How I Stopped Hiding Behind Cardigans, & Learned To Love My Arms

A few weeks ago I was featured as the “Bombshell of the Day” on Fashion Bomb. The article showcased a few photos of my personal style for each of the four seasons. I loved seeing some of my favorite “outfit of the day” looks all in one place. The first comment that came through was about my summer look, a vintage inspired halter dress: “The sideboob and fleshy arms in the green dress... NO TO THE MA'AM.”
Photo: Courtesy of Cece Olisa.
As a plus-size girl, I’ve spent so much time trying to hide my body. So. Much. Time. And in so many ways, I spent my high school years swimming inside of baggy clothes. I’ve spent my college years taking shallow, half-breaths (and trying to make that look normal), while stuffed into Spanx. Even today, I have a closet full of oversized cardigans and shrugs in every single color. There’s nothing wrong with cardigans, but I have been using them as a security blanket, and as a way to hide my body — not to celebrate it. To be honest, I would have worn a cardigan at the beach over a bikini.
I can’t imagine there’s a woman on the planet who hasn’t wished she had perfectly toned arms like the First Lady, Michelle Obama. But mine look nothing like that. As a big girl, I have a combination of jiggle and stretch marks that have shamed me into rocking hoodies in the middle of summer, and pairing my “Freakum Dress” with sweaters at the club.
Three summers ago, I found myself in a predicament: I was embarrassed by my arms, but I loved fashion! I had a strapless jumpsuit, a new maxi-dress with beautiful lace racerback detail, and a few bright colored halter tops that were waiting for a summertime debut. Each time I put on one of my new warm-weather outfits, the cardigan I threw on looked awkward. I finally realized that throwing a shrug or sweater over all of my outfits was ruining my style. Covering my arms was not a fashion choice — it was a self-imposed body shaming tactic. And let’s face it, wearing sweaters to hide my bat wings didn’t even work, because even inside my sweater sleeves, you could still see my arms jiggling.
Photo: Courtesy of Cece Olisa.
I wasn’t expressing myself through fashion, I was telling myself, and the world, I had something to hide. I was instead expressing that I didn’t like my body… and that wasn’t cute to me anymore. I made a decision. If I liked a strapless or sleeveless item enough to purchase it, then I’d like it enough to wear it — cardigan free. I started going sleeveless, and to my relief, nothing interesting happened. No one made fun of me. I went to events sleeveless and felt lighter. I went sleeveless on dates and blushed as guys told me how soft my skin was. So the other day when a stranger from the internet commented on my sideboob (which was actually under arm fat, thank you!), it truly did not matter. If she’d left the same comment three summers ago, it would have sent me into anxiety about my body and what I looked like. It would have shaken my confidence to the core. But today, I know differently. I know that putting my jiggly arms on the internet in a dress I like is a powerful act. That commenter may have thought my arms were a fashion faux pas, but what she didn’t realize is that I now have body love and confidence. I’ve worked hard for it — it’s something I can’t buy, and it's something that no one can take away.

More from Styling Tips

R29 Original Series