hiding, guaranteed invisibility


“How To Hide your Upper Arms” — the title of a post I read recently! It made me sad and then mad.

I’m not into maximum exposure at all times. Probably like many of you, I think that covering can be just as attractive as lots of skin, if not more so. For God’s sake though, hide my arms? When Nora Ephron said she felt bad about her neck, she didn’t say that meant forever after hiding her neck with turtlenecks, did she? 

The desire to hide what has changed so drastically over the years is understandable.

It’s understandable, and I won’t judge another woman for doing what she thinks makes her more attractive. I will question it, though. Doesn’t hiding guarantee one’s invisibility? Doesn’t it say I want to look unlike myself and like another group of people — in this case, a younger group?

Whether it’s cultural and religious beliefs that result in hiding what can amount to the whole self, or the attitude towards aging that results in us wanting to hide arms, legs, or necks, I have to question it.    

This is a real and distressing problem, because if we’re meant to be invisible, who else is: older men, the disabled, overweight people, women in head scarves?

There are people who would rather not look at and acknowledge others, who would in essence like to keep others in a place of non-personhood.  

Isn’t that, for example, what discouraging dreadlocks and other “natural” hairstyles in the workplace is about? 

“I don’t like it, you make me uncomfortable, it’s not the norm, therefore you should hide.” Isn’t that what we’re saying when we discourage others from making themselves visible in the way they are comfortable?

You’ve heard of the body positivity (or body acceptance) movement?

It’s fundamentally a backlash against the extremes of fashion, advertising, and marketing. The world that says you must be thin and look as much like a model as you can, period. While a backlash is, by definition, extreme in its opposition to something, and so is not a perfect answer to the initial problem, this movement really just asks us to be adults.

It’s a movement lead by models, mothers, doctors, self-help gurus, and other women who have seen how destructive a world in which you’re supposed to “look like this, but not that” is. No more hiding, say the leaders of this movement! 

Two of my favorite projects are Body Image Movement (started by Taryn Brumfitt, a former Australian body builder) and All Woman Project (started by Charli Howard, a model). Both of them are the kind of women you’d love to have as friends.

They’re neither self-righteous nor apologetic in their advocacy and support for visibility.

Brumfitt has traveled the world spreading the movement and promoting her autobiographical film, Embrace. Charli Howard and her collaborators show, better than I’ve ever seen done, the beauty of true diversity. I think we have a lot to learn from them. Thoughts?




  • Haralee says:

    I think the younger women may be less effected with the hiding norms. They are the ones who show their muffin tops, wear tight clothes on less than svelte bodies and think nothing of it. I hope they continue!

    • Anita Irlen says:


      Mostly, I agree with you. I do still think that good taste should rule, but I admit that some people would consider me showing my crepey arms is not good taste, so it’s complicated. Still, yes, I hope people keep pushing boundaries!

  • It’s interesting, there’s that mix between what makes us comfortable or less uncomfortable and in what we’re told we ought to do. The flappy underarm is one of those places for me! Normally I don’t care about whether I show that or not–though I’m often told as an older woman that I should hide it.

    We need to learn to listen less to those voices and follow our own path, I think!

    • Anita Irlen says:


      All true Walker. Lately, probably due to the political atmosphere, I think people need to just come out of hiding in all things. Respect yes, but don’t hide for any reason. A mantra of sorts. xx

  • Juli says:

    I follow Brumfitt, and I’m delighted to know you do, too. You are both great!

  • I’ve stopped hiding my arms and legs all the time, although I agree that sometimes covering up can be just as attractive as a lot of skin. What I have noticed is now that I judge my own body much less harshly, I judge other bodies much less harshly too.

    Funny, I have mixed feelings about Taryn Brumfitt, I’m not sure why, there’s something about her that brings up resistance in me. Maybe it’s her Aussie accent, which is rich, coming from me! I had not heard of the All Woman Project, I will take a look. xx

    • Anita Irlen says:


      Oh yes, compassion for oneself breeds compassion for others for sure! I understand the resistance to TB. I often have that feeling about some of the body positivity etc. crusaders. There is one mother daughter team that brings up resistance in me. The line between sincerity and exploitation sometimes is very thin. I have to watch that in myself. Do check out the All Woman Project. The woman who does the photography for them is extremely talented. xx

      • Talking to a friend last night reminded me of what it is that bothers me about TB. She refers to herself as an ‘ex-bodybuilder’ but she only competed once in a body-building competition after 15 weeks of training. Sorry, whilst that’s impressive, I used to belong to that world and one competition does not make you a bodybuilder.

        And whilst I respect her decision that it was too much sacrifice, the way she talks about her experience disrespects other women who do pursue and enjoy body-building and related competitions. Her term of ‘stripper heels’ regarding the transparent shoes they wear in competitions is also offensive. I’m not defending the industry, I had to opt out because the extreme dieting messed with my head, but I am defending women who make a conscious choice that this lifestyle is right for them. I have a friend who wouldn’t be with us today if she hadn’t found her place in the (natural) bodybuilding world, lifting weights saved her life.

        Body acceptance should be body acceptance for ALL. Not just people who decided that carrying a little (or a lot of) extra weight is right for them. Sometimes it feels to me like slim and people who eat and train to be lean are the baddies.

        You’re so right about the line between sincerity and exploration sometimes being very thin, but I guess at the every least, these people are helping more than they are hindering. But we all need to do better.

        I checked out the All Woman Project – gorgeous! (Although, where’s the plumper older woman? Every ‘woman of a certain age’ that appears in adverts and campaigns always seems to be thin!).

        I’ll get off my soapbox now. xx

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