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By Julia Gumm

What’s that one part of your body you hate? Oh come on, I know you have one. For me, it’s always been my arms. Sure, I have issues with my tummy, my chin, my eyelashes…but really, the problem is my arms.

Not willowy nor cut, these babies are chubby. They were chubby when I lifted weights. They were chubby when I did a ton of cardio. They were chubby when I did a ton of drugs. Chub-E (cottage) Cheeses. It seemed that no matter how many tricep kick backs Denise Austin chirped me through, I always had that unsightly jiggle when I waved goodbye. That’s what she always pointed to as an incentive to stick with her program- not having that kind of epic disaster wreck your day anymore. Jiggling arms? G.R.O.S.S!

 So what happens when you do your sensible 20 minute workout three or four times per week, eat a reasonably healthy diet, lead a fairly active life and yet, you’re still hauling around a couple of ham hocks? Hocks that do indeed jiggle when you wave goodbye, (if you dare)? I guess a couple of things could happen. One, you just might realize that we are all different, you are simply not cut out to have trim arms and that’s ok. No need to go crazy trying to maintain a body type that doesn’t come naturally to you, for heavens sake. Alternately, you could allow yourself to be bothered enough to wear long sleeves on warm days, sometimes make disparaging remarks about your appearance, but leave it at that.

Or, if you’re the kind of person who obsessively reads health blogs, you could decide that you are ugly and misshapen and if you dare let such an unsightly abhorrence languish on your frame you’re doing nothing less than alert the world to your slovenly laziness, which, on top of your cosmetic imperfections, will no doubt condemn you to a miserable life absent of true self-confidence and the best of romantic success. Or something like that.

I, of course, went with the latter approach.

 You know what follows. First you eat a little less and work out a little more. Still no change. Alright, maybe the workout needs to be more intense. Hmm, maybe some improvement, but not enough. Ok, maybe I need to eat even less? No, huh? Ok, how about not at all. How about if I don’t hardly eat at all and still get my workouts in? On top of my actual workout, what if I do isometric squeezes whenever I find myself sitting still and unable to access a dumbbell? Here we go, now I’m looking smaller…but the shape is still the same, that is to say, lacking a shape. Just a disgusting slab-o-fat. Damn that Denise Austin, I am doing EXACTLY what she told me to do, my arms are twice the size of hers and she is twice (thrice?) my age. What. The. Hell. 

And then the magic cures! South Beach! Atkins! Cardio! No Cardio! Light weights, high repetitions! Heavy weights, low repetitions! Not weights, resistance bands! Not resistance bands, your own body weight! Yoga! Pilates! Carefully controlled portion sizes! High protein! High fiber! Low fat! High fat? Screw it all, bulimia!

So here’s a novel question: Why? When taken to extremes, it’s clear to any rational person that the goal is no longer health and a reasonable personal best. Rather, the hope is to transform yourself into something totally different, something culturally approved, something ideal.

When did we accept this kind of insidious self-hatred as normal? Beyond normal, enviable even? When did we decide that someone who may think a person is taking their obsession with perfection too far is in fact, a “hater?” And haters gon’ hate! Dinner tonight is kale, 4 oz of protein and a jog!

What happens then, when you reach that perfection, if you ever do? Are you really healthier? Happier? More whole? Did the anger of a rotten childhood dissolve? Did your relationships improve? Was the pain of not being the prettiest, the best, the most admired, finally banished from your heavy heart? Did taming your thighs make you feel accomplished? Powerful? At long last, in control? Will tending to a high-maintenance figure for the rest of your life give you purpose? Order in the chaos? An assured cache of compliments at holiday dinners, friends who wish they too, could be as disciplined and fit as you?

 At what point did we find it applaudable to look at pictures of other people and say “instead of looking like me, I want to look like her.” Why don’t we balk at the suggestion in the magazines to cut out those pictures and paste them to our refrigerators? Pictures to remind us that instead of feeding ourselves, we should be punishing ourselves. Instead of eating what we want when we’re hungry, we should instead be perpetuating a cycle of shame, guilt and jealousy. You are not enough as you are, is the message. Or rather, you are too much as you are. Don’t eat again. Have a glass of water. Take a diet pill. Maybe have some carrot sticks. Work out instead. You don’t want to be stuck in that body of yours forever, do you? Who will love you? Certainly not yourself, that’s for sure.

So yeah, I have fat arms. On occasion, they make fitting into cute blouses a problem. Under the garish light of the dressing room, it’s a sorry sight to behold. Arms packed like sausages into sleeves too small, every imperfection highlighted for me, god and thankfully no one else to see. And hey, is that a zit on my chin?

It’s enough to make a girl go home and dine on a salad for dinner and nothin’ but shame for dessert.

And yet, I still have these arms.

Maybe instead of trying to physically minimize them, there is a way to minimize the space they take up in my head.

One day, when going through old pictures I happened across a photo of my mother, who passed when I was young. I always felt my mother was very beautiful despite perhaps not being ideally lovely. I guess most children feel that way about their moms. Maybe that’s what happens when we love, we see beauty where unforgiving eyes see flaws. Well, when I studied the picture carefully, I realized I have my mother’s arms, exactly. Right down to the nubby little elbow peaking out from underneath a rather substantial tricep, leading down the forearms to squarish, fleshy hands. Her arms, warm, powerful things that held me as a baby and hugged me as a child. Here I am, carrying around these living monuments to the woman who made me, and all I want to do is whip them into something they are not. What if I had a daughter and she too, had these arms? How would I feel if I noticed her glaring at herself in the mirror, woefully gripping the weight with tense fingers, a wish to be something other than herself etched in the grooves of her frown?

Of course I would feel awful. I would question myself for ever giving her the idea that she is not wonderful the way she is, I would admonish myself for not building her up enough to be immune to the influence of an unfeeling culture that stands to profit off of low self-esteem. When I’d watch her struggle to make herself more beautiful, my heart would ache for the uselessness of it. Because already she would be beautiful! How could I make her see?

There is a striking dissonance between how we treat the people we care about and how we treat ourselves. If you aren’t filing yourself under the “People I Love” category in your brain, you can be led to do lots of silly, painful things that deep down, aren’t going to make you feel any better. So the next time you stand in front of a mirror and sneer at your less than flat abs or get angry with yourself for having enjoyed a dessert, ask yourself why. Why is perfection so important? What does it matter and who does it matter to? Remember that exactly who you are has been crafted by eons of evolution and the passion of your descendants. You are an incredible thing.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Behold. You are beautiful. Go forth from that place. Afford yourself the love and acceptance you grant those dear to you, dear. No one deserves it more than you. No really. You and those big honkin’ thighs of yours.