Overheard at Saks:
Shopper No. 1:“Ooh, that’s such an adorable dress.”
Shopper No. 2: “So why don’t you try it on?
Shopper No. 1: “Are you crazy? It’s sleeveless!
As we approach the warmer weather, I am convinced that this scene will be replayed over and over again in boutiques and department stores across the country. I don’t know if this fixation transcends continents, but American women of a certain age have a thing about their arms.
Typically, it is not the entire arm. The arm between the elbow and the wrist may be entirely acceptable. It is the area that lies between the shoulder and the elbow, otherwise known as the upper arm, that is the offending body part.
This female upper arm obsession was brought into sharp focus the other night when I was having dinner with some women friends, all contemporaries. Somehow the conversation became rerouted from the threat of global warming to apparel without sleeves. At the time, I wondered how we got from one topic to the other. But in retrospect, I can see a certain logic to this detour.
One after the other, my friends related how they long ago decided it was not in their best interest to display their upper arms. When even the most petite among us claimed that she was starting to feel bad about her elbows, I knew that this fixation had gone way too far! OMG, I thought. Upper arms have become the new neck!
As the only person at the table who still dared to go bare, I could sense seeds of doubt scattering through my psyche. Was I seeing my own arms through rose-colored glasses? Or maybe one of those fun-house mirrors that make you look long and thin? (Every woman should have one in her home.)
Although I have been a dedicated triceps toner, perhaps the jiggly, jello look had finally caught up with me. I immediately reached for my sweater, and blamed my cover-up on the excessive use of air-conditioning, so common in south Florida establishments. And yes, wasn’t it awful how they kept these places so cold.
Needing an objective opinion about the true state of my upper arms, I naturally turned to my husband.
“Honey,” I said (I admit, I only call him honey when I want support rather than the truth), “what do you think about my arms?”
“Your arms? I haven’t given much thought to your arms.”
“My upper arms. Do you think they’re in good shape?”
“As compared with who?”
After correcting his grammar, I recounted the conversation at the dinner table. He made an enormous effort not to laugh, patted my shoulder, and told me I had nothing to worry about. Once again, the term of endearment had yielded the desired result. But I quickly turned to make sure the shoulder pat had not triggered any excess fatty tissue disturbance.
So, as older women we hate our upper arms. But it doesn’t stop there. I bet we’re not too crazy about our knees, either. Summer’s coming. That’s when we all get seasonal affective disorder. Every time we put on a bathing suit, we each have an opportunity to hate our entire body.
I don’t know about men, but women have a tendency to be very hard on themselves. We carry around criteria for perfection based on some long-ago, presently unachievable body image. Hey, why can’t I just say, “My arms look great for my age,” and be satisfied with that.
But there are some braver souls among us.
I was in a clothing store the other day, and because of my recent obsession with upper arms, noticed this very attractive “older” woman. She was of medium-height, not particularly thin, with beautifully styled gray hair. Her make-up was well-applied, she wore interesting earrings, and yes, she was sleeveless!
Believe me, she would not be hired for a deodorant ad, or any other product requiring one to bare their arms, but yet, there I was, admiring her appearance.
Good for you, lady, I thought. It’s a hot day. Why not?
And so, Michelle Obama, don’t get me wrong. I truly admire you. But you have set a standard for upper arm fitness that few of us can match.
Therefore if Hillary makes it to the White House, I’m sure looking forward to her rolling up her sleeves!