What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I may not love my upper arms (yet), but I do love North Carolina.
Trigger warning: This post contains a lot of me sippin' on self-haterade with regard to my body. If you feel like it's fat-shamey or will make you feel bad about yourself, don't read it. It only has to do with my weird, twisted, living-in-a-nutso-world-of-my-own-making feelings about my own body, not about yours. But seriously, if reading about someone hating on a body part makes you feel shitty, then move right along to another article. You have been so warned.
First things first: The photograph above is a lie, an outrageous lie. No, I didn't doctor it via our friend Photoshop, and I didn't get some slim-armed girl with my face and boobs to stand in for me. But lest you think the essay that's about to ensue is based solely on my body dysmorphia-induced hallucinations (which it totally is), allow me to point out the angle from which said photo was taken.
Although I did not take it myself, it sort of mimics the ever-popular helicopter shot (where you take a photo of yourself from a flattering high angle) that ruled on Friendster (this was a social networking site, I will explain it to you later) and, later, MySpace.
The photo above appears to indicate that I have skinny upper arms. But! This is in actuality an untruth, for it was taken in just so sneaky a manner as to hide the flab hanging off the backside of my appendage. Want another example of photo deception that might lead you to think that my upper arms are worthy of appearing in public?
Observe, if you will, the "jaunty hand on the hip" method on display in the photo below. This was a conscious choice I learned from somebody who learned it from some celebrity.
I am maybe slightly drunk in this photo from last year's Housing Works Gin Mingle by the fine folks at Have Booth Will Travel.
A few years ago, before I didn't like my upper arms, a friend of mine hipped me to her secret.
"I do not show my upper arms in public," she confided. "The three-quarter sleeve is my jam." At the time, I felt kind of bad, thinking that she should be happy with her body and rock tank tops as much as she damned pleased. And this has remained my policy... for everyone but myself.
Photo taken by the fine folks at WORD Brooklyn as I signed a book about my many other neuroses.
Here are other key moments in upper arm history.
This is possibly my favorite photo of ever, except that my upper arms always distract me from the Amanda Palmer and the Neil Gaiman in the bathtub.
Looking back on this photo from high school, in which I apparently dated A HEADLESS MAN, I find myself judging my 18-year-old arm arms as being too meaty. This is obviously insane.
I hate this photo. I look pretty and happy frolicking on the roof of The Onion's old offices, but what is that giant narwhal of flesh dangling from my shoulder? Why, it is my upper arm of doom. How silly of me to enjoy life while hosting such an imperfection.
OK. Enough with the pictorial evidence.
I said earlier that a few years ago I didn't hate my upper arms. And let me be clear: I'd miss them if they were gone. I need them to do things like connect my shoulder to my forearm and help me throw punches in a street fight and help me shoot straight if I ever join my manager at her warfare survival classes, where they seriously go into the desert in California and shoot dummies that pop up in a fake village (she also knows how to do shit with knives. I believe this is exactly the kind of person you want doing deals for you in Hollywoodland.)
So what happened? When did I go from someone who was blissfully unaware of her upper arms' appearance to someone who obsesses over the length of sleeves and the angle of photographs? I mean, I sure don't like my belly pooch either, and I look at it every day and think of how I can eliminate it (and then I eat pasta and ice cream), but I don't have the unique concern about it that I do for my upper arms. Maybe it's because the belly is easy to conceal with Spanx and fun flouncy skirts and stuff. I dunno.
Anyway, why am I so freaking concerned about the appearance of my upper arms? I think it happened when I worked for Cosmo Magazine. Well, I didn't work for Cosmo Magazine; I worked for Cosmo Radio, the brand's Sirius XM station. I hosted and produced a show called "Get in Bed," which was about making sexies with your boyfriend or husband.
Naturally, I listened to a lot of the other programs, which often had to do with fashion and fitness and stuff like that. It wasn't exactly "Morning Edition," but sometimes the fluffy shit was funny and entertaining. Howevs, I had to really absorb that brand and get inside the magazine each month, and of course that meant looking at an endless parade of perfect models and reading about tips for firming up what was undoubtedly an imperfect body.
I used to joke (off air) that every issue could be summed up thusly: "69 Ways To Blow Your Boyfriend So He Won't Leave You For A Skinnier, Prettier, Nicer Bitch."
I think it did something to me, the two years of focusing on sexy sexy sex sex and hotty hot hot bodies. I think it eliminated the remnants of my healthy hippie love fest approach to body image and sent me down a weird path. I guess I just happened to focus on the arms stuff rather than on the booty stuff or the belly stuff or the legs stuff.
I began idolizing Michelle Obama for her toned, fit upper arms rather than for her many other impressive qualities. I never noticed or snarked on arms that were, like mine, less shapely than the ideal; I just hated myself and elevated people with toned arms to some kind of weird demigod status.
Well, I recently went back to Asheville, North Carolina to see some dear old friends and to get back in touch with that aforementioned healthy hippie love fest attitude. Being in Asheville for four days worked its usual magic, and not only did I start to feel better about my physical body, I decided I wanted to take a bold step toward reminding myself that there are more important things than what a tape measure says.
I also wanted to carry Asheville with me wherever I go, and to show people what a special place it has been to me. I looked around me and saw so many beautiful men and women of so many shapes and sizes walking around that town with permanent decor on their bodies, tattoos that seemed to say, "Hey! I'm tough but sassy! I have a badass soul and I appreciate art and I like my body enough to decorate it for the whole wide world to see!"
So, naturally, I got a tattoo. And I got it on the place that freaks me out the most: my upper arm.
Those would be the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.
It would've been a bolder choice to get it on the fleshier back part of my upper arm, but I wanted to be able to look at it and smile. It's my first tattoo that isn't easily concealed -- I have three tramp stamps that go largely unnoticed in my day to day life. And it says something simple: I LOVE THIS PARTICULAR PLACE THAT IS DEPICTED ON MY ARM, AND BY EXTENSION MAYBE I EVEN LOVE THIS PART OF MY BODY.
I know it's a weird route to body acceptance, but it's a start.