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In Praise of My Mama Arms

Image Source: Wendy Wisner
Image Source: Wendy Wisner

My 4-year-old son has been dabbling in photography lately. And by that, I mean he’s been stealing my iPhone and walking around the house taking pictures with it.

As far as screen-related activities go, it’s one of the healthier ones. He’s actually purposeful and even a little artistic about what he photographs. The other day, he told me that he likes to photograph the things that he loves.

I’ll often scroll through my phone at the end of the day and see a picture of his Bat Cave, his half-eaten bowl of goldfish, his Power Ranger figures, board games he likes, and his toy sword.

Each time he commandeers my phone, he asks to take pictures of me, too. Usually, I’m a little reluctant to participate. Like most moms, I’m often pretty unkempt when I’m home: hair in a messy bun, absolutely no make-up, no bra. I’m usually wearing pajama pants, a torn tank top or t-shirt. I’m lucky if I’ve taken a shower in the past 48 hours.

But I’ve let him snap my picture because he tells me I’m beautiful as he takes my photo. He considers me one of his precious things. And how can I say no to that?

Even though I’m not always happy with how I look, I don’t want him to absorb that message. Of course, I don’t want to be dishonest with him about how I feel, but I also don’t want him to get the message this early on that women are somehow less than if they aren’t made up or posed in some way.

Plus, there’s little chance anyone will see the photos besides me, so why not just let him shoot away?

The first time I found a picture of me that he had taken, I thought, “Well, that isn’t too bad. And hey, he caught me at a good angle. I look pretty slim, actually.”

But the next few times were really lousy angles — the kind that accentuate what I think of as my biggest flaw: my hefty upper arms.

Usually, if I’m wearing a sleeveless shirt and someone is taking my picture, I’ll kind of shift into a position so the flesh on my upper arms isn’t too prominent. Or, if I want to share the picture, I’ll crop out the edges of my arms.

Maybe there are some women who love their bodies unconditionally — and in many ways, I’m getting closer to that place myself. I know I’m not meant to be skinny. It’s just not in my genes, and anytime I’ve gotten close to skinny, it’s been because of extreme dieting, which was impossible to sustain, obsessive in nature, and often left me feeling unwell.

And yet, no matter how accepting I am of my body — and no matter how thin I’ve been or how much I’ve worked out — I will always have this pesky extra flesh on my upper arms, and I’ll probably always feel somewhat unhappy about it.

So, as I was scrolling through the photos — as much as it shouldn’t matter at all, and even though I knew that my son and I were the only ones who were going to see the photos — I cringed pretty hard at some of them. They were taken from the worst possible angles, and my upper arms looked noticeably huge, at least to me.

I started to get down on myself. “Is that what I really look like?” I thought, “Uggghhh, I really shouldn’t ever wear tank tops. Maybe I need to start lifting weights.”

Why do we women do this kind of crap to ourselves? Why do we have to zero in on these “problem areas” all the time? Why can’t we just let it go?

I started to delete the photos from my phone, but then my son grabbed it from me because he had one more photo to take. He’d forgotten to photograph our fish. I laughed, gave him my phone, and finished making dinner.

I didn’t think about the whole thing until the next day when my son, who had woken up super early that day, and had been a cranky mess all morning, collapsed on me on the couch for an early nap.

I looked down at him and realized he’d fallen asleep with his sweet little mouth on my upper arm. At first I just admired his perfect little face, and how content he looked there. And then I thought, “Oh, here he is, right on my hateful upper arms.”

I thought of the photos he’d taken of me, and my icky, unhappy feelings about the body part he was now so peacefully nestled in.

As he lay on me, I used my free hand to scroll through those photos again. I tried to see them as he would — as Mommy, a place of warmth and familiarity.

And in that moment, I vowed to love my arms — or at least try to, to begin to practice a bit of mindfulness about how I talk to myself about my body, to remind myself that every inch of me is beautiful in its own way.

To our children, there is no part of our bodies that is imperfect; none whatsoever. In fact, it’s often the softer, fleshier parts that they love the most. Maybe that’s partly why women have their soft spots — often, it’s our fleshy bellies and hips, our soft necks and arms, that our kids love to cozy up to, burrow inside of.

I will probably never fully and unconditionally love my upper arms, but from now on, I’m going to at least make an effort to. Instead of thinking of them as my fat arms, I’m going to think of them as my mama arms.

The arms that have lifted babies and toddlers in and out of bed.

The arms that my children have fallen asleep in countless number of times.

The arms that are strong and soft all at once.

The arms that wrap my kids in mama bear hugs every day and remind them of home.

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