armed and ready

I’m not the first one to write about this, and I won’t be the last. But I don’t think there can be too many shame stories like this uncovered and discussed openly. Shame wants to remain secret, in the dark, festering like mold. In my experience, when exposed to sunlight, it dies.

For most of my life, I didn’t wear sleeveless. I didn’t even consider it. While there were plenty of styles I figured I could theoretically do but were “better” to avoid (fitted tops, short skirts, etc.), a few things seemed completely off-limits as a RULE. This included bikinis, anything midriff-baring, and sleeveless. I didn’t question this, didn’t mull it over, didn’t consider challenging it. I also didn’t ponder going to the moon for my lunch break.

I’m not sure exactly what changed for me several years ago. Well I guess that’s not entirely true — I have been doing a lot of work with myself (read: therapy) for a long time and there’s no question that’s the origin. But I don’t know what the trigger was for this actual change. I guess I don’t really care. Anyway, I purchased a couple of tank tops a few years back and would wear them at home, but I would change if I had to go out anywhere. And I wouldn’t answer the door while wearing one. It’s really appalling and infuriating for me to regurgitate all of this now, but it’s also cathartic so I’m pushing on…

So Texas. And a propensity for being warm anyway. Size doesn’t help that, but I ran warm even when I was a hundred pounds lighter than I am now. By not allowing myself to wear sleeveless, I was inflicting a double punishment upon myself. I wouldn’t make myself as comfortable as I could in the stifling heat. And I excluded myself from gobs of cute styles because they didn’t happen to contain sleeves.

I wonder now if by wearing the tanks at home, I began to desensitize myself to the horror that was my upper arms. Before long I started playing around with sewing sleeveless styles and would layer them, then soon enough I would actually dare to remove a cardigan from time to time in front of people.

I hesitated to include this next part, because my mom reads this blog and I didn’t want to publicly write anything that would upset her. But she knows about my body image struggles, and she and I have talked many times about her role in that. It’s not all her fault, and I love her dearly, but mistakes were made, like they always are. And she fully encourages me to explore them and heal from them now, so I think she would support my expression of this. My mom doesn’t like how her arms look, and she hasn’t worn a sleeveless top that I’m aware of since I’ve been alive. I could tell you about her fitness level, size, shape, etc. but those things don’t matter at all. The bottom line is that, from both her and society as a whole, I got the message that if your arms aren’t ideally slim or toned, no sleeveless. Period.

sleeveless Marbella

Today, between May and September and sometimes beyond, when I go into my closet to choose something to wear, I am gutted if all my sleeveless stuff is in the laundry. I even hack patterns into sleeveless when they don’t come with that option. Why on earth would I want to go out in this heat in anything else?? And it’s that — that feeling — which made me understand that embracing sleeveless styles for myself was a very, very kind thing to do.

I’ve overcome some body shame issues in my life, and will spend the rest of my days continuing to fight and defeat the ones that remain. So far, this is one of my favorite conquests.


Comments 93

  • Good for you for overcoming this!!! body image issues are so weird and insidious (my thirteen year old recently started complaining about her very muscular arms :( and I really have no idea what to do about it. ?)

    • Oh that must be heartbreaking! I do think just about everyone must go through some of that about her age…but that doesn’t mean it will stick. ❤️

    • Tell her how wonderful strong arms are. All the things they tell about her.. That she works hard.. Is fit etc.All the things she can lift and open herself.. The people she can help. That many woman spend ages attempting to get arms like hers.. This article is a good example.

  • I ❤️ this. Thank you for sharing your feelings.

  • You are absolutely beautiful. Your wonderful encouraging personality shines through whenever you help us Blank Slate sewists. Thank you for your strength and honesty.

  • Susan, Thank you for being so open and honest.. Your smile is always the first thing I see whenever I see you modeling! I am in my mid 50’s and suffer from the same body image issues and believe me when I say articles like this one do a world of good for all of us!

    • Thanks, Lisa! It has always encouraged me to read about others struggling with, and overcoming, issues like this, so I’m thrilled if I can contribute! ?

  • Awesome post! I can relate to this on so many levels.

  • Susan you are amazing!! Swap your arms for my legs and is pretty much the same story. Loving alllll of me has been a work in progress but it must be done so that we can provide a body positive environment for our children. Loving the journey

  • With this awesome attitude, you can rock anything!

  • Life’s too short to be uncomfortable!! For years, I, too, would not go sleeveless. I had a perennial farmers tan because of it. Then I decided that I no longer wanted to be hot and that I no longer cared if anyone thought my big arms looked bad. I honestly doubt that anyone really cares. Our perceptions of ourselves always seem worse than they actually are.

    • Not only do I agree that no one cares, I seriously doubt that most of them even *notice*. But try telling that to 12 (or 22…) year old me — it just didn’t matter. My anxieties about it weren’t about logic. ? And OH YES the farmers tan! I swear it took a few years for that to begin going away, and I often still think I can see it.

  • You are very pretty and it’s great to hear you are feeling better about yourself. And you have amazing skin too so why not show that off! Be free, live free – virtual hug coming your way…

  • I still struggle with this … I will take a deep breath and go sleeveless tomorrow, drawing courage from you! Thank you from this woman living in a heat wave on NC!

    • This is the best thing I could possibly hear. You’ve made my day… and I hope your day is a bit easier today too, because of your bare arms!! ?

  • Susan, you absolutely rock! Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m working hard on my own body image and you totally give me hope. Therapy is so damn hard sometimes but so worth it, at times later than sooner!
    It always amazes me to see one of my fb friends, whom I’ve seen as so beautiful, write what you have!! If only I could see myself as I see them, and Youuu! I love the photos of you wearing sleeveless, you look fabulous! Plus you have great taste and style. Hugs beautiful lady, keep up the positive progress – you’re awesome sauce!!!!
    Also, thanks for sharing your journey – you’re definitely helping mine.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Crickett! It feels wonderful to think that this post, basically a public journal entry haha, could help others. ❤️

  • Great post Susan? I can totally relate with the mom/body issue, mine has and is still trying to shame my body. Luckily we don’t live in the same country? and luckily I don’t give a f*ck what others think of me anymore? Most people have enough on their plate to actually notice others and should they criticize one of my body parts, I think it tells more about them. My attitude if someone doesn’t like is that there must be something wrong with them…not me? You look great! Lots of hugs!

    • Oh I’m so sorry to hear that about your mom shaming your body, that’s deplorable. And I’m glad you’ve been able to put some literal and figurative distance between yourself and the issue.

      For me, my mom actually never did directly body shame me. She always told me I was beautiful. But it was her own clear feelings about her own body that spoke much more loudly, and it was that attitude that I adopted about my own.

  • Glad for you. Nothing wrong with your arms.

  • Followed a nudge from Melissa from Blank Slate patterns on FB to this article. Thank you for your honesty. You are a lovely woman! It is so unfortunate that many of us look in the mirror and see a false image of who we are. What has happened to us? I think that we need to support each other (women) and realize that we are our own worst critic and stand up for other women’s shapes and sizes. Thanks again.

    • You’re absolutely right — women come in all sorts of beautiful shapes and sizes. It’s been lovely to see more of a movement lately towards body positivity and acceptance. We still have a long uphill battle but it’s a great start. Thanks Carmen!

  • Your story is wonderful! I rarely write comments to blogs, but I am really touched and encouraged by your post. I have been embarrassed by my weight gain for years. I am sure I am only one of many sewists who will be inspired by you. I love sewing. You have made me excited to start sewing for myself again. Thank you!

  • Bravo for going sleeveless! I think you look great. :-) Wish I could say I’ll be following your example, but one reason why I don’t go sleeveless is because I’m usually cold. And I’ve stopped shaving my armpits. And this is kinda getting TMI, isn’t it…? ;-)

  • First year of wearing sleeveless in a long time for me! hooray and you look great

  • Thank you for posting this, we all need to realize that we must not let our size define our opinion of ourselves…

    • I read a great quote some time ago that said something I loved. I’m going to butcher it because I can’t remember the exact words, but the sentiment is that physical characteristics like size, age, skin color, etc. — that’s just where we are. Not who we are. It’s our house, our shell.

  • Susan, you are absolutely adorable. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thank you for this post, its inspiring! :) I never ever considered going sleeveless before, because of the size of my upper arms and an encounter years ago with a dog which left some scars. But you are right – in the end, they aren’t that bad – so why hide them? I think I will start small with wearing sleeveless at home. Lets see where I go from there!

  • Beautiful! All these lovely makes fitted to you! Susan, you are a star and inspiration.

  • I read your story and it felt mine. My mother tells me the same thing about bearing arms LOL. I told her also if I am ashamed is because of her, and I did that a couple days ago! Now you have just reinforced the feeling I have… time is too short to stop on things that do not matter to us! I wish I had your arms cause mine are like “floppy chicken wings” according to my son! But guess what? I do not care. My “floppy chicken wings” does not make me a better or worse person / mother / wife etc! and if I want to wear sleeveless shirts I will.

    • Good for you, Carla! Bare those arms, woman. I know our moms do the very best they know how, but scars are left, aren’t they? Best of luck with healing yours; it sounds like you are well on your way. ❤️

  • You have always look so confident when I look at pictures of you, that you inspired me to be a tester for you and show off my body! Thank you for sharing this and you keep on being proud of who you are as you are beautiful! God gave us bodies to be loved just as we are!

    • I’m so happy that you found my pictures inspiring! When I first started sewing, the thought of photographing myself in my creations and posting them online was mortifying. I look very stiff in some of my earlier shots! ? Thanks, JoAnn

  • I loved reading this! I have only gotten over my arms in the last few years. I would always wear sleeves. A few years ago I spent quite a bit of time on reading about dressing and taking photos of my outfits daily. This really turned around a lot of my body image issues. One of the first things I read on her site that kept me coming back was a discussion of sleeve lengths. She argued that sleeveless along with elbow length are actually the most flattering sleeve lengths. It really made me reconsider my sleeveless issues and taking photos of myself just confirmed it. I was hyper focusing on my arms in sleeveless when to everyone else, the eye is drawn to the shoulders and face.

    Even if that wasn’t true, still no reason to punish. It now seems crazy to me that I spent so many summers in Texas in sleeves!

    You look amazing in your pieces. I have Marbella printed that I plan to do in sleveless popover based on yours =) Then I have to get going on a hooded Leralynn. I have to wait a couple of weeks or so though because end of fiscal year reviews and such at work.

    • Thanks Starly! It seems like I’ve heard something like that about sleeve lengths. But I try really hard to block out those “rules” about what’s “flattering.” Not only do they change all the time, but I don’t want to limit my wardrobe choices to only what’s most “flattering” — in other words, what makes me look the slimmest, arguably. Anyway, I know I’m preaching to the choir here. ;)

      I hope the rest of your work rush goes well and finishes quickly. I’m excited to see the results of these sewing plans! :D

  • Hi! I loved your post, I read it this morning. When I eat lunch I watch Netflix, usually Chelsea on Wed, Thurs, and Fridays. Melissa McCarthy was her guest on Thursday’s show and she talks about her clothing line and it just reminded me of your post today. If you have Netflix you should check it out.
    Your post also resonated with me because I read an article a couple years back soon after having my first child. It talked about how her daughter would bad mouth her body and the Mom couldn’t understand where she was getting it from. She then realized that it was from watching her talk to herself when she looked in the mirror. Since that article I have been more self confident and make it a point of not staring at myself and degrading myself at all. Just incase my children might see and pick up on it. It has helped me and I hope it helps my kids later in life. I had pretty much the same upbringing as you where my Mom told me I was beautiful but then would always pick at herself. Thank you for your post.

    • Thanks for your comment, Michelle! I will definitely check out that show — I love Melissa McCarthy.

      I read an amazing book several years ago called _Like Mother, Like Daughter_ by Debra Waterhouse. It is one of the best I’ve ever read on the cycle of dieting culture; I cannot recommend it more highly. I think it’s also very solution-centric too…not just what not to do, know what I mean? Anyway, I’m not sure if it’s still in print but I think you can get used ones very cheaply on Amazon. :)

    • Hi again Michelle — in case you see this, I wanted to let you know that I did watch that Chelsea episode the other day, and I LOVED the interview. I wanted to shout, “Yes!” to just about everything that came out of Melissa’s mouth. ? Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Fan-freaking-tastic! That’s hard stuff.

  • Thanks for this.Just found yr blog through searching kimono block alterations. This post really rings true. I don’t like my body, I would like to be half my weight, but I’m not ashamed of it. Especially as a sixty year old, my body is a sort of story map of my life. Hundreds of stitches from operations,lop sided, one limb swollen through damage… I’m one of those people who get stared at. I don’t mind. Babies start looking at about 9months.. I look different. People are curious. Sometimes I start talking to a small child and explain about the wheelchair.
    Yes, I have really good biceps and shoulders, and bingo wings. Enormous arms.
    But I’m 60. Of course I’ve got bingo wings and the skin is getting thin. That’s normal, why should I cover it up? I’ve been talking to quite a few friends recently about summer clothes and am appalled by the number who cover their arms, despite hot flushes, our current heatwave (mid eighties in UK is unusual), is 15 -20 degrees f hotter than a fortnight ago, so our bodies don’t adjust. I try really hard not to express my impatience and sorrow at the limit they place on themselves. I get the impression that if it’s your arms, it’s the tip of an iceberg?
    I was doing prep fitting for a wedding dress this week. The bride was quite accepting of her bust size – g plus, but was so embarrassed by her arms she always wears a cardigan and wouldn’t see a professional about her hearing loss because she was embarrassed by her small ears. I was sad.

    • Yes, we’re quick to accept the parts of ourselves that society says is preferable (large bust), but not so quick on the other bits. And I completely agree that the arms is a “tip of the iceberg” thing — not only on other parts of the body that we’re ashamed of, but mostly about body image issues in general. And I love that sentiment that our bodies are a map of our lives; that’s a lovely way to think about it! ?

  • I am so proud of you. You are a beautiful woman! Not every woman has to be a size 0! In fact, it would be a boring world if people were all the same. After you reach 40+ tank tops are a must because internal heat could cause a woman to combust!! These young people will finally get a clue when they reach our age. As a size 16 lady myself, sleeveless tank tops with free flowing skirts with sandals; all to let in a little more breeze is my everyday fashion selection. Who want to see a 55 year old woman combust anyway. THAT is good fashion sense!!

    • Hehehe…I like the way you think! The funny thing is that I just turned 40 about two weeks ago, but my friends and family have been teasing me about having hot flashes for decades. Heaven help me when I really do start having them!! ?

  • You are radiant and all of the clothing pieces in this post fit you perfectly. I’m so happy you have become more comfortable with your beautiful self!

    • Thanks so much, Hélène! Being comfortable in my skin is a very high priority for me — some days it’s better than others, but I’m going to keep fighting for it!

  • This was beautiful to read. I’m so happy you’ve come to love sleeveless! You look happy and beautiful in every photo.

  • I am so happy to hear that you’re overcoming this! Especially since you live in Texas for crying out loud! But seriously, by sharing your story you are setting a great example for other women who are perhaps experiencing the same issues. I love the looks you’ve shown here, and I hope you do continue to blog!

    • Thanks, Lisa! It’s amazing how many women seem to have the arms sensitivity. And I’m feeling quite in the mood to keep blogging, so we’ll see how it goes. ;)

  • Thank you!!! go you and your gorgeous self!!! as a women in her mid forties whose body has been changed by life saving steroids thank you xxxx You have inspired me to go get the very cute blank slate top and show my stripey upper arms to the world again

  • Life is too short to be uncomfortable in our bodies and our clothes. I wear sleeveless tops all year round, and I live in Canada.

  • I’m always amazed when people worry about arms and then I see pictures and I think “they look fine! Love that top.” For me, it’s my legs. I still don’t like them, and there are looks I don’t wear on my since I don’t think they are flattering, but I have definitely started “showing them off” despite cankles and new spider veins. Just too damn hot.

    • Most people think other people are fine as they are, it’s ourselves we have the trouble with. :) And rock those legs, woman! They’ve taken you lots of places and will hopefully continue to do so for a long time to come. ❤️

  • You are awesome!
    Just stumbled upon your blog and I am so happy for you!
    I personally don’t think your arms (or any other part of your body) are anything to be ashamed of.

    I love your style, you really carry yourself well and I hope you keep overcoming!


  • Thank you my gorgeous sister! I read your post with so much pleasure. I have quite a similar issue with my arms and it was interesting to read and realise that we really have to do what ever we feel :)

  • Sorry I’m late to the post, but I’m so behind on blogs!

    Your words are just lovely, and you already know I relate so much. Both you and your arms are totally gorgeous. And so is your HEART! :)

  • You inspire me sweety and you are beautiful. Thanks

  • Thank you for sharing your story, and so beautifully too. It brought back a strong memory from when I was 14, in the car on a road trip with my family and getting way too warm. I wouldn’t remove my top layer because I was so petrified of what unruly parts of my body might be visible if I was just wearing a short tank top, and I rode for hours in misery. The messages we get about what’s acceptable are so strong and punishing and, like you, it’s taken me many years to work through the ones that were playing in my head. So, thank you again for adding your story of healing to the discussion. As you say, there can’t be too many. And I think nothing makes people shine more brightly or look more beautiful than when their bodies are comfortable and happy – just like you in these pictures! <3

    • Thank you, Morgan. You recounted that story so vividly, I can almost see it…that self-consciousness — body shame — that is incredibly hard to avoid, especially around that age. ?

  • I just “visited” from Melly Sews because I LOVE the tanks you have made and I wanted to “meet you”. I think you are BEAUTIFUL and I love your style and I am so happy you are finding comfort in tanks!! Holy cow, I’m wearing one now and I don’t think I’ll go back into sleeves until the temps get below 70. (peri-menopausal has a LOT to do with it!!) Cheers to you !!!!!

  • Thank you for this x I feel the same way about my arms and will wear sleeveless in the house but not outside, I live in the UK though so heat isn’t a problem ☺ This summer I will persevere with sleeveless though as I don’t want to pass on body issues to my daughter, thanks for your post, very thought provoking….

  • Yeah, you have big arms. Buy you know what, your garments are gorgeous, the fit is great so who is even looking at the arms – not me. I have a friend who is constantly covering up her super thin arms because everyone is so quick to point out how skinny they are. Well, she said to heck with them, and wears beautiful sleeveless tops.

  • Beautiful clothes, beautiful post.

  • Wow… I wished i would read this years ago.. Yesterday i wore a sleeveless top i made the night before.. I wanted to show it off. I was super hesitant at first.. But warmed up to feeling comfortable.. Going to go home and make more.
    You are beautiful.. Keep rocking on!!

  • Great post, thank you so much. You make GREAT clothes for yourself. I like your style.

  • Thank you for loving your beautiful body. It’s a powerful way to beat the lies they want us to believe. With my daughters and me, “ALL bodies are beautiful” is something we talk about a lot.

  • Hello, I’ve just read this, in fact I only just found you, I’m new to blank slate patterns just started reading my emails, not brace enough to sew anything, that’s another story lol
    But I just wanted to say you look beautiful, I’m a big girl size 20 to 24 Australia sizes, I love tank top style but suffer from the worry of how I look, but I’m slowly getting there as they are so comfy, just wish I could make my own and br brace like you,

  • The printed designs are really good to wear … A little activity every day helps.

Leave a Reply to Melissa Cancel reply