By: Cece Olisa (re-published from Refinery29)
One summer day, I spent 40 minutes struggling to get dressed. It took me one minute to choose the perfect maxi dress, and 39 minutes to find a cardigan that would cover my arms without making me melt in the summer heat. Turns out, there is no such thing.
Sitting on the subway, I caught a reflection of myself in the window. Everyone around me was wearing shorts, tanks, and sundresses, and there I was looking like I was waiting for snow to fall.
I pushed the sleeves of my cardigan up to my elbows for some relief, and as I moved my arms, I noticed something. Even though I was wearing a stifling hot cardigan to cover up my arm fat, I could still see my “bat wings” jiggle inside the fabric. Growing up as a big girl, I’ve tried to cover my body with everything from baggy clothes to tight shapewear, and then there’s the plus-size cardigan trick.
I realized that even if I bought a short-sleeved shrug of some sort, my arm fat disguises weren’t fooling anyone. They might be covered in fabric, but every time I moved, my arms were waving “hellooooo!” I was trying to hide something that is impossible to conceal. And, my cardigan-come-comfort-blanket was making me hot and uncomfortable.
I would like to say that in that very moment I stripped off my cardigan and liberated myself from the chains of cardigans and shrugs, but it wasn’t that easy. Even though I considered going sleeveless and letting my arms flap in the wind, I still had stretch marks to consider. I had been hiding those since the 7th grade! My tangled web of body image issues needed to be unraveled slowly. Was the world ready for my arm jelly? Even worse, was I prepared to show my stretch marks in all their striped glory?
Over time, I’ve realized that no matter how many crochet “summer sweaters” and flowy tops I buy, the truth is: You can’t hide the fat. I’m a big girl with big arms and stretch marks. I can waste 39 minutes every morning trying to shield the world from the horror of my arms, or I can throw on the cute summer dress in one minute and save those 39 minutes for something more productive.
It took me about a year to get comfy with sleeveless clothes, but since then, I’ve felt pretty liberated. I no longer ruin beautifully made formal dresses with intrusive shawls and boxy taffeta shrugs. I wear tank tops to the gym. And, I even went sleeveless on a first date once — a huge accomplishment for me.
Of course, I still do my favorite fitness workouts that strengthen my arms. But, even if I never have Michelle Obama guns, I’ve liberated myself by refusing to hide my body.
Summer is coming. Will you be going sleeveless?
On her blog, Plus Size Princess, CeCe Olisa has detailed everything from what it’s like to be the only big black girl in a yoga class (fine, thanks!), to her adventures in plus-size dating in the Big Apple. Now, the New York City transplant is lending her poignant, often-hilarious voice to R29.