment! I do tend to avoid cut-away styles now that I am older, but so long as my wobbly bits are more or less covered I don’t worry about it Like Elizabeth I have pale skin, though in my case I also have freckles.

    My legs are marginally darker than milk bottle white, so on occasions I use a light fake tan, but most of the time I don’t bother. My husband delights in pointing out Spanish men and women whose legs are paler than mine! What I do love wearing are loose linen trousers, which hide my legs and keep me cool at the same time.

    So back to the right to expose our arms – please add “age” to your list.

  • http://sarahcoursey81@yahoo.com Sarah

    I have a long list of clothes I won’t wear – sleeveless shirts, anything tight on the belly, shorts, non-maxi skirts, bathing suits…logically I know no one cares about my arm/thigh jiggle, but when push comes to shove, I can’t walk out the door. I know it’s silly and I wish I could move past it. I buy items like shorts and sleeveless tops but they just sit in my closet. I have on occasion been brave enough to walk out of the house in one of these pieces…and I feel uncomfortable all day. I’m working on acceptance but it’s a hard road. I would argue that any woman has the right to wear whatever the hell she wants regardless of size, but I can’t do it myself.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      It’s not silly, Sarah. There are a lot of pressures and messages about how our bodies “should” look that make those choices hard ones. Try not to beat yourself up. It sounds like you’re doing some hard work.

  • Moi

    “If they don’t like it, they don’t have to look”

  • Roxy77

    Hi Sal!

    What a timely post! I’m a size 4 with a very petite torso and arms, but larger thighs and a bit of a belly. I avoided the skinny jean trend for years, but finally broke down and bought my first pair last spring. I usually wear long, tunic-like tops with them, but today is the first day I said “screw it”…I’m wearing them today with a loose blouse….and I’m showing off my “saddle bags”. I figure that no one notices them but me. :)

  • http://frumpfactor.wordpress.com Anne @ The Frump Factor

    *standing ovation*
    My bare arms salute you.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      Woohoo!

  • http://www.closet-coach.com Heidi/The Closet Coach

    The worst thing about self-shaming is that we are almost always wrong in our negative self-assessment anyway! Nobody we give a damn about agrees that our [arms/legs/butt/thighs/ankles/neck] are [too thin/too thick/too muscled/not muscled enough/too dark/too light].

    The older I get, I find the less I care what other people think. Sure, I want to dress to flatter myself, but there’s a big difference between proportional and perfect. Those Advanced Style ladies are on to something!

  • Aziraphale

    You have the right attitude. I see arms in plenty of shapes and sizes in the summer, and none of them are offensive. Arm jiggle has never bothered me, anymore than white skin bothers me. It seems normal.

    I have never had arm issues personally, since I have the type of body that comes with lean, toned arm and legs (without doing anything to achieve that, which leads me to believe that your shape is just your shape and why fight it?)…BUT I have a similar problem with my tummy. Despite being on the slender side, I’ve always had a bit of a pooch, and I’m a bit self-conscious about that — enough so that until recently, I always wore one-piece bathing suits. (I’ve got “lush” breasts, as you describe it, and I’ve noticed that women with lush breasts rarely have washboard abs. If we put on weight, it goes to the boobs and belly. Those with perfectly flat tummies also have teeny boobs to go with it). Anyway, the point is that I hate the feel of one-piece bathing suits. If you stay in the water it’s fine, but at the beach, they cling all wet to you belly while you’re sitting on the sand. Drives me nuts. Finally, a few year ago, I’d had enough and just bought a damn bikini already. I’ve decided I no longer care that my belly is not perfectly flat. It’s fine. I’ve been wearing the bikini for two summers now and it’s very freeing. And you know what? No one’s looking at me anyway. :-)

  • http://www.meganmaedaily.com/ Megan Mae

    I feel the opposite of most. I hate having my arms covered. I feel awful with fabric pulling uncomfortably over my skin, pinching my shoulders, too short at the wrist, too long over my hands. I’d much rather don a sleeveless shirt and breathe easy. It’s hard to shop for winterwear too. I’m a person who dresses for feel first.

  • Margo

    I think most of the pressure comes from within. Most people don’t really care what my arms look like, much as I hate to admit they’re not staring at me out of sheer fascination.

  • http://www.writtennerd.etsy.com Emma

    I love this – I used to not care about my arms, I knew they were big but so was the rest of me. I’ve recently lost about 90lbs (getting healthy) and it’s left…well…what I call “bingo flappers” in my armpit area. They’re not awful unless I’m like, pointing them out and waving them around – but *I* notice them. It’s a constant struggle, but a worthwhile one, to love yourself inside and out, and I know that no one is noticing my wobble but probably me, and that it’s 100% worth the extra wobble to have lost the weight and gotten healthy (and I’ve got way less wobbles elsewhere, it’s just that arms are public in a way that other wobblie bits might not be). But I totally GET the anxiety. Kudos to you and your bare arms.

  • http://fashionforgiants.blogspot.com Gracey at Fashion for Giants

    Bravo! I have, in past year or so, began to feel a bit self-conscious about my arms as well. But, I’m a sweaty gal and I’ll be darned if I wear longer sleeves in summer, wobbly bits or not.

  • http://ithinkicanfitness.com Amber Ellison Walker

    Some really inspiring comments here! Loving our bodies is hard – no matter if we’re size 4 or size 24! I think it really says something about our culture that even the Jennifer Aniston’s don’t feel pretty :(. That said, I’m so proud to read stuff like this online where women share openly their fears, anxieties, and hopes to conquer these unrealistic expectations of perfection. We are all perfect in our own way!

  • http://www.lovebrownsugar.com LoveBrownSugar

    Thank you for posting my link Sally! I really appreciate that. And it was SUCH a pleasure meeting you at the BlogHer conference – keep in touch :)

  • http://www.madam0wl.com Sandra, aka madam0wl

    I had been doing arm dumbbell repetitions to try to tone up my arms but then I gave up. They just seemed to get bigger as the muscle grew, or the jiggle/flab got more noticeable. I’ll probably pick up the weights again just to keep up my strength, but I’m resigned to the fact my arms will always have extra weight on them. “Teacher Arms” is what I’ve heard them called. Both my sister and mom have them, and my grandma did too. My sister says her trainer has told her there really isn’t much you can do about it other than cosmetic surgery.

    At any rate, I have good & bad days with my flabby arms too, but I’m definitely at the point where I feel okay baring them in tank tops or sundresses, swimsuits, etc. no matter what. Whatever.

    And something I always think about, is how this one time a petite Eastern Indian co-worker of mine came up behind me and squeezed my upper arms and was like “oooooo, so soft and pillowy, I love it.” For her, fleshy upper arms were an ideal… My sons have made that pillowy comment too and while it stings at first, it makes me smile too. Because it makes me remember how nice it was to lean into my own mom & grandma’s embrace.

  • Tierney

    I can totally totally sympathize but for a slightly different reason. I was an overweight teenager, and for my health and general well-being I decided I wanted to do something about it, something to take responsibility over my body and treat it well. Now years and over 70 pounds later, I am left with more than a few very noticeable stretch marks on my arms, from the back of my armpits all the way down to my elbows. I banished myself to long sleeved shirts even in the hottest of the dog days of summer.

    One day a friend of the family told me “you can’t torture yourself because of what isn’t your fault! If someone is concentrating on your arms more than your smile or what you have to say, they are not worth your time.” My arms do tons of other great things, they just happen to have stretchmarks, not a crime. And people with stretchmarks get hot too! Once I decided not to care, I noticed the people I cared about didn’t care that much either.

    Every magazine has some tip or trick to stop jiggle or have summer ready arms. I will NEVER look like any magazine and I don’t care anymore. I’m just happy to feel a breeze.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      Rock on, Tierney.

  • Jessica

    I happened to read this post – I realize that it’s from a long time ago but it really resonated with me. I have a long list of things that I don’y wear because I feel too self conscious.
    I’m almost 50, and have not worn shorts in public for more than 35 years. It was in the 90s today, with the heat index near 100, and still I won’t. Also never sleeveless shirts, or cap sleeves that are short, or skirts that don’t come to at least mid-shin. I only wear a bathing suit once or twice a year, and it is really torture, but I love to swim, and I wear it at a church camp where I literally know everyone. It’s one piece with a really long skirt attached to the bottom. It’s still really really hard.
    I know intellectually that it’s okay for me to wear these things but it makes me so uncomfortable I can’t.
    I wish I could find a way to get past these thoughts.

    I am happy for those women writing above that have been able to free themselves.