Enough about body deterioration. It’s as inevitable as a long line at checkout. Certain aging atrocities – wrinkles, cellulite, turkey neck, crow’s feet, age spots – have been talked to death. Is there anything left for women to whine about? Well, yes, I think there is. There is one aging body area that hasn’t received its just due. Print journalists ignore it, talk shows don’t dissect it, women don’t seek out plastic surgeons to correct it; and infomercials don’t hawk miracle products to erase it. In a word, it’s a poor cousin to women’s other obsessions with their bodies as they age.
But it’s a big fixation of mine. It’s my dry, wrinkled, crepe-paper upper arms caused by years of exposure to the sun. My once velvety-smooth, toned arms have oddly taken on texture – a sort of upper body cellulite. Now texture is highly desirable in curtain fabrics and slipcovers, but not on a woman’s upper arms. Patterned arms are not a preferred choice of embellishment.
Today women flock to plastic surgeons like birds to a feeder. A good one can lift your face and eyebrows, tuck your tummy and tone your butt, perk up your breasts and flatten your ears; he can liposuction flab from the back of your arms, but he can’t lift the motif on your upper arms. Is there even a procedure? And if so, I’d like to hear about it.
Well, I haven’t, and so I tried other possible fixes – body lotions, deep massages, exercise routines – anything that would rejuvenate my crinkled arms. I exercised with six-pound weights and developed a frozen shoulder. I applied wrinkle creams that softened my skin but didn’t erase a ripple. I consulted several dermatologists and, after a few misses, thought I had discovered a cure-all. The first one scoffed at my request for better arms. “ I’m a doctor, not a magician,” she said. Since I wasn’t asking for levitation, I left discouraged. Another doctor, who had seen so much skin cancer in her career, sneered at my vanity. Then, finally, I found a dermatologist, who spoke my language. “I have an extraordinary new product for you. It knocked the socks off of scientists in clinical trials.” Well, if this rendered researchers hose-less, I was all for it. As quickly as I could have mumbled “fountain of youth,” the dermatologist handed me a prescription for a miracle therapy to tighten crepe-paper arms. I lost all cynicism. Who was I to doubt? New discoveries are made every day like advances in mattress technology. Who was I to suspect flimflam?
Euphoric with possibility, I went to the pharmacy convinced that I would be able to withhold the further ravages of time. The price tag for this just-from-the-lab cream was a steep $128 that my drug plan wouldn’t cover, but then you can’t put a monetary value on turning back the clock. Daily thereafter, I applied the elixir and waited for signs of improvement. At first, it didn’t come. Nor did it come later. After a few weeks of applications, I still had crepe-paper arms and half a tube of “miracle” cream. Snake oil. I had been bitten.
Why make all the neurotic fuss about aging arms, you might ask. “Just wear long sleeves,” friends said with impatience. Oh, here we go again with that old chestnut: “What winter hides, summer throws in your face” like a couple of dimpled thighs. I was being sentenced to cloth-covered arms forever. No more sexy sleeveless dresses; tight, cup-sleeved T-shirts; spaghetti straps were out; camisoles, never.
Obviously, this is one of those “gather ye rosebuds while ye may” topics. In my 20’s and 30’s, even my 40’s, I didn’t appreciate my sleek upper arms. They were always toned and tanned, and I took them for granted. With regret, I didn’t enjoy my great arms when I had them.
I can’t go back. The lesson learned is that I should take stock now. What do I have today that I had better appreciate because it might not be around forever? Well, for one, I am grateful that I still remember what I ate for breakfast and which movie I saw last night. I treasure the trace of wit and soupcon of wisdom I didn’t have when I had perfect arms. I value my ability to put words on paper in a way I couldn’t do when I had lower HDL. I am many “better” things: a better friend, a better lover, a better cook, a better conversationalist, a better driver … the attributes which I didn’t have when I had thicker hair.
Oh, posh. Even with the compensations of age, I still, and will, always mourn the loss of my young, unblemished body. But the least I can do is become coordinated. I plan to shop for new curtains and will make sure they match the designs on my upper arms.
Barbara L. Smith is a humor columnist for the Norwalk (CT) Citizen, and an award-winning playwright.