Grin and Bare

So it’s summertime up here and that means… Bare Arms!

Why are we so obsessed about arms? I get more reader emails asking about the state of my arms than any other body part.

Unveiling my arms to the world has caused me great trauma for over fifteen years. They’ve gone from chubby, to chunky, to two gigantic overstuffed pillows, then down to gigantic with a hint of bicep, to their current state of Really Quite Toned with some irritating flibflab underneath. But no matter what their condition, I’ve still managed to freak out about them.

When I was in Lisbon back in March, I tried on a sleeveless dress in Zara. Perhaps being in a foreign country made me feel reckless. I mean sleeveless! Dress! In Zara? Zara is the domain of the skinny people, and furthermore I don’t do dresses, especially not sleeveless ones. My wedding dress was sleeveless out of sheer desperation.

So I managed to stuff myself into the Zara frock, and called my sister over to inspect. I did a wee twirl and she expressed her approval.

Then I peered more closely in the mirror. "Uh oh. No. I can’t buy this."

"Why not?"

"My arms! Look at my GIGANTOR ARMS!"

"You don’t have giantor arms."

"I can’t wear this in public!"

My sister narrowed her eyes and spoke slowly and clearly. "Shauna. Get over your fucking arms!"

So I bought the frock. She was right, I do need to get over my arms. I’m still trying to work up the nerve (and suitable weather) to ponce it around in public.

Living in Britain has been a joy because for most of the year, you can completely forget you even have arms. Safely disguised beneath shirts and sweaters and coats, no one has to know the true picture, not even yourself. So it was a surprise to me this season to cast off all my layers and discover my arms are in quite good shape. I’ve worked hard on my upper body this year, and I’m really happy with the definition in my shoulders and biceps and whatever that area is called sorta above the bicep. Yes, they are still big arms and there is that sort of "hangy bit" on the underside of my arm, but it’s not loose skin so much as fat that has yet to shift. For someone who used to be over 350lb, I am well pleased.

It’s hard to know how to reply to these Arm Emails. What I think are great arms may look like horrible arms to you. Example: for the first time ever, I’m wearing little cap-sleeved t-shirts out in public. While I’m not in a hurry to flag down taxis or gesticulate wildly, I’m happy to flash that much arm. Yet I swear, and I may well be paranoid, I reckon I’ve caught people looking at them and thinking, Ew, them’s some hefty limbs!

All I can tell ya is, don’t worry about your arms. Just treat them well and lift some heavy objects as soon as you can, and they’ll be alright. I have spent too many summers sweating in long-sleeved tops due to Arm Paranoia, thinking they deserved to be hidden unless they were perfectly toned and willowy. Well, screw that! Sure, I have some flab and stretchmarks but I also have some nice muscles.

Here’s an example of wildly differing opinions of what makes a Nice Arm.

In London last week my sister and I had a session with an image consultant, in an attempt to rectify my wardrobe ineptitude. I’ll write more on this later, but basically a very lovely woman helps you discover what colours and clothes suit your body shape and personality. It was fantastic, but we had to strip down to our bras and undies! I was not expecting this, as illustrated by my tatty bra and size 20 undies that came over my navel – Gareth says they’re so big they should be sent to Dafur to be used as emergency refugee accommodation.

But we had to strip to have our measurements taken, proportions calculated, and just a proper good look at our true body shapes. I momentarily forgot my resolve to Get Over My Arms, flipped into Fat Girl Panic, and raved on about how my weight loss has left me with hideous limbs. The Styles Woman looked at me for a long moment, then replied in her typical warm and kindly manner, "Have you thought of perhaps doing a few exercises for them? That might tone them up."

I gave a strangled half-sob half-cackle and said, "I have been exercising them! For five years! This is as good as it gets!"

A couple of days later I had my long-awaited NHS physiotherapy appointment, finally having my dodgy shoulder and neck assessed. This guy thinks it’s a nerve thing as opposed to a muscular thing, with my dodgy posture being the culprit. I got more exercises to do and it’s feeling a bit better already. Anyway, as I left he told me to keep up the upper body weights. "You have good biceps but you just need a little more work on shoulders to help your posture."

Well of course I ignored his but and just heard the good biceps! How nice of someone to even notice their existence, in spite of the flab beneath!

So in the space of two days my arms had been seen both as Flabby Horror Story and Vaguely Sporty. These episodes just proved to me again that my arm paranoia is ridiculous. Who’s to say what’s a good arm and what ain’t? So I can just chuckle at the Style Woman’s well-meaning suggestion, and instead be rapt that the Physio dude noticed that I actually have been working out, dammit.

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35 thoughts on “Grin and Bare

  1. Yay to the baring of the arms!! It’s a new found experience for me too and despite the “bingo flaps” still attached to them I often sneak sidelong glances at my arms to admire the definition. I only see the flappy bits if I look in the mirror so mostly I can just pretend they aren’t there 🙂 Hey… it works for me!
    The looooong week thing… it’s like that at this end of the world too (in NZ)… Its Wednesday morning but feels like Friday!! Sigh!
    And… Go the Aussie soccer team! Well done! Will have to stay tuned now!!

  2. I’m the same with regard to my arms; I’m all ‘OMG, MUST NOT SHOW THE MONSTROSITIES FOR PUBLIC HEALTH!!!’; as aside from the flab, I have the lovely speckled-scars (not freckles, unfortunately) all over my arms. Oh! And don’t forget the stretch marks!

    Thoguh for my 21st I wore sleeveless dress – intending to put more foundation on my arms than I do on my face, but I ran out of time. Still, I found my cousin continually swearing at me ‘Dammit you’ve got nice arms’.

    And Janene, yes it does feel like a Friday even though its only Wednesday! Must be all them power cuts O_O

    GO THE SOCCEROOS!!! C’MON AUSSIE C’MON!

  3. jude – It was mentioned in the email sent out to those on the notify list.

    The email said:
    “it’s tuesday night but feels like it should be thursday night, or is it
    just me?

    ‘MON THE SOCCEROOS!”

  4. Heh, loved the post and I totally agree with you and the ridiculous arm parania, I don’t have that per se but at random times I feel like a giant walking talking square! But you give me hope with the exercising, I was checking out my arms while the nurse was taking blood and all I kept thinking was I know there are biceps hiding in there somewhere?!

    Gareth cracked me up!!! isn’t that always the way tho, when you’re wearing the dodgest undies them make an appearance in public hahah.

    Can’t wait to hear about you flaunting those guns of yours ;D and much jealous since I’m freezing over here right now ;P

  5. It’s odd, but my arms have never really bothered me. Inner thighs? Yes. Stomach? We shall not even discuss. I just loathe having my arms covered because it makes me warm, so I guess it’s self-preservation that makes me oblivious to the wagging of my upper arms. (By the way, definitely do not listen to the Style Consultant – she’s probably jealous of your world-renown and wildly successful career!!!)

  6. You are so right that our perception of ourselves, and others of us, is so different. It is all relative. To someone who is still at the beginning of their weight loss journey your arms may represent sheer beauty, and to others who have never fought this battle, they may be something else. But in the end you HAVE worked your butt, and your arms, and the rest of your body off and you should be proud of the results you have achieved. Could they be improved on? Sure. Are they sensational now. You bloody better believe it!!

    Have a great week Shauna 😀

  7. Oh jude, I know… terrible oversight. GO THE SOCCEROOS! I saw the last five minutes on the telly at work and I was freakin Eeeeeeeeeeeuphoric! i jumped up and down with no regard for the wobliness over my arms.

    will be interesting to see what happens with Brazil on Sunday. Hmmm…

    lovely to hear from ya guys 😀

  8. Nope – i am definitely with you on the arm paranoia. I have bought so many shawls, wraps, cardis and things to cover gorgeous, but sleeveless tops. I say, ignore the chick who may know everything about colour and style, but nothing about fabulous arms and grab the guy’s phone number.

    Oh that’s right, you’re married – better send it to me. wink wink!

  9. Ah, I see the warning to spammers is now bright red!

    Sigh. I know this problem only too well. I have sleeveless tops, but I always end up wearing them under shirts. I even own two shrugs, although I think they’re a bit silly. But looking back at your wedding photos I have to say, either those are very flattering angles, or there is nothing gigantor about your arms.

    While I enjoy doing upper-body weights (and incidentally, am very glad to hear you’re OK to do yours again) I can’t say the results are visible yet. It does seem unfortunately true that your worst bits are slowest to improve.

  10. I felt the same about my arms, until last summer when I was watching the swimming events at the Olympic Games in Athens. There were these very fit women waving their arms around before stepping up to the blocks, & what do I see, but flaps under their arms. It is just the nature of how that muscle works & how much it gets used – usually very little. So don’t worry about them, just keep on exercising.

  11. It is true. When I look at your pictures there is absolutely nothing wrong with your arms! For me, my whole body is such a disaster area that I haven’t even gotten round to worry about my arms. Like in Scotland, the weather over here permits layers of clothing most of the year, so I am just in denial.

    With regard to the socceroos…of course they are winning with the Dutch caoch Guus Hiddink!!

  12. Oh the arms, the arms (quazimodo (sp?) style. I am so feeling the pain. Last weekend I braved a vest top for the first time in the UK, for a long time. I was dreading it but after the build up – it wasn’t that bad. Not bad at all.

    It’s always worse imagining doing the thing, than actually doing it I find.

  13. I’ve never been particularly worried about my arms. The thunder thighs and massive bottom – yes. I just let my arms hang out. Someone tried to suggets the other day that she could see some muscle definition but that really is not possible as there isn’t any. My PT has me doing leg, chest and lats in my workout. The only time I do bicep and tricep is on saturday at Pump class.

    I would forget the style woman – those people are constantly focused on being perfect. And the physio guy’s suggestion was about shoulder work to correct posture so that sounds very sensible.

    Good luck for the Aussies vs Brazil. NZ played Brazil last week (and we are ranked a lowly 118 in the world) and we only got beaten 4-0, whcih I was relatively pleased about. I had thought it would be a netball type score!
    I have to cheer on England in the World Cup or my partner would sulk.

  14. “Just try some exercise…” Gee, wish I’d thought of that!

    I’ve never been overly conscious of my upper arms – that’s an area where I think “cripes if I have to cover up every single part of my body that’s not perfect, I’ll be in chaderi.” The heck with it. Everyone has their issues – to me, besides just the overall being fat, it’s my back. I hate the way the bra strap splooges out the flesh on either side. Back fat! Uggghhh!

  15. just so you know everyone, the style lady was REALLY NICE! and not obsessed with perfection at all. she was making a genuinely well-intended suggestion 🙂

  16. Aaah, what a timely post. Arm paranoia has just caught me this year for the first time ever. I think it was seeing some photos wot did it.

    I would actually mind if I just had chubby arms, but my upper arms are huge and then narrow quickly and dramatically to the elbow. Sort of like a chicken drumstick come to think of it.

    So I’m doing weights – though possibly not in any useful way and hoping that general weight loss will make a difference as well.

  17. Mmmm there is nothing like a nice set of Bingo Wings to get you all flapped up 😉 I wonder if we are ever able to rid ourselves of the terrors… I am yet to venture out in a sleeveless anything.. But I so badly want to! Maybe next summer 😉 who knows. I am just very glad that it is winter on our side of the sphere now.

  18. I’m with beee on the “maybe next summer” comment. In fact I’ve been with beee on that for about 20 summers. But still. Maybe next summer.

  19. I have major arm paranoia. I have been in 7 weddings ( I know!). All 7 dresses were sleeveless! I always try to wear a really flattering outfit to the rehersal dinner so that people will remember that I look so much better with my arms covered, I know this sounds crazy…bc no one probably ever even notices my arms…

  20. I tried to get rid of my bingo wings (geisha arms, flaps) for years …I finally got diligent with a couple of resistance workouts that did it, from flab to fab –it took a freaking year, but that was 3 years ago and it was worth the work.

  21. Count me into the arms paranoia club. Last summer I bought a little crocheted cardi that I wore over anything sleeveless but it felt apart by the end of summer.

    The worst thing is boxing class – you can see those dangles flapping in the mirror. Arrrgggh!

  22. For years my mother has been telling me ‘you have your father’s mother’s arms–they’ll always be big and flabby.” I have an ingrained history of hating my arms as I was trained to do so from a young age. Then again, my mom is the QUEEN of saying rude nasty things to me about my weight (“you’re so fat, it hurts me to look at you”) and when confronted with her nastiness, has the audacity to say “if I don’t tell you, who will?” Hopefully, NO ONE MOM.

    Um, yeah, so I have arm issues, but I flaunt them nonetheless. Maybe it’s the CA weather, but I’m all about wearing sleeveless.

  23. it’s the same old story, these people open their mouths and “wham” someone elses confidence is destroyed!

    i am overweight but have been working hard at my loss, i’ve come from morbidly obese to being overweight so i’m pretty impressed with my efforts! and to be honest it’s never been about my arms or my legs or my arse or my tummy, it’s been about looking in the mirror naked or clothed and thinking, hey you look HOT baby! now, there have been few times in my life where i haven’t been able to do that and one of them was when i was really big, now i’m just overweight and to most probably just average, not too big, not too small, and i can look in the mirror, clothed or naked and say, hey, your HOT! cause i am…

    i was also told by a very close group of male friends that they would never even notice things like cellulite, big arses, arms or other body parts if they weren’t pointed out… when you look at someone who you are attracted to you don’t tick off all the bad things about them, you are always focussing on the good, so i say leave it at that…

    i know people can be cruel and some of the names i’ve heard others called are just plain awful but if personal insults is all someone has to offer then let’s be honest, they are just not worthy of even listening to let alone worrying about!

  24. You had to mention arms, hadn’t you? 😉
    My arms are not the worse part of my flabbiness, yet its the one that really makes me sad. The reason is very specific. I have always counted on the “upper” body to charm. I have good colar bones, nice round shoulders and then….horrific huge and flabby and full of strech marks arms. Which means without the flab and the strech marks, I would be so nice in sleevless and tank tops. But I cant wear them 🙁

    Of course, when I am on holidays I brave them on. But its all about my state of full bliss while in holidays that does not allow me to get paranoid with anything, not even arms.

    yet, I have not lifted a single weight.

    go figure!

  25. btw…my fav team is Italy…its nice to see intriguing football played by models 😉

    But i cheered for oz and will again, just cos of my aussie friends!

    And may I request a photo on the zara dress?

  26. My arms just sucked up weights and pump. Apparently I am a classic mesomorph according to a gym instructor. In other words, pear shaped. Finding pants to fit is a nightmare. 6 of one, half dozen of the other. 🙂

  27. Arms have to be one of those things that get distorted when you look down at your own, but never look as bad as you think in photos or to other people. Today I am wearing a sleeveless tshirt, and have to fight off the urge to clamp my arms to my torso when doing lab work, to spare myself the sight of wiggling pasty white/blue flesh!

    I never had a problem with my arms until I got some stretch marks on them at my highest weight 5 years ago. Somehow that was the mark of shame.

  28. Shauna, if you’re planning on having kids, you can count on the arm flab situation being corrected a bit after you’ve been hefting a 20-lb baby for months on end. Of course, having a baby also exacerbates the belly flab situation.

  29. I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks now and have really been enjoying it. Since 2003 I’ve lost 117 pounds and would like to lose at least 60 more, so I can totally relate to your journey here.
    Coincidentally, I have been having shoulder/neck pain, too, and this week I was diagnosed with a herniated disk in my neck, which is pressing on a nerve, hence the pain, tingling, etc. I’ve now started physical therapy and I’m hoping I can avoid steroid injections and surgery. I hope your neck and shoulder problems get resolved soon, too.
    As for arms, I’ve got the flaps of loose skin and lingering flab. Some days they really bother me, but other times I don’t care what people think and wear what I want — even sleeveless!

  30. yah I didn’t mean to slam style lady; you made it clear she was nice. that exercise comment just cracked me up tho.

  31. Oh, yes. I worry about my arms sometimes – especially after looking through my friend’s “What Not to Wear” books. And then I remember that I live in the northeast US, where it gets to be 90 degrees F and muggy. Screw propriety, let the flab fly free and enjoy a cooling breeze!

  32. Yay.. i love arms. I think arms are probably one of the sexiest parts of a womans body.

    I think we all have those parts of our body that no matter what we do,, we just cant win with them or get them exacty as we want to. It’s so damn frustrating really.