"What Are You Feeding Those Things?"
It was a typical Tuesday night in the dorms. Clad in sweats and a tank top, I was curled up on a sofa of dubious cleanliness, one eye on my problem set and the other on the Star Trek rerun playing on the communal television, when a guy I considered a friend — let's call him "Dick" — flopped down beside me and poked me in the upper arm, setting off a slight ripple effect.
“What are you feeding those things?” he asked incredulously.
It was pretty clear that he wasn't asking me for a protein power recommendation. For as long as I can remember, where most people have biceps, I've had what are contemptuously called “mom arms” — though, let's face it, moms aren't allowed to have them, either.
A hundred thoughts, none of them pleasant, went through my head. Dick and I weren't close, but he was a genial, well-liked guy: smart, funny, and, yes, sometimes acerbic. Also, it was the '90s — the ideal body type was wan and waifish, not taut and toned. Was this a friendly jab? A lame attempt at a joke? A failed come-on (the kind we now call “negging”)? I had no idea.
So I rewarded him with a blank stare and went back to my homework. But his words stuck with me. Twenty-five years later, they're still with me.
Like most women, I lose weight in a specific and unvarying sequence. First, my stomach goes flat. Then, my butt. Next, my face starts to thin out. This is the point where people start asking me if I've lost weight. It's also the point where my motivation to diet and exercise begins to flag. Only after all of this has been accomplished do I begin to see a difference in my arms.
No matter how bony the rest of my appendages might be, my arms remain fleshy. I've tried lifting weights; they got bigger. I've wrapped them in cellophane. I've considered liposuction. I've looked into CoolSculpting. While I'm proud of other parts of my body, I'm not a small woman (as society demands), and I never will be. I'm 5'10”, with broad shoulders and what are charitably called “child-bearing hips.” (Again with the mom-shaming.)
On the thinnest day of my adult life — my wedding day — I only got to that point thanks to a combination of stress, not having time to eat, and a freak financial snafu on a recent three-week business trip overseas that literally left me unable to afford three meals a day. Friends and family members who came up to hug me after the ceremony murmured in my ear that I was too thin and I needed to start eating again now that the wedding was over. But one friend — who knows me well — whispered: “Look at your arms!” They'd never looked better — and they haven't looked as good since.
Fortunately, I married a man who thinks I'm beautiful at any weight. Most of the time, I agree. But I still struggle at times, and I rarely feel in control of my body. Childbirth, birth control, unemployment, over-employment, depression, antidepressants, more childbirth — all of these things have caused my once-stable weight to fluctuate wildly in recent years. Perversely, my arms haven't changed.
Now that I'm a mom, I've managed to avoid a lot of the mom clichés. I don't own mom jeans. You'll never see me in yoga pants outside of a Pilates class. I refuse to drive a minivan. But if I thought motherhood would put me (or anyone else) at peace with my arms, I was wrong.
Because I live in Southern California, bathing suits and sleeveless tops are year-round attire. There's no way I'm going to cover up when it's 102 degrees in the shade. Still, every time I catch sight of my bare arms in the mirror, a voice in my head asks: “What are you feeding those things?” Maybe it's Dick's voice. Maybe it's mine.
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