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Short Sleeves

June 19, 2010

It was warm enough the other day that I wore a short-sleeved top to work. During one interminable conference call, I stretched my arms over my head – and for the first time in a long while I actually looked closely at them. It might have been that the scars were particularly shiny under the fluorescent lights, or that I just recently stumbled across the journal entry from 2005 when I first entertained the notion of cosmetic surgery. For whatever reason, since my brain was not immediately necessary for my call, I took a moment to admire my arms and reflect on the fact that I could go for months without noticing them.

The smoothness is what I most appreciate. My arms will never be small, but I doubt they would have been even had I never been heavy. Of course, my weight gain inflated them all out of proportion, and in those days, I went out of my way, even to the point of discomfort from heat, to avoid short sleeves. I didn’t want to expose anyone, including myself, to that unsightly display.

Even after I lost weight, I was frustrated by and self-conscious about my arms. I remember once at the gym, where I was wearing short sleeves, that a woman asked me, “Did you used to weigh a lot more than you do now?”

I was startled. “Yes, actually.”

She smiled at my surprise. “You know how I know? Because of this.” She lightly touched the flesh pooling around my elbow, skin loose and wrinkled and baggy. “Otherwise I’d never guess.”

I tried so hard to get rid of that evidence, on my arms, legs, and stomach, but to no avail. I finally decided in 2006 to at least have a consultation for cosmetic surgery, and I told the doctor what I’d tried to do to slim and tone.

Looking at my problem areas, she shook her head. “That’s loose skin. No matter how much you exercise, that will never go away.”

I was a bit surprised at my elation. Shouldn’t I be depressed at hearing that? But I quickly realized that my relief stemmed from knowing I hadn’t done anything wrong; it was simply that my body was a bit too stretched. It helped me decide that I didn’t want my weight history revealed so clearly by short sleeves, so I had arm lifts done. (I didn’t feel the need for leg lifts, which could have damaged nerves and wouldn’t result in what I wanted anyway, or a tummy tuck, since that was an area that would almost never be visible anyway.)

Later the surgeon told me they’d removed almost 12 centimeters of excess skin from each arm. That’s around 4 ½ inches. Once I healed and the scars faded, I was so excited by the tautness of my skin, by my arm not drastically changing shape as I lifted and lowered it. Now it’s my norm, and I’ve become so accustomed to it that I forget what it was like before, that I once worried about wearing short sleeves. Admittedly, I still don’t like wearing shorts, and bathing suits can make me cringe if I think too much about it, but at least I can appreciate and still enjoy my newer arms.

Oh, and the doctor who did the surgery? She’s the same surgeon who performed my mom’s mastectomy and reconstruction, a connection I realized only after I decided on going with her. Small world.

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