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."
"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.