I used to – and admittedly sometimes still do – have a massive problem with my arms. You see, I have big arms and excess skin and there’s nothing that I’ve ever done that has made them any smaller. They jiggle and flap and I used to detest them so much that the thought of anyone seeing them made me break into a cold sweat. Heck. Even me seeing them made me break out in a cold sweat. They were one of the many things about myself that I couldn’t accept.
On my journey of self acceptance I’m working hard towards learning how to not only accept my big arms, but love them. It took me so long to wrap my mind around the fact that everyone else around me didn’t have this thing and that I might never be able to or want to change to my arms to be anything else. It’s taken years of layering and cardigans regardless of temperature and weather, to resolve myself to the fact that I can do more than just survive big arms – I can thrive!
It wasn’t an overnight change. The reality was I had lived more than a decade finding new ways to dislike my body and new ways to punish and shame myself because of it. I thought my body was a failure in it’s entirety and then I felt like I was failing just dedicating so much energy to hating myself!
Even though I had a support system of people telling me that they loved me and that I was beautiful – and because of my faith I had a belief that I was loved by God – I still felt like I wasn’t worthy of any of their love, let alone love from myself. From the moment I was old enough to understand that I was bigger than all of my petite friends, I knew that I had to do all I could to hide the fact.
Imagine 10 year old Michelle. She would have full on melt downs at home if her only clean PE kit involved wearing shorts. How sad that even from a young age we’re already afraid of our bodies. Already disappointed that they don’t meet a westernised standard of beauty. While the rest of my friends and peers wore cute tops and dresses showing off their arms, I spent most of time agonising over why they didn’t just put sleeves on summer clothes. I took to borrowing t-shirts off of my older brother purely because men’s t-shirts have longer sleeves!
I wore cardigans on top of nearly everything and in nearly all weather. If the shirt I was wearing sported short arms, I had my trusty long sleeved shirt to wear underneath. Thankfully in the early 2000 layering was the fashion so no one questioned me, but as time went on the people around me started questioning what was obviously an uncomfortable choice.
Sometimes I would say I was just cold, sometimes I would jokingly said I was making a fashion statement and then sometimes if I was feeling really vulnerable I would feel attacked and get on the defensive. What did it matter? It wasn’t anyone’s business! Surely I can just wear it and not have a problem!
Years of this never-ending cycle started to wear thin on me. I had to face facts. I didn’t like my body, I especially didn’t like my arms and something had to change. The journey to that change has been long, hard and tiring, sometimes I take 10 steps forward only to feel like I have taken 8 steps back, but I’m learning that judging myself on that is relative because any progress is still progress.
The first time I wore something that showed my arms I felt my heart palpitate. I had allowed it to be come such a deeply rooted psychological fear that actual symptoms were manifesting, but as with many things: sometimes jumping head-first can be the way to assuage that fear. That’s exactly what I did. I allowed myself to be in positions where I had to show my arms. Whether it was going swimming, changing in front if people or not making excuses as to why I had to keep my t shirt on for a costume fitting, eventually the fear began to dissipate.
There was no quick-fix and it hasn’t been easier by any means but that’s the point of a journey.
It doesn’t matter what our journey looks like, what matters is that we are on it.
The body acceptance movement opened new doors on my journey. Suddenly I was seeing all kinds of people happily and proudly loving their bodies. I saw other women with big arms not living in fear of people seeing them and proudly baring them. It gave me the confidence to begin doing this myself so that eventually I found my own courage and strength. Until eventually it was no longer even an act of bravery to do so, it was just living.
I still have times where I struggle with my arms. When I look at them and worry about why they don’t look like someone else’s but then I remember that that is the beautiful part of it. They don’t look like someone else’s. They look like mine. They belong to me. They are a gift to me. Gifts are worth cherishing and loving and that’s exactly what I aim to do.