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.
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.