"let your boat of life be light, packed with only
what you need - a homely home and simple pleasures, someone to love and someone to love you,
enough to eat and enough to wear
and a little more than enough to drink:
for thirst is a dangerous thing"

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

aunty syl's arms*

Weird things happen and link together in the most crazy way sometimes. This morning I woke up early and, as has become the norm, picked up my iPad to check emails, Facebook and the magazine section of the New Yorker. On Facebook, on the Brain Pickings page, I came upon this quote by Anne Lamott:-

"Trappings and charm wear off… Let people see you. Let them see that your upper arms are beautiful, soft and clean and warm, and then they will see this about their own, some of the time. It’s called having friends, choosing each other, getting found, being fished out of the rubble. It blows you away, how this wonderful event ever happened — me in your life, you in mine.

Two parts fit together. This hadn’t occurred all that often, but now that it does, it’s the wildest experience. It could almost make a believer out of you. Of course, life will randomly go to hell every so often, too. Cold winds arrive and prick you: the rain falls down your neck: darkness comes. But now there are two of you: Holy Moly."

Lovely words about friendship. However, it was the bit about the upper arms that made me smile.Yesterday afternoon, I was watering the garden. It was hot and I had taken off my loose denim shirt and was watering the garden in a sleeveless top. I was very hot. I came inside and started cooking (still in the vest). The doorbell rang. It was my sister. After buzzing the gate open and before opening the front door, I ran to grab my shirt (to cover my arms). How crazy is that? My sister who has known me all her life, has seen far more of me than just my slightly wobbly upper arms, had the upper arms hidden from her view. 

Where do these ideas about what we are supposed to look like come from? Why, now mid-50, do I still let them bother me and swelter in the heat rather than wear a sleeveless top. I have no problem on the beach in my bathing costume in front of the multitudes but as soon as I leave the beach and get dressed the upper arms must be covered. 

And then photographs - my brother sent me a picture this morning of my sister and I with him on his wedding day (three years ago today). I had never seen the picture before.The two of them look great. I saved the picture and then cropped myself out of it. Why? Many of my pictures are odd sizes because a certain person has been cropped out of it. After "cut and paste" the "crop" function on my computer must be my favourite and most used one.

I don't even think of myself as vain (but this must probably indicate that I am) but the picture in my head of what I look like is completely different to any photograph ever taken. Can they all be wrong? Very occasionally, there is that one picture that makes me think "Wow, lovely, that cannot be me" "Is it me?". It does not happen often though and those pictures are ones are in frames! In almost every picture that I see of myself lately I look like my father (a very handsome man, I may add, but in later life double-chinned, baggy eyed with thin lips (we won't mention the senile bit)). Then, the voice! Nothing bothers me quite as much as when you make a call on your cellphone and your voice comes back at you. "Please don't tell me that I sound like that?"

My niece in the UK blogged a few weeks ago about this new way of teaching yourself to get comfortable in front of the camera by taking lots of pictures of yourself. Every time I mistakenly touch that "selfie" button on my camera, I terrify myself. She has been taking pictures of herself in various outfits and it is amazing how her confidence has grown in front of the camera. 

The next generation have no fear of cameras and technology. My sons are comfortable having pictures taken and know how to smile. My nieces do Snapchat, Instagram and have hundreds of pretty pictures of themselves and many gremlin faces and squint eyed ones too. I cannot even do a Skype call and watch myself talking. It unsettles me completely and the video gets put off after two minutes.

Another story, planted in our minds when we were younger was about not having long hair when you got to 40. (Very ageing, "mutton dressed up as lamb", must be shoulder length or shorter). Could this have been the same source who said "cover your upper arms", "don't show your knees", "cut your hair"? 

My great and brave friend, going through chemo at the moment, has been an inspiration. She has taken the treatment in her stride, continued to work, complained little and embraced her baldness. Luckily we had a fun morning choosing her very expensive wig or the whole exercise might have left her feeling a tad "ripped-off". She does wear it to work but over the last 10 weeks or so I have not seen her wear the wig at all, sometimes a cap, never a scarf. She looks beautiful. Luckily she does have a perfectly shaped head and beautiful smile. I don't think I could be so brave.

When she had her head shaved my sister said that we should do something to support her. However, she could not be brave enough to shave her head but would give up wine with her during the treatment. Shaving my head would be the easier option for me. Luckily it was all talk and as it worked out none of us have had to give up wine and only one of us lost our hair.

I am jealous of my friends who wear sleeveless dresses and tops with confidence while I swelter with hot flushes and sleeves. I am proud to walk down the road with my bald friend who just smiles broadly and re-assuringly at people who give her the "oh dear you are dying" look. My brave, bald friend who is not afraid to bare her head but, she too keeps her upper arms covered.

What is with us woman? Going back to Anne Lamott's quote - I think I understand correctly that we should spend more time together showing our "beautiful, soft and clean and warm" upper arms to each other so that eventually we will all rub off on each other and we will become a new generation of woman who are not afraid of bare upper arms. Definitely much cooler woman.

Ooops there goes the bell. I think I need therapy.

* Gill, a friend who I worked with for many years started the "Aunty Syl's arms" thing. I did not know "Aunty Syl" but now all  my family and friends also refer to batwing arms as those of poor "Aunty Syl". RIP


  1. I definitely have Aunty Syl's arms! Getting my tattoo has taught me to be a bit prouder of them, and as you read in my post last week, taking tons of photos has done wonders for my confidence. I used to be the person who would always cut myself out of pictures, I think I'm now starting to learn how to pose a bit better. But my gosh for the confidence of the kids I teach! They take hundreds of photos of themselves every week and seem to have no problem with them - good and bad.

  2. Hi Janet. Hope you don't mind me quoting you. I started a Facebook message to you this morning to ask if I could link to your blog but then realised it was school hours and I was ready to send. Can still do it, if ok with you? Xx