I don’t do sleeveless.
For me, it’s about picking my battles. I can deal with a certain number of snarky comments about my body per day. Short shorts and sleeveless tops always take it over the line. I’ve heard too many heartless words about the appearance of upper arm fat to tempt that sort of ire.
I nitpick clothing to ensure it has the proper amount of coverage, that it won’t betray my arm’s dimples and wiggles. I treat sleeve length with the same scrutiny I give the fall of a top’s waist line–heat of summer be damned, I try to placate the social norm that fat girls should keep their body’s many lumps and jiggles under wraps. I know well that the more you notice me, the more you scrutinize me, your head repeating the same ego-tearing mantras that have been fed to me. You’re thinking that cellulite is the devil, why doesn’t she choose more “flattering” clothes, body rolls are shameful and why doesn’t she just exercise more or show more self-control.
I could lose 100 pounds and still, someone would think my arms were too fat for sleeveless. In fact, if I did lose 100 pounds right now, the skin would sag and hang from my bones, flapping in the breeze. I probably couldn’t even wear t-shirts in public without getting some kind of heartless comment about the way my flesh piled up when faced with gravity.
That’s the thing that stings most. Even if I somehow brought my body to an acceptable weight, I’d still be somebody’s horror story, somebody’s “I hope I never look like that.” I would still have bad teeth, a fat tummy, red-spotted legs and a too-long chin. I would still feel the nerve-shattering paranoia that anything I wear will offend you, will make you say those words that are in your head.
Sometimes, I see pretty dresses and think how nice it would be to get dressed up and go out for dinner for once. But then I panic. That dress doesn’t have sleeves, and because it doesn’t have sleeves, it will make you wonder why I’m even at this restaurant shouldn’t I be on a treadmill? I see cute tops and I can almost feel the breeze on my shoulders when I’m driving down the road with my windows down, but I don’t want to hear your cat-calls and rude words when I pull up to the red light. I see swimsuits and I long to be a summertime mermaid, but I hear over and over in my head–“whale”.
I wish it were all in my head. But I promise you, if I showed up in a sleeveless shirt, you’d shudder at my “armpit fat” and flour sack arms. You’d swallow back a measure of bile and itch to talk about it to someone–anyone. You’d find your head repeating for you the words that stunt you, the words that keep you from living exactly as you’d like to live, the words that you wrongly believe are making you happy. And next time you’d go to put on a sleeveless shirt, you’d pause.