It’s been a spring of record warmth, with an all time high number of maximum temperature records broken across the U.S. Away to the back of the closet go the boring long sleeves, and out come the cooler–and barer–styles. I can just not tolerate a sweater for one minute longer, which brings me to the challenge: is it really acceptable for a fifty something woman to walk around in public with bare arms?
Each spring, the propriety deeply instilled in me by watching my mom’s dress habits bubbles up. When I was a girl in the 1960s, my mom was certainly comfortable around the house in shorts (knee length, of course) and sleeveless blouses or knit tops. When it was time to leave the house on an errand, even a quick grocery store run, she changed her clothes to sleeves and skirts. Bare arms and legs seemed to be right up there, in her unwritten rule book, with pierced ears: something only “fast women” dared. Now in her 80s, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in shorts and bare arms outside of the house, a campground, or the beach. Since I’m at “midlife,” I find those sneaky standards infiltrating my thinking, a little scolding voice chiding me that bare arms are not appropriate at my age.
I’m not talking “lunch lady” arms, either. (Though even writing that makes me cringe, with it’s inherent sexism. Can anyone truly believe that a) women are supposed to always look lovely–or cover up–so we don’t offend the men? OR b) that women’s bodies–and their state of fitness– are even fair game for evaluation by others? Witness all the outrage over Ashley Judd’s response to media comments about her appearance.) My arms are quite buff and trim, thanks to my daily hour of yoga. Why not?
This is one of those standards that has been burned into my brain without me ever really understanding why. So I looked it up. And discovered that it’s really a matter of how much skin is exposed that makes bare arms inappropriate for church, job interviews, etc. We’re back to the equivalent of bare arms = pierced ears = fast woman? Really?!!? That makes it easy to dismiss.
Who says I can’t bare my arms? Our lovely First Lady Michelle Obama has made a point of bucking this standard, and I’m stepping up to join her. I’m going to be cooler, show off the “guns” that are the result of endless down dogs and chaturangas, and flaunt an outdated custom. My bare arms say nothing about my age, my character, my sex life. All they say is that it’s getting hot. AND I’m doing what works for me.