These Arms of Mine

Last week, something really amazing happened: I got an email telling me that I had won the Charles McCorkle Hauser Prize for Prose from the Chautauqua Institution! This was a super big deal, because I’d never won a literary prize before, nor had I ever won money for my fiction. As you can imagine, I was over the moon.

Accepting my award at Chautauqua!
Accepting my award at Chautauqua!

A celebration was in order, of course, so I grabbed my friend Heather and we headed out to eat some lobster. While we were at dinner, we asked the waiter to take a photo of us with our giant rum drinks.

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Picture it: I’m on top of the world, a story I wrote has impressed some people enough that they want to give me a prize for it. This is one of the highest points in my lifetime of creating fiction. I’m with one of my best friends, at one of my favorite places to eat. What a night! I take my phone back from the waiter, look at the photos he took, and… I struggle not to cry. My arms! They’re big. No, not big. I’m a writer, I can do better than that: My arms are massive, immense, colossal. I’m horrified and mortified. They dwarf my head – I feel like that guy from Beetlejuice.

The guy on the right.
The guy on the right.

Hold up. I’m the creator of Big Fit Deal. I have spent the past two years of my life writing and talking about body acceptance, about Health at Every Size, about how the size and shape of our bodies are not shorthand for our worth. How can I be horrified by a part of my own body? I swallow the shame, and focus on dinner. Later, I ask Heather, “Is this why I’m single?” As the words come out, I believe them. I feel the shame creep into my heart and up to my face, where it burns hot. Yes, it’s the size of my arms that keep men at a distance, that make me undateable and unlovable, I’m sure of it. Heather says, “I don’t know.” We don’t want to believe it, but we aren’t sure, so we talk about something else.

Before I go to sleep, I face the mirror. I hold up first one bare arm, and then the other. I make myself look, hard. There was (and is) no denying it: I have really big arms. Now, I tell myself, I can go down one of two paths. The first leads to a dark world of shame, anger, and embarrassment. It leads to covering up even when it’s too hot. If I go far enough, it probably leads to calorie restriction and obsessive exercise, in the hope that my arms will magically become small and delicate and socially acceptable (even though that never happened when I did those things before). The other path? That leads to embracing what I’ve got. To focusing on the fact that these big ol’ arms of mine swim laps three times a week, they lift weights, they push and pull and move water in aquafit. Not only that, but at the end of those arms are the hands that I used to write that award-winning short story!

I bet you can guess which path I took. Now, truth is, the size of my arms might very well be off-putting to potential suitors. After all, we live in a world where even small women are afraid to go sleeveless because their arms aren’t toned or tight “enough.” There are countless magazine articles and Pinterest boards dedicated to eradicated the scourge of the fat, flappy arm. But if someone doesn’t want to get to know me because of the size of my arms, that’s their loss, because they give really fantastic hugs.

It’s a common refrain around these parts, but worth repeating: Body acceptance is a journey. Some days are easier than others. Some days, you want to lock your door and never let anyone in – or yourself out. Other days, you face the reflection in the mirror straight on, acknowledge what you see there, and work hard to change your perspective. Then you sit back down at the keyboard and see what else you have to offer the world, one story at a time.