The endless cycle of losing and gaining weight every few years has been a super-fun journey I've enjoyed most of my life. If you haven't seen me for a while, you'll never know what you're going to get -- massive-poncho/cloak-of-invisibility Nama, or Sportsgirl size-eight Nama. I like to keep people guessing.
One of the perks of this merry go round is that I've got significant stretch marks on my arms. And because my skin is brown, they are shiny. As luck would have it, I barely have any on my stomach or thighs -- places the public doesn't get to see -- despite a pregnancy. No, they are inconveniently on my arms -- and it's a deep, dark secret that only a few have had the privilege/horror of seeing, because I always, always, cover them up. Until now.
Like most women, I have been conditioned to think that stretch marks are something to be ashamed of. That they somehow indicate a failure on your part, having lost or gained weight in an unhealthy way and not looked after yourself. The fact of the matter is that stretch marks do happen, and they have more to do with your skin type and genetics than your utter failure as a woman.
This is why women around the world applauded American retailer Lane Bryant's ad this week, featuring a model with her stretch marks on display. I loved it too; it's advertising at its most real.
But as with all emotional baggage, my stretch marks are only part of my issue with my arms, and, of course, it can all be traced back to being scarred in my childhood. At age 13, I excitedly showed my family a dress I had just purchased -- a sleeveless sailor dress -- and was met with this response by one of my sisters: "Some people just shouldn't wear dresses like that." I went to my bedroom and cried for hours. In retrospect, she was probably referring to the questionable nautical theme, but my thirteen year old brain thought she meant my large arms -- which, even back then, I knew did not look all lean and taut like Kate Moss's limbs.
So from that day, my big, doughy arms, with their unsightly stretch marks, have remained deep within the recesses of a very limited summer wardrobe of only sleeved items. I've spent hours envying and studying Michelle Obama's arms, researching laser treatments, trying every arm exercise and cream, and applying fake tan in the hopes of minimising the scars' appearance.
That is, until Prince Charming trotted along last week and rescued me from 'mind jail' by giving me a reality check. 'Prince Charming' came in the form of a middle-aged lady who was fitting me for a bra in DJs. I was making the usual self-deprecating comments to excuse my unsightly arms, when she interjected with: "Honey, all ladies are so worried about their upper arms, but trust me, no one is looking at your arms."
My mother later confirmed this, in the most motherly biased way: "No one is looking at your arms. They are looking at your face."
A male friend gave me a perhaps more honest opinion: "No one is looking at your arms. They are looking at your (you know whats)."
The timing of all of this advice has coincided with the months after I've just turned 40 -- meaning that my care factor about negative feedback from others is at an all-time low. I've decided to run with it, and man it feels good to be free. This summer I've decided to go big or go home -- literally. I'm going to wear sleeveless tops, like God and every fashion designer intended. I did it for the first time on the weekend, and felt positively naked and absolutely liberated.
I've had enough of covering up and feeling ashamed, and I know many of you feel the same about your ankles, thighs and butts. They are just arms, and body parts. It is just skin. Life is too short, and this is such a ridiculous thing to worry about. So look out for me this summer rocking a sleeveless sailor dress.