I Always Hated My Arms

Written by Emily

Yesterday I made bread with my mom. She sprinkled the counter with flour and dropped a wad of yeasty dough at my fingertips.

“Knead it for at least 7 minutes,” she instructed. “Do you know how to knead?”

I did. I’ve seen my fair share of Food Network shows.

I pushed the dough forward with the base of my palms and pulled it back with my fingertips. Push. Pull. Push. Pull. I fell into a rhythm.


As I watched the dough move and change, my arms worked. I could feel them tense and tighten as the dough loosened. Those arms. My arms.

I always hated them.

I coveted lean, toned arms in a way that should have made me run for the nearest confessional. I was convinced there was something in my genetic make-up that made it impossible for me to achieve a sculpted shoulder–short of buying shoulder implants on the black market and having risky surgery in a van. A girl can dream.

I probably spent hours of my young life making muscles in the mirror and pinching the skin beneath my deltoid to give the illusion of the definition I dreamed of. I straightened my arms until they were nearly hyperextended to catch a glimpse of the tricep muscle I knew was buried beneath the flesh. It was an exercise in futility, really. I’d let go and my arm would return to its log shape now sore and speckled pink from my manhandling.

I hated my arms.

One summer, my perspective changed.

We were vacationing at the beach. I had just brought Noah up to the house for his nap. At the kitchen table, my grandmother, who doesn’t spend time in the sun, was slicing the 15-pound, bone-in ham she brought on our beach vacation. I sat down with her, and while she force-fed me pieces of pork, we talked. 

“What was your mother like?” I asked between chewing. 

She started modestly at first, intent on slicing. 

I stared at the enormous ham and hoped I wouldn’t have to eat the entire thing.

Then, maybe because I stayed, she opened up like a geyser, and the story of my great grandmother poured out of her: a farm in Poland, a young girl, a desperate vision, a long trip to America.

Life in Poland wasn’t easy. Life in America wasn’t forgiving. 

She tended a farm in Poland. She tended a family in America. Both excruciating work sometimes.

As my grandmother arranged the ham on a plate, she recalled her mother making bread. Every morning, she’d rise before the sun. The sound of their mother punching the dough after its yeasty rising awakened the seven girls still warm in their beds. Day after day, morning after morning–pushing and pulling the dough. Preparing the bread, preparing the day, for its rising.

With the bread in the oven, the rest of the day was only beginning. Her sleepy heads would find their mother outside, digging in the earth, pruning trees, hauling, moving, pushing and pulling.

My grandmother and I talked until I was summoned from the table by Noah’s little voice. I left the kitchen full of ham and an admiration for the women who contributed to my story–the strong, resilient ones who prepared the way for our rising.

I could feel blood moving through my arms while the dough became elastic and soft to my touch.


“That looks good,” my mom announced. She scooped up the dough, shaped it into a ball and covered it with a kitchen towel.

“Now we wait.”

I’ll never love my arms.  I won’t. I still stare at them in the mirror when my children aren’t looking, but I don’t hate them. I can’t hate them. These arms, my arms, though not sculptural or chiseled, they’re capable. They lift, they haul, they raise.

And I believe that deep inside them, coursing through them is a touch of my great grandmother’s fortitude, her resilience, certainly her story.

This is by no means an excuse to let my arms grow soft or slack. I’m not blaming genetics. I’m celebrating it. She’ll keep me moving, the image of her and the women who came after–strong in mind and body and spirit. And this is much healthier motivation for me.

60 comments for “I Always Hated My Arms

  1. February 4, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    What a great way to look at your arms – they do handle and do so much during the day! I’ll take arms that can lift my kid (or used to be able to…) than ones that are perfectly sculpted!

    • Kathleen Gallo
      February 4, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      I couldn’t agree more! Arms that hold & snuggle your children, arms that carry tons of groceries, endless laundry, etc. and still are strong enough to wrap lovingly around your husband are precious indeed! And then can punch that delicious yeasty dough into wonderful homemade bread – what joy!!

    • February 6, 2014 at 12:27 pm

      Me, too 🙂

  2. February 4, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    I just always think about Christina Applegate in “The Sweetest Thing,” jiggling her arms: “That! That! What IS that?!”

  3. February 6, 2014 at 9:01 am

    What an incredible post. I can honestly say that I won’t hate my own arms as much anymore thanks to you. Because they do the work and they carry the stories of all the women who came before me. Amazing.-Ashley

    • February 6, 2014 at 12:29 pm

      Oh, Ashley! Thank you so much! I hope that’s true. We all need to be a bit kinder to ourselves sometimes. I’d rather be inspired than defeated 🙂

  4. February 7, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    What a beautiful story! We do need to be kinder to ourselves – and I’m glad you now appreciate those arms. 🙂

    • February 18, 2014 at 4:00 pm

      Thanks! They, like me, are a work in progress 🙂

  5. February 18, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Wonderful arms with wonderful words! Enjoy making bread with your family and don’t forget to hand down the recipes! Thanks for sharing.

    • February 18, 2014 at 4:00 pm

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. And you’re right. I need to save those recipes!

  6. February 18, 2014 at 11:29 am

    What a poignant story. Thank you.

    ~ Darling

    • February 18, 2014 at 4:00 pm

      Thank you! I appreciate you stopping by!

  7. February 18, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Love yourself every day! What a great lesson.

    • February 18, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      I’m so glad you think so! Thank you for reading and commenting. I so appreciate it!

  8. February 18, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    Insightful and endearing. Amazing what a shift in perspective can do. Thank you for sharing that!

    • February 18, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      Thank you! You are so right about a shift in perspective. It’s a powerful thing, and sometimes it comes just when you need it most 🙂

  9. February 18, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    Thanks for that great post. I clicked on it because I could identify with the title and it made me curious. It definitely gave me a new perspective 🙂

    • February 18, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      Oh, good! Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope it does offer a new perspective. We all need to be a bit kinder to ourselves sometimes.

  10. February 18, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Love that you were with your Mom and learning from her!

  11. February 18, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    I don’t knead that way! After pushing the dough away from me with the heels of my hands it elongates and I take the end on the right and fold it over, to again push the dough away from me with the heels of my hands. I call them “Turns” Because I turn the dough end toward me and fold the dough towards me to knead again. I don’t really acre about what my 55 year old arms look like as long as they work! LOL

  12. February 18, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    Great post! I could never seem to build sculpted arms either. Still, I’m thrilled that my body is still so capable at 50. I hope I’m still saying that when I’m 80!

    • February 18, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      Wonderful to hear that you are thrilled with what your body can do! What an inspiration! I hope you’re still saying that when you’re 80, too! Thank you for reading and commenting.

  13. February 18, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    THIS IS COOL FOLLOW ME PLEASE 🙂 http://thebetterdays.wordpress.com/

  14. February 18, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Lovely story. Thank you for sharing


  15. February 18, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    love this post!!!

  16. February 18, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Well, always being on the slender side (I grew to hate “skinny”) and ridiculed for it by classmates throughout my grade school years, I could say that I too “hate” my arms AND legs. However, they have pumped much iron and my muscles are more toned at age sixty than many others my age. I do not have a “paunched” abdomen as many my age do (knock wood, lol), so DO praise genetics (to a point) and work on your deficiencies til you die! Major Props for posting your article.

  17. February 18, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    A healthier motivation is all we need. We don’t need to sculpt ourselves on ideals. We just need to be healthy in mind body and spirit like you said 🙂

    • February 18, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      Thank you for commenting! Healthier motivation is what we need for sure. It’s what I needed because hating my arms was just silly.

      • February 19, 2014 at 12:06 am

        It may seem silly but we all have parts of ourselves we don’t like. Accepting ourselves is hard enough but truly loving ourselves takes work :).

  18. February 19, 2014 at 4:36 am

    Nice blog. I don’t like my arms.. looks too big.. someday, a man (i attract with) said he loved my arms.. What??? He made me realize to proud about who I am, cos its a basic to love myself.. then love others 🙂

  19. February 19, 2014 at 4:50 am

    its one of good exercise! keep it up ood for hand and arms….

  20. February 19, 2014 at 4:57 am

    First, a great title that made me click on it, and second, a great post!!!
    I’ve always hated my arms too. I always stand with my arms away from my sides in photos to make them look slimmer. If I work on toning them they just get hugely muscular. I can’t win. I think I was made to be be a work horse.
    But you have made me appreciate my arms, for without them I wouldn’t be able to do what I love the most which is craft. Thank you so much.
    And congratulations for getting ‘freshly pressed’!!!!!!

  21. February 19, 2014 at 8:09 am

    Reblogged this on The World's Chronicle.

  22. February 19, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Beautiful. I love reading about women having accepting moments that shed light on our hard working bodies!

  23. February 19, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Great story! Reminded that just because parts of myself dont appear how id like they still are capable of extraordinary things. (: Thanks for the encouragement and im sure your arms are beautiful.

  24. February 19, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Reblogged this on Tarek Elbakry's Blog.

  25. February 19, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Reblogged this on beylood4 and commented:

  26. February 20, 2014 at 1:51 am

    Reblogged this on twettie08.

  27. February 20, 2014 at 6:55 am

    I loved this! Thank you. Such a great meditation on being in your own body, rather than someone else’s, some fantasy of redesigned bits and pieces. Out own bodies are of course our own long family history, and its great to see this sort of celebration of the human, as opposed to the robotic

    In may not be the fashion plate varnished image we are increasingly advertised at to think should be how to look, but I love the absolute diversity of people’s physiques. There is something deeply attractive about seeing people who are comfortable inside their own skin. Its a mental, not a physical thing – sometimes the people who have spent thousands being cut, stiched, plumped, firmed, nipped and tucked absolutely RADIATE dissociation from their bodies, and some people who would never pass as fashion icons just are clearly at home inside themselves

  28. February 20, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    I love how you tell a story. Straightforward yet beautiful. I wish it had been longer though. I’d love to keep reading.

  29. February 20, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    At first I was sad that you didn’t appreciate your arms; but I think you eventually found a sense of appreciation in them! Keep strengthening your outlook through what makes you happiest.

  30. February 21, 2014 at 5:27 am

    “Preparing the bread, preparing the day, for it’s rising”… is an excellent line. Well written, and I like how you worked the word “rising” – bread, children, your Grandmother, people making a new life. Very nice.

  31. February 21, 2014 at 6:32 am

    Reblogged this on two chooks and a chick and commented:
    Beautiful reflection on the beauty of what we perceive to be our flaws!

  32. February 21, 2014 at 6:33 am

    Beautiful reflection on the beauty of what we perceive to be our flaws! 🙂
    Thank you for sharing this well written piece!

  33. February 21, 2014 at 7:15 am

    What a beautiful story of measuring yourself in strength instead of pounds. Thank you for sharing it.

  34. February 21, 2014 at 7:17 am

    What a beautiful story of measuring yourself in strength instead of pounds. Thank you for sharing it.

  35. February 21, 2014 at 8:01 am

    What a beautiful story.I love how you went to say, your arms are strong and capable, they haul they lift… I love the way you write! Amazing blog! Actually, I’m a fitness blogger and I can tell you exactly what you need to do to actually attain sleek sculpted arms! It’s all a matter of knowing what to do, and you’ll get results fast. Hehe;) not tryna sell myself here but, it is possible for you to get your dream arms! 😉 beautiful story and keep am coming, you’re an amazing writer!

  36. February 21, 2014 at 9:05 am

    I enjoyed your family history story. It reminded me of my Great Uncle Harry (1878-1967), the man who raised my father starting in 1920. I spent many hours with Uncle Harry learning to enjoy foods like oxtail soup, liver and onions, fresh milk and eggs right off the farm. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from Uncle Harry was to always try a food first before making a decision not to eat it. I’ve surprised myself lots of times how wonderful something that sounded like I would not enjoy it but did. Eventually I wrote a short illustrated children’s book titled, “Fishing With Uncle Harry.” A tribute to him and the time he spent helping me grow into an adult.

  37. February 21, 2014 at 10:52 am

    This made me cry!! So beautifully written and as someone who loathes and despises their arms this gave me a beautiful new perspective

  38. February 21, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    wow that awesome 🙂

  39. February 21, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Great writing. You took me right there-into your kitchen and I felt the dough as I kneaded it with you!
    And those triceps…well, you’re never too old to sculpt them.

  40. February 22, 2014 at 12:15 am

    Reblogged this on Heather Nielsen.

  41. February 22, 2014 at 7:22 am

    Beautiful post. My moments of awakening (as far as arms are concerned) all have to do with seeing people without arms. I remember one day on the beach when I saw a young family walking towards us, and I noticed that the gait of one of the children seemed a little awkward. As they got closer I saw that he had only a nub for one of his arms. That same summer I had seen the same type of “appendage” in a young college student. So…..whenever I feel sorry for myself because my arms aren’t toned and youthful, I think instead of how great they still work. They can pick up things, hug beloved people, drive a car…….

  42. February 22, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this, I was just thinking about my arms and how I wanted them to be tone, and sleek like all my other friends. But now, I’m just peachy.

  43. February 28, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I have also hated my polish arms my whole life, envying the stick skinny women with their stick skinny arms. You’ve changed my mind though. Nice writing too 🙂

  44. March 6, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Great story, and a great reminder for me to celebrate what our body can do, and not criticize it for not looking ‘a certain way’. Uplifting post.

  45. March 9, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Reblogged this on mangeshg1's Blog and commented:

  46. March 10, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Reblogged this on Energy's Soul Mission.

  47. March 26, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    It is a pity we don’t have different words for: Like, Love, Hate… People, Animals, Objects,
    Concepts… Each separate and different. One of the responses used words you never used,
    “loathes and despises”. I think people like to read about people who have more problems with their bodies than themselves. There was a great BBC show about two people who wanted to have parts of their bodies removed. They asked surgeons to remove their legs,
    “They don’t belong to me”. The deal was… “If you can find two psychologists who agree then you can do it… They could not find two doctors who would recommend them.. One was a woman in US and a man in UK. The most interesting parts was that the woman told a story… “When I was three I saw a woman in a wheelchair without legs and I …. don’t know.” She had no way of thinking about it, they really meant what they wanted.

    She could not see that she was three. We are all self-centered and dumb at three. I have read a lot about this and many other “problems” that come from very young experiences “Mistakes” that effect our lives in a more than reasonable way. Maybe your hate, comes from a childhood experience where someone commented about your shoulders or said something
    about how nice someone else’s shoulders were nice or… anything like that. The only good answer is one of the most important parts of developing is to learn to see that the past is ignorant and we must learn to forgive ourselves for what we think and see and what is based on the mind of a child… “When I was a child…” as Jesus said.

  48. March 26, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    To add. What do you think when you see a, “beautiful” model, who says… I don’t like my eyes, they are too small. Or, my legs are too long.. as if they would/could be “more perfect” if their eyes were larger… if they had a smaller nose… It seem we all have something we would change… Do you know the story of the stone cutter?

    Once the was a lowly stone cutter who worked all day chipping away at giant stones, day after day, year after year. One day he he said, “I wish I wasn’t a stonecutter… He looked at the sun and said, I wish I was the sun, who gave warmth to the world, and he was the sun. Then a cloud past in front of the sun and blocked the sun, and the stone cutter said, I wish I was a could because it was stronger and could block the sun. And, he was a cloud and he blocked the sun. Then a wind came by and blew away the cloud and he said, I wish I was the wind and I could blow the clouds around the sky all day, and he was the wind and he blew the clouds and bent the trees and blew the waving wheat across the plains and he blew and blew all day, but one day he came upon a very large stone that he could not move and he said I wish I was a stone, because there is nothing more powerful than a stone.

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