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Relief Society arms

By Heather Oman

I’ve got them.  Yes, yes I do.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, try this experiment.  While wearing a short sleeve shirt, stand in front of a large mirror, and pretend you are conducting a choir.  Or trying to fly away.  If it looks like your flappers could actually generate enough wind speed to take off, you have Relief Society arms.

If you conducted this experiment, and still have no idea what I’m talking about, it means that you are in much better physical shape than I am, and could probably beat me in an arm wrestle contest, or at a weight lifting competition at the gym (in which I am a frequent participant.  You know, in between nursing my baby, making dinner, and cleaning up poop), in which case I probably envy you, and you are thereby excused from reading this post.  Have a nice day.

My grandmother was the first person I ever heard use the term “Relief Society arms”.  She made it a joke, saying, ‘You know how you know you are getting old?  Relief Society arms”.  When my mother asked her what that meant, she lifted up her arms and flapped.  We all laughed hysterically, mostly because my grandmother was extremely proper, and was not the flapping type.  Perhaps age loosened her propriety, along with everything else.

 I could turn this post into some sentimental double play on the words “Relief Society arms”.  I mean, that would be SO Segullah, to turn a funny phrase into a meaningful enlightened discussion, wouldn’t it?  “Relief Society arms” could mean so many sweet things, and conjures up images of loving sisters wrapping their arms around grieving mothers, heartsick wives, lonely widows.  Relief Society arms bear gifts of groceries, of meals, of elbow grease in times of ultimate need.  Relief Society arms bond together and form a circle of strength and righteousness as we battle the forces of evil that bombard our family in this day and age.  I could write an entire essay that would tie it all in be-yootifully.

But I’m not going to do that, mostly because I’m just a little bit bummed about my Relief Society arms.  I don’t want Relief Society arms.  I want Jennifer Aniston arms.  I want what is commonly known in the trade as “guns” (Ok, I don’t actually know what that means, but I heard it on a TV show once, and it sounded cool.) Having flappy arms means I’m growing older, which brings experience and wisdom and all that cool stuff, but also means my body isn’t always going to do what I want it to.  It is a reminder about how there is a lot about life that I can’t control, which is sometimes difficult to accept.  And it means that if I want to stay strong, I have to do something about it, because at some point, if you are not getting stronger, you are only getting weaker. Flappier.  (Carry that metaphor farther at will.)

I suppose one consolation in this is that I can’t possibly be the only one who is experiencing this.  I know I’m not the only woman who wakes up one day, takes a look in the mirror and thinks, “Whoa.  What happened there?”

Now I’m all for staying fit and all that, but there are some things that even the most regimented fitness program can’t help.  Short of plastic surgery, how do you come to terms with changes in your body you can’t control?  Should we all grow old gracefully, or fight it tooth and nail?  Can you do both?  Do you approach body image as a whole concept, or are there things that you are willing to let go so you can spend more energy on others (ie, shoot, I don’t care about the bellyjelly, but hoo-boy, that thigh cellulite has got to GO!)?

Really, I suppose what we could do is line up, roll up our sleeves, get those Relief Society arms flapping, like a big flock of geese, and head South for the winter.  I hear the Bahamas are lovely this time of year.

About Heather Oman

(Prose Board) lives in the south with her husband, her two kids, and her wiggly black lab. She is a licensed speech language pathologist, but spends most of her days trying to teach her own kids how to say please and thank you. She is a member of the Segullah Editorial Board, and is the founding member of the blog Mormon Mommy Wars.

23 thoughts on “Relief Society arms”

  1. Haha!

    Well, I've recently lost 31 pounds (thank you, thank you) and I noticed my RS arms were getting worse. So, I dutifully went to a free weight training class (note: it is only free because a fabulous sister in our stake teaches the class twice a week at our church building, while many a teenager attend early morning seminary). It hasn't worked miracles, but it has worked really well. My flap is down to a nice flutter.

    I like to think of my body image as a whole concept. I enjoy being healthy (and finally thin again!), because I feel better, look better, breathe better, and just enjoy life better. And I'll be honest –I'm not opposed to the idea of giving the ladies a nice "lift" one day. They sure need it!

    However, I'm also a realist. Of course my stretch marks are going to stay. Forever. Of course I'm never going to look like I did in college, and that's okay. I see my changed body as a sign of "war" –war wounds that my children left behind in their wake. All the other non-children aging? (grey hair, wrinkles, etc.) I think I'll just have to take it with some grace. Of course, I'm sure I'll dye my hair and use that wrinkle cream, but growing old is just something that happens, and I can't see myself stressing over it to the point of exhaustion. If I'm going to stress over my body, it will focus on eating right and exercise! And least I have some real control there –control that can prolong and better my life.

  2. (sigh) I'm feeling blue again, after all the chatter about supporting families from the Worldwide Training this weekend, so I realize I'm extra sensitive — but why is it only mothers, wives, and widows who ever merit support? What about those of us who never had, even for a day, the arms of a child or a husband? I'd take anybody's flabby Relief Society arms right-about-now, no matter how fluttery or flappy they are.

  3. Yup- me too- flappy arms, that is. I want Jennifer Aniston arms and legs and maybe her belly, too… But then, I have the scars that three children bring to my belly, so I guess that's ok too.

  4. Is it okay that I've had Relief Society Arms since I was a Laurel? Maybe I should lose a few. 🙂

    Not yet seeing wrinkles of stretch marks makes me unqualified to say really, but my philosophy as passed down from my mother and grandmother is that one should embrace the work of nature and emphasize the beauty of every age. (This will probably be amended when the hair starts to go.)

  5. I just turned 31, and yes, I have Relief Society arms. Oh, the pain. I'm glad I'm not the only one here that has them, though.

    I don't have Relief Society hair, though. Not yet…

  6. My mother had them terribly. I was terrified I was going to get them. Well, I did. And I hate them. I find them to be terribly offending to life and to have them humiliates me to the max. I will not wear short sleeves. It is such a slam to life to have them.

  7. We called them 'bus driver arms' when I was young since our bus driver had a very impressive set and those of us who sat up front had a pretty good view. I think I like RS arms better, since I don't ever plan to be a bus driver (but if I did, I would not wear short sleeve shirts on the job).

  8. "Perhaps age loosened her propriety, along with everything else."

    That's hilarious to me. Unfortunately, what it reminded me of is the need to do kegles (sp?) so I'm not incontinent after the birth of baby # 2.

    After reading this I went into the bathroom and flapped my arms. My 3 y.o. son came and in, looked at me like I was crazy, and said, "What are you doing?"

    Luckily, he didn't comment on the amount of flapping going on.

  9. My husband calls my stretch marks "tiger stripes." I think it is kinda cute.

    And yes, Relief Society arms for me too. This post makes me want to do some pushups.

  10. I had a friend who had plastic surgery to remove the flappers. She told me never to do it because they just come back.

    Question: Does anyone else fantasize about an electric bread knife that could just sculpt and shape my body (which naturally still has skin on it when I am done. brrrrrr, goodbye stomach. brrrrrrrrr, goodbye RS arms. brrrrrr, goodbye butt. Hello! nice shapely thighs.

    I know I am just weird. I'd never do that, but the scupting and shaping without a lot of effort seems really nice.

    (retreats back to her corner)

  11. annahannah: I know this. It's just like ice sculpting.

    Only impossible.

    Great post. I've got a call in to a friend of mine who also has this great term for Relief Society arms. But since I have Relief Society brains I can't remember it.

    I'll be back.

  12. Heather, that was hysterical. I especially love the part about how it would be so Segullah to turn this into a post about loving RS arms.

    I've been taking tae kwon do. My teacher is extremely, extremely in shape. Hardly any fat on her body. Whatsoever. And, if she holds them the right way, her arms wave back and forth, Relief Society arms. She says it's just how the muscle is constructed, how it attaches to the arm, and we should not get discouraged.

    It is kind of a comfort. But then she goes on to say that it's not about being super skinny, it's about being fit and being the best you, and I want to say, whatever! I wanna be skinny.

  13. Have you ever noticed that the old elephant Cornelius in the story of Babar the Little Elephant is drawn to be wrinkly all over. He has a shaky voice too. I know this because that is how I read him talking to Babar when he turns over the leadership to him. Maybe those wrinkles symbolize the wisdom of age.

    Well, its the all over wrinkles that bother me.

    I have biceps (guns) now that I have been working out for about five years and not as much flab on the other side of my forearms. I always thought the excessive flabbiness came from the loss of fat. So maybe filling those wings up with fat from another part of the body would work better than cutting them off.

    As for me I just wish there was some way to keep my neck for getting shorter over time, my nose from getting longer and my gums from receding.

    Camouflage works best for me no turtle necks and only long sleeves. Wearing a bag over my head is where I draw the line.

  14. #3 Again: I hear you. Sometimes in the last year or so, I've thought how it would be to have a hug and feel loved from a husband, etc just for one day. I think we don't have that hug for a day as it would be too hard to see it vanish at the end of the day, ie like in Cinderella when everything vanishes at midnight.

    I like the term RS arms better! I always think of it as chicken fat arms and that is terrible!

    This thread motivates me to do better at getting rid of mine! Tricep exercises,let's do them!!

  15. You know, I'm going to respectfully submit that I think flappy arms are more often a trait of thin women than of ampler women. I am ample and not at all fit, but (unless I am kidding myself) I don't have flappy arms — all the skin is well-plumped-out and doesn't dangle. (I do have other flappy parts . . .)

    Oh, and I loved the Segullah comparison. So funny.

  16. Heather O.–My aunts and mom have HUGE RS Arms. They keep their own time and don't conform to body size or weight. I have always been terrified of getting them. And I've got them, just in the last couple of years. Although as long as I'm not leading the music, they don't bug me too much. I've got a lot bigger (literally) problem areas to think about.

  17. This conversation reminds me of a story my Mom always told, about watching Lawrence Welk when she was a girl, and being amazed at the arms of the honky-tonk piano lady. When she got going, apparently the arms took on a life of their own.


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