"Instead of enjoying the day, my mind would be preoccupied with how my arms looked and how disgusted I thought people were by them. All of that mental anguish took a massive toll on my mental health."

Shammara Lawrence
Jul 23, 2020 @ 4:38 pm
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Credit: Shammara Lawrence

Summer is one of my favorite seasons. I enjoy the extra time I get to spend with loved ones, the adventures we embark on, and the carefree energy summer brings out of me. Plus, I have more fun on the sartorial front, too. Quirky short shorts? Sign me up! Crop tops? I’m so down! Spaghetti straps? *Record scratch.* Me, showing my arms? No way.

Let me explain: While I’ve come a long way on my self-love journey, I’m still very self-conscious about my arms. They’ve been a source of shame for me since they grew in size when I gained weight in college. They’re wide, meaty, and a bit flabby—not quite the toned Michelle Obama arms many people covet. 

I’ve covered them up for years, even when it was sweltering. I’d wear tops with sleeves to conceal their bigness, opt for bathing suits that covered the top part of my arms, and wear cover-ups to the beach and only take them off to get in the water.  On the rare occasion I wore something with my arms out, I'd feel extremely uncomfortable the entire time. Instead of enjoying the day, my mind would be preoccupied with how my arms looked and how disgusted I thought people were by them. All of that mental anguish took a massive toll on my mental health

Last summer, while on a trip to St. Thomas, I wore a leopard-print sleeveless dress. “You’re in a foreign country where no one knows you; let loose a bit,” I said, hyping myself up to get outside of my comfort zone. The dress was very cute and I loved how it looked on me, and guess what?  No one commented on my arms! “See, it’s all in your head,” I told myself. Reveling in how pretty I looked, I took a bunch of selfies. 

Later that night, while looking over the pictures to choose the right one for Instagram, I bypassed my big smile in them and instead narrowed in on the stretch marks on the tops of my arms. In seconds, I started picking the picture apart and, ultimately, decided against posting it. I was so worn out from the experience, I didn’t wear anything sleeveless for months.

Once again, I was my worst enemy. 

Now, my life has been turned upside down by a global pandemic, and during it, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my life and the beliefs I’ve long held onto about myself. Of course, my views on my arms were one. I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that I need to enjoy my time here on earth, right now, as I am.

If COVID-19 has taught me anything, it’s that tomorrow isn’t promised. All we have is the now. There’s so much more to life than the way your body looks. Yes, feeling comfortable in your skin is important, but you shouldn’t let arbitrary beauty standards get you down and make you feel like who you are isn’t good enough. Beauty should be defined on your own terms. 

For the longest time, I hid my arms because they weren’t perfectly toned or what society deems beautiful. I convinced myself they weren’t worth showing off because they’re big and have stretch marks all over, instead of admiring them for their strength and ability to foster connection through touch. My arms have carried me through life. 

As I think about the woman I want to be, I envision someone who loves herself and all her parts, so I’ve decided to let them free and show them off to the world. I made a commitment to myself to embrace them, even on the days when I don’t feel great. Has it been an easy journey? No, but it’s been a necessary and fulfilling one. I also recognize that while I will have bad body-image days, as long as I’m gentle with my body and constantly speak kindness to myself, I’m making progress. 

Now, whenever I can, I make a point to show my arms the love I’ve deprived them of for so long because they deserve it. They’ve looked out for me my entire life; it’s time I do the same for them.