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Michelle Obama does Power Dressing

My triceps are saggy, I loathe the gym and the strappy vest tops were ditched about a decade ago. But when it’s hot (and I’m feeling even hotter), why should I feel uncomfortable and unhappy because I’m deemed ‘too old’ to go sleeveless? Why the Arm Paranoia?

In a feature written for the Telegraph, I spoke to Dr Carolyn Mair, Reader in Psychology at London College of Fashion: ‘Women can feel conscious about showing their ageing arms because they don’t look like the images of arms we constantly see. Images of very young models and celebrities who’ve been digitally altered. The toned smooth and firm image becomes the ‘norm’’ she explained. So, unrealistic imagery, together with under-representation has an impact, ‘older women can lack confidence in their appearance especially if if it differs from the norm, so why would we dare to show our arms?’

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Anna Wintour at Wimbledon this week

I’m all for the right to bare arms. And the beauty of being part of such a powerful demographic is that we are creating the rules; not paying attention to outdated, age-related instructions. To me, these age-appropriate rules and regulations about ‘what not to wear’ feel redundant today. It’s all about ageless style and dressing to suit your body and personality, now.  Though admittedly, decorum and more formal occasions require consideration…

One thing I have found is that there are ways to conceal without being too covered up – it’s definitely worth paying for a superior sleeve. Flattering cap sleeve styles cover the top of the arm and the armpit area, overcome Arm Paranoia and allow a lovely breeze (waft factor is important, too).

But surely the more we see arms of every age, the better? Dr Carolyn Mair concurs, ‘Yes, it would, but it takes confidence.’ Bring on American Vogue editor Anna Wintour and her 6am tennis habit or Michelle Obama whose version of power dressing is to show off toned upper arms in dresses without sleeves. These impressive women are never going to give in to a small wobble. Granted maintaining ‘Power Arms’ takes a strong commitment to exercise, but, but, but, ‘Arms come in all shapes and sizes (even young arms) and we need to understand that beauty is more than appearance,’ adds Mair, ‘Women of all ages should wear the clothes they feel comfortable in and care less about their perceptions of other people’s opinions. In reality, most people will not be bothered at all; other beauty shines through far more than the shape and size of your arms.’ Sensible words. Surely it’s time to wave goodbye to Arm Paranoia?

Read the full feature HERE. And here’s a selection of sleeved and sleeveless styles. Take your pick:

62 thoughts on “Time to wave goodbye to Arm Paranoia

  1. Oh how I agree!! Why should we hide signs of ageing for fear we will offend the brainwashed? Get those arms out sisters!!!

  2. Thank you, thank YOU .. I’m going to print this article and stick it inside my wardrobe door! Previously used to showing a (hopefully) pretty back and arms, now in my mid 50s – suddenly my grandmother’s ‘arm wobble’ appeared. What to do? Carry on Regardless! Have spent far too log seeking out dresses/tops with sleeves,

  3. Funny enough when I was young I did not wear sleeveless, I did not have these fragile Audrey Hepburn shoulders and arms and felt quite insecure. I still do not feel really me showing my arms but as the Summers in Vienna become hotter and hotter and so are my heart rushes , I have given up covering. And with some Outfits I even like it. Maybe also because I am doing Workout nowadays. But also because I am more me with Courage 🙂

  4. Yes, excellent article! Let’s take back the right to ‘bare arms’ – when we are in the right mood, which may not be on a night out or a wedding – for example. For me personally though – I’m not just dealing with the age thing- so will continue to design for myself and others in my age group that need to disguise our not so fine assets. BTW… Don’t forget to moisturise and exercise those triceps/crepy bits, it really does improve the look of the skin.

  5. I’m pretty sure that nothing will tempt me to expose my upper arms. AW’s left shoe does not look terribly comfortable. She’s obviously made of sterner stuff than I am.

  6. My arm mantra: If you don’t like it–don’t look! And so I saunter about in the warm weather sleeveless. My upper srms are fatty, flabby and saggy! And it doesn’t stop me from wearing all kinds of sleeveless tops and dresses. It depends on the cut of the armhole!
    Hey. Hot is hot and my aim is comfort first. Glad you brought this subject up!

  7. I haven’t shown my upper arms for years. Bingo wings aren’t a good look. Loose elbow length sleeves in the summer are the way to go for me. Please don’t all shout at me but AW’s arms are the opposite end of the spectrum from men and I think they look as bad. They’re really stringy and look ancient. As do her feet. Sorry but, while I’m happy to show my back and shoulders, my arms have gone away for good.

  8. I don’t bare my flabby upper arms. I don’t like looking at them, never mind anyone else! And anyway – are bare arms necessarily cooler? Does anyone remember the summer of the drought in 1976 when the temperature at midnight was 80+ for months on end? I was working in London and we were all sweltering in as little as possible – and then I noticed that the coolest, most elegant, most unsweaty people were African men, fully covered in loose white robes, sailing along like large, dignified swans. I made something in fine linen or cotton, with loose elbow length sleeves, my fabric of choice on hot days. With a broad brimmed hat, sunnies and sandals, I feel cool in both senses of the word.

  9. Last year, as a 61 year old, I started wearing sleeveless and not caring if my arms weren’t toned. And this summer, for the first time in a decade, I’m wearing shorts in public, despite the spreading purple veins behind my knees. For too many years, I wore pants or below the knee skirts to cover it up. Time to let those hang-ups go……

  10. I definitely wear sleeveless linen tops when the temperatures soar especially when I am in France. It is just too hot to do anything else except perhaps a floaty kaftan.

  11. I didn’t wear sleeveless when I was young because I thought my arms looked too long and skinny. Now even though they’re a bit wobbly, I bare ’em anyway. And I find like Catherine, above, that the cut of the arm hole either makes or breaks a sleeveless top. I prefer cut away arms rather than a schlumpy cap sleeve on me. And… not shouting but…. I think that AW’s arms look good… after all, she’s not twenty.

    1. Right??? I like the cut that goes inward. Don’t even start about those cap sleeved shirts. They look horrific on any one at any age. Ugh! The same with necklines. I’m a fan of the ballet neck and boat neck–even with my turkey neck the lines are just flattering to all!

  12. Ironically, AE looks very dated in her fashion choices here. At first I thought this was a photo taken from the archives of 15 years ago. While I am all for the right to bare arms, her arms look muscular but very crepey.

  13. I do think it all depends on those arms, especially when they are in motion.

    Funny enough, Barack Obama also has great upper arms. However, most politicians, either sex, probably should keep them covered at all times.

  14. Please be mindful about things like headlines – Waving Good-bye to Paranoia – with a picture of our FLOTUS. It at first made me wince as it seemed a diss to her. I KNOW that’s not your intent, but there has been such negativity and racism directed towards our first family (at least in the US press) that that’s how I initially took it. Again, I know that’s not your intent and she is gorgeous and strong and over 50 – hard to believe. Perhaps it also struck me as I don’t want to wave good-bye to our best president in years especially as I look at what might replace him.

    1. That definitely wasn’t my intention, Noelle. I’m a huge fan and am shocked (though sadly not surprised) to hear about this. The Obamas are generally well respected in the UK media. But I can understand your concern, just look what’s happening in the UK at the minute. In fact, when Obama steps down, there’s a job going over here!

    2. OMG. Noelle. I’m an American and that thought never crossed my mind in any way, shape or form. In fact, I took it as a testament that Michelle Obama is THE best-dressed First Lady since Jackie Kennedy!!

    3. I’m an American (a black one, at that) and that thought never entered my mind. I hear you but I don’t feel it applies to this headline. Our sweet, smart FLOTUS looking good (as usual – with her own style) is all I took out of it. And yes, let us quit being paranoid about showing our arms. ARM UP, ladies!

  15. Let’s hear it for sleeveless! I am 61 and that’s about all I wear all Florida summer (all six months of it). Lots of spots, dots, bends and folds, but my arms are out there! Great read.

  16. If our faces and torsos don’t look twenty, why expect our arms to? I’m not in love with my arms but have no problem exposing them. (My cellulite thighs, on the other hand….)

  17. Imagine 20 pairs of arms belonging to women fifty and over, making elegant serpentine moves in time to beautiful music….
    I used to teach Belly dance to all sorts of music, Middle Eastern, Flamenco, Adele!
    Bare or covered, the joy of movement and creativity left no room for ‘Arm paranoia! Put on your music bare those arms and feel their beauty and strength…so what if they wobble a bit!

  18. I wear sleeveless and I’m fast approaching 65. However, I am also committed to pilates at least three days a week so I have some Wobble Control. Fortunately, I love pilates so exercising doesn’t give me grief––instead it gives me power. Although I admire AW for baring her arms shamelessly––the little toe on her left foots looks to be in a lot of pain. (sigh) Why do we do that to ourselves.

  19. Style is more than fashion. Today’s trend is to wear gym clothing everywhere, including church but that doesn’t mean it’s stylish. Style consists of dressing in a way that is flattering to your body. You can be overweight and yet still dress stylishly. Sleeveless tops are simply is not flattering to all women. It’s tantamount to an older (flabbier) man wearing a muscle shirt. He may think he looks sexy and cool, but in reality, wouldn’t he look better in a t-shirt?

  20. Surely, the more often we see mature women’s bodies the more they will be normalised and therefore ‘acceptable’. I admit to feeling a little discouraged about my fifties body altogether, however, I try to resist the idea that because I am no longer 18, 25 40 or whatever my body is no longer socially ‘acceptable’. To be honest that whole notion is ridiculous and a construct of the media. Remember sisters – there are more of us in the post-youth tribe than there are of them!

  21. I just took a look at Wintour’s L foot and see what you are talking about!
    I could understand if they were great shoes but they’re horrible old fashioned looking things . High heeled mules, not a good look.
    I’m unfailingly amused by watching the way any benefits to appearance conferred by high heels are cancelled by terrible posture and inability to take anything but tiny steps.

  22. Without”s arms look great. Very toned. Her skin? Yes, she has skin. Get over it.

    I’m 61 and I like getting older – I like the way I look as my body ages. I have character. At long last, I’m past the awkwardness of middle age aging. I can be! I am! No more judgements. I shine now with joyful srlf-acceptance. I hope you feel this way, too!

  23. Wintour’s arms look great. Very toned. Her skin? Yes, she has skin. Let’s get over it.

    I’m 61 and I like getting older – I like the way I look as my body ages. I have character. At long last, I’m past the awkwardness and self-judgement of middle age aging.

    I can be! I am! No more judgements. I shine now with joyful self-acceptance. I hope you feel this way, too

  24. How interesting this is. FLOTUS and her well toned and much discussed arms and penchant for sleeveless clothes has certainly heavily influenced fashion for women. She’s looks great but not all women do. Now we are expected to go around even in the coldest winter with bare arms and bare legs. (Ok I do wear tights but they fail with some dresses and such). Watch a CSI/police shows and the women are all walking round sleeveless, stocking less and bare even in cold weather and freezing air conditioned settings. I saw a young ‘ fashionable’ woman over the winter walk into a coffee shop from the snow in less clothing than most wear in the summer. It looked silly but she sure was fashionable. Not the men–no matter the season they manage without totally baring arms and legs. I do suppose if they did we wouldn’t be as critical. It is hard to get cute sleeves in summer if we want them. At least I find that. I am 62 and in pretty good shape. I want to emphasize my strong points. So for me sleeveless is for beach and such. I do look better with some sleeve. I get the point of us doing what is comfortable for each of us but I’ll be on the ‘a little sleeve please’ side.

  25. When I was young, I never thought I would have “Pillsbury arms” (doughy like the frozen rolls). But here I am with the underarms of the Pillsbury Dough Girl. Worse, I’ve got a slow-healing shoulder injury and I’m not supposed to pick up a teacup, much less a barbell so forget exercise. Nevertheless, you’ve inspired me to interrupt my self-shaming and give sleeveless a try. ps. I bet Anna Wintour wished she was wearing flat shoes.

  26. First of all, I want to say that I have been reading this blog for a while and I love it! Thank you Alyson for so many good ideas.

    Also wanted to let you know that I found it a bit jarring to see a post that on at least on first glance seemed to put Michelle Obama in a negative light. She is an inspiration for many reasons. Only one of those reasons is a commitment to exercise that led to those awesome arms.

    I agree that it is empowering to learn to accept one’s imperfections and not feel self conscious letting others see less-than-Photoshop-rendered limbs. I hope to impart this message to my 17-year-old daughter, though I don’t always succeed.

    I also hope that women at all ages find the kind of exercise that works for themselves, their schedules and their budget. In my case, swimming and running help me face each day (let alone growing older) with a positive spirit. Since I started exercising regularly again about 5 years ago, my arms happen to look a bit nicer to me, but since arm sag hasn’t been my focus, I still have plenty of it jiggling around.

    I love the post about how dance enlivens arms of every shape and size. Made me think, “these arms are made for swimming, dancing, stirring, rowing, hugging, driving, climbing, or whatever makes us feel active and alive.”

    Go Michelle! Go women over 50 who are strong and willing to take risks.

  27. When I read this I thought about a joke I heard. There was an older lady that had saggy biceps…she said that if they were going to flap in the wind she was going to get a flag tattooed on them so they wouldn’t go to waste! LOL I with 99% of you that say you’re not going to worry too much about it! I’m not…sleeves or not…whatever, whenever I feel like it!

  28. Thanks for the article – this is certainly a topic women are interested. Ironically, after the “pep talk” about showing your arms,,, every photos and sale image of women had “good arms”. Why not show realistic arms, especially in an article about mustering the courage to show your arms with confidence. Walk the talk.

  29. My 75 yr old aunt was complaining last week about M&S – nothing for Older ladies, it’s all sleeveless dresses and t-shirts my reply, well I don’t care I’ll just make sure I tone up my arms a little bit!!! (I’ve found my Dumbbells and put them in a prominent place in my bedroom). Btw the thing about Anna Wintour is that her confidence shines out, so believe in yourself and it really doesn’t matter how you look….despite those dreadful sandals!

  30. What shocks me about this post is how many of you who feel that you have some right to comment negatively about Anna Wintours arms. On one hand there’s a group of you saying you’re going to brave getting your arms out, well I hope you get a better response than Ive read here.
    Honestly whatever happened to women being supportive of one another? I think it’s a huge shame some of you can’t just feel good that there’s a woman who knows she’s going to get criticised whatever she does/ wears and does it anyway. Good for her. I hope my friends are more accepting of me than some of you appear to be. It’s tricky enough coming to terms (or trying to) with all the changes on our bodies as we get older without coming under the microscope of fellow women.

  31. Older women, and at 62, I count myself as one of them, should wear what they they feel comfortable in. When my arms are tanned I have absolutely no problem in going sleeveless. I can accept that they don’t look as good as they did when I was 20, but so what. I despair at women that are say 40 years plus that decide that their arms are not perfect enough to be seen. Show them off! There are plenty of years in your later life that you will feel much happier covered up. Don’t bring it on too soon.

  32. Sue is right! We are supposed to be supportive of each other. My feeling is “good for her” – maybe she doesn’t give a damn what
    others think. Frankly, I am putting my arms out there this summer and I don’t care what anyone thinks.

  33. I just can’t believe that arms are something to be ashamed of. What are we, Victorian? We come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. We all look the way we look – great is relative. Anyway, I’m dying to go sleeveless, but the weather isn’t co-operating very much.

  34. Arms are arms. Most of us have them and they all are made of the same stuff. I figure if you want to show them, do so. If you don’t, we get that too. I’m waffling on my own baring of arms now – it only started to occur to me that perhaps it was time (now at age 55) to keep that look for around the house, or for when I’m feeling particularly toned. But that’s just for my own vanity, not because I think anyone else is casting a negative eye . And speaking of casting a negative eye, I will admit right here that I’m getting a small degree of perverse pleasure in seeing AW in those Manolo B mules (which she apparently has worn for many , many years) with her toe poking out the side, unpolished not-so-pretty feet and all. Certainly not on-trend, nor particularly fashionable or flattering , I find this shoe choice and fit ironic on the woman noted for being so judgmental and opinionated toward others . Her arms look pretty darn great to me though – cut biceps and all – and yes, they have the crepey skin of a woman of her age. She clearly does her own thing – and more power to her. Any intimidation I imagine I would feel in her presence though was effectively erased by this photo – she’s just a regular person.

  35. I do not normally comment over here but here’s my tuppence. It is not difficult to get toned arms at any age, you just need to do targeted exercises, if you really want them to be toned, and it’s not too time consuming nor particularly expensive, you just have to do it regularly, as you brush your teeth daily. I do “sleek” created by former ballerinas Victoria Marr and Flik Swan and do an exercise called ‘ballerina’s back and arms’ which is wonderful for the arms, not just to tone them, but also to teach you how to move and hold your arms and improve your overall posture. Posture is the thing that most of us forget about, I can’t believe how many people, both men and women curve their backs without realising it, with no awareness whatsoever of how they breathe. As for heels, who says you cannot wear them when you are older? you need to learn how to hold yourself and walk in heels, just as you learn how to be in pointe shoes – they key is to strengthen your ankles and your inner thighs. And, like pointe shoes, heels must be good quality and the shoe must fit to perfection.

  36. Just want to express my admiration of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign and how she is a powerful example of the physical fitness and healthy eating initiative. Love the photo of her here. While we acknowledge that growing older means changing bodies, we can still take responsibility to be the healthiest and best examples of ourselves. I love this blog for showing that women of all ages can be beautiful and stylish. Thank you, Alyson, for inspiring us.

  37. At the end of our life, I doubt we spend one second regretting what kind of tops we wore with our arms. I always figure I am the person who will not have the nicest arms, but neither will I be the person with the worst arms… and I am very happy to blend into the middle somewhere. I am grateful to have them and don’t give a toss what anyone thinks. Even Kate Moss has “mom arms” as the recent photos of her in Cannes show. If Mossy doesn’t have perfect arms and she gets paid to show hers off every day, then why should the rest of us worry? Free the Arms!

  38. Hi – excellent article as always. But I also concur with other comments – why then illustrate with pictures of sleeveless clothing on young women? When, oh when, am I going to see what clothes look like on older women?
    Also have to say – I wish we could find ways of talking about women without bringing the word ‘age’ into it – even the positive vibes of ageless and pro- youth etc still revolve around …… your age. I feel that by constantly beating this drum we are always drawing attention to it. BUT I do acknowledge the wonderful shift in perception of and towards older women and look forward to it getting even better! Thanks for a great website

  39. I am 67 years-old and until recently, I felt fine about going sleeveless. In fact, I purchased several sleeveless pieces this summer and thought they looked fabulous. That is, until I saw a picture of myself wearing one. My arms looked like leg of lamb. I wanted to ignore the photo and continue on, but have developed a level of self-consciousness that is hard to overcome. As for cap sleeves, I honestly believe they make the matter worse, falling right at the point where the blubber begins. For the time being, my sleeveless items are accompanied by a sweater or jacket. Of course, all bets are off if the weather turns sultry. Then, arms be damned, I’ll be sleeveless.

  40. I’d love to go sleeveless, and lately have felt much more encouraged to do it, although my arms aren’t what anyone would call toned. I’m not overweight, but they definitely have what used be called ‘dingle-dangle.’ The problem, however, is that all of the sudden, at 66, my upper arm skin suddenly got crepey (is that a word? oh, well, use your imagination — it’s not pretty). Dingle-dangle isn’t particularly noticeable unless you wave your arms a lot, so that’s really not a problem, but crepe … not attractive. I don’t mean that from an age standpoint, although it’s a product of age; it’s more the clash of the supposedly-unattractive-but-not-really (plumpish or untoned arms) vs. what is really unattractive and would be at any age. Frustrating. And no amount of exercise would help!

  41. Looking at my arms has me feeling a bit sad lately, as for some reason the skin’s texture there has begun to sag in the past couple of years (probably helped along by losing 40 lbs. (close to 3 stone, 18 kg). However, I still slap on the sunscreen and wear sleeveless tops and dresses in summer, when I can find some with armholes that don’t sag and bag and show off my bra. Some dresses are worth altering, but sleeveless T-shirts really are not. Since I have a very large bust it’s really an issue. Uniqlo manage to make sleeveless tops — Ts and sleeveless linen and rayon button-ups — that don’t gape at the armholes, and their Airism camis and tanks work under Ts from other brands without overheating me from too many layers, and Gap has some slightly cap-sleeved Ts that work for me this year, but overall finding sleeveless tops that work well with wearing a bra, if you don’t want to show off that bra, can be a challenge.

  42. I totally agree that women of all ages should wear what they feel most comfortable in. As a younger woman, I hated sleeveless tops and dresses because my arms were toothpick thin. Once I started working out, I felt differently. Now, at age 63, my arms are still thin but better toned and I love going sleeveless.

  43. I think I have to be a bit controversial here – the more articles written about it the more the sleveless arm becomes a topic, a problem. Please, wear what you want. I am actually sick & tired of making problems where there are none. We do this to ourselves and that should stop. Recently I have been shopping with 3 good friends who told me right from the start what is all wrong with their bodies. And these were stunning women between 40 – 54. We all know when a woman is the most beautiful – when she is comfortable with her body, soul and clothes. It does happen, and you can make it happen. I have been working at it for the last 8 months after a terrible depression. I just have flown from Berlin to London without eye make up for the first time in about 25 years. Yes, I looked tired and yes, I am too skinny and it shows but lets stop finding body parts that cause a problem.

    1. Oh Anne I like what you’ve written. Women, we’re our own worst enemies. I’ve not known a man to comment about my arms in a negative way ever. Let’s stop doing this to ourselves and other women.

  44. I didn’t enjoy anything about being 105 lbs when I was young…too skinny…no boobs…bony hips…now I’m 60 and definitely not 105. There are new problems…not firm…no waist and so on. It’s always something and then its over. Better to enjoy life and not worry about what people think. I know that’s easier said than done, but it’s not impossible and never too late!

  45. Arms sagging is actually a problem, because it comes as yet another sign of getting older. When we’ve just got used to one or more extra wrinkles around our eyes and we’ve accepted this and that, come the ARMS. Like the last war bastion which kept strong – suddenly even this is lost in the battle against aging. But of course – we shouldn’t give in and up. I noticed that regular exercises do wonders – problem is though – I am never disciplined enough to do them all year round 🙁 . Regards Margot
    P.S.
    As it happens I am just writing an article about mature women fobias – your article hits the notes perfectly. Could I place a link to your blog for those who would like to read more about the topic?
    Margot http://www.iameverywoman.eu

  46. Honestly, I think people should show their arms if they are pretty, independently of age. If the arms are not pretty, you should somehow try to disguise it…Sorry, but it’s a matter of elegance…
    And this rule applies to arms, legs, bellies, etc…but, of course, everyone is free to do what they want!

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