I had just turned sixteen when my mom made a comment about not being a huge fan of her arms. I looked at my arms, realized that they looked the same, and decided to hide them. Even though it was summertime, I wore dark jackets and long sleeves to hide my arms. I didn’t want anyone to see them.
Years later, my arms still haven’t really seen the light of day. They are big, they jiggle a lot, and have stretch marks all over them. When I’ve worn short sleeves, I feel super self conscious and imagine everyone looking at me and thinking, “Wow. Look at her big arms.”
I was still thinking along this line until some experiences taught me a different way to think about them. One experience was when I was sitting in a body image support group with an awesome lady as the leader, Tara Tulley. I described, with anger and tears, my hate for my body, most especially my arms. She just listened and then gently said at the end, “You want to be a midwife, right? What do midwives need their arms for? What are your arms for?”
I sat back and thought. I thought about what I use my arms for. I thought about it the whole ride home, while washing the dishes, cooking dinner, rocking my baby to sleep, rubbing Ethan’s back, and while giving a spontaneous hug to a friend.
My mind thought, “hey, maybe I do need my arms for things. And maybe, maybe it doesn’t matter so much what they look like.
Time passed, and after this initial thought, I didn’t think too much of it. I sort of forgot and still disliked my arms. I didn’t start thinking about them until this week.
Since we have been living with my in-laws for the past month, I’ve been doing yard work – sweeping, picking up horse manure, weeding, and creating a compost pile. I’ve been using my arms. I have noticed my arms getting stronger and I really enjoy using them. I am starting to feel pride in my arms.
While I work, I think. I think about the sexualization of bodies and what we can do as a society, as parents, as individuals with bodies. And then I remember what Tara said. I start to connect the two. One part of me thinks that the only purpose of my body is for looks – that’s the part that hates my arms. The other part recognizes that my body is a do-er – a tool for me to use, to create, to uplift, to support. I need to figure out a way to make the second part become more dominant.
What doesn’t matter is what other people think about what I look like, or what I think other people think about what I look like. What matters right now, is what I think and feel about my beautiful and useful body.