Who knew arm muscle could be so political? Michelle Obama’s muscled arms have been the subject of much media scrutiny and public envy: in spite of the controversy about her arms, it seems that American women are interested in emulating her, if the increase in upper body lifts noted by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons is any indicator. And if the innumerable upper body workouts put out by everyone from fitness magazines to supposedly viable media sources are enough, American women will go under the knife to get closer to the new beauty standard represented by Michelle Obama: the new glamour of muscle.
Last year, Americans underwent 1.6 million cosmetic surgeries, including face-lifts, liposuction, and rhinoplasty; 91% of cosmetic procedures were in women. American spending on cosmetic procedures totaled over $11 billion. While breast augmentation remained the most popular cosmetic surgery for Americans, a more unexpected surgery was highlighted in the report: the upper arm lift. The group noted that number of upper arm procedures was up 4,378% since 2000, when only about 300 women opted for it. Perhaps most entertainingly, the group also highlighted their own speculation as to why women are more interested in having toned upper bodies, citing the toned upper body musculature of Kelly Ripa, Demi Moore, and of course, the First Lady, Michelle Obama.
In spite of those who chastise and shame Michelle Obama for her revealingly short sleeves (a topic that I thought had been exhausted in 2009), she is ahead of the (biceps) curve: new movements around fitness and health, represented through musculature, rather than simple “thinness” is the new standard of beauty for women. “Thinspo,” a damaging type of online motivation popular with teenage girls that glorifies the aesthetic of thinness, has been replaced by “fitspo,” seemingly less nefarious images of women doing workouts like the circuit training program CrossFit, or weight lifting that requires incredible athletic prowess. And if the muscled standard is not accessible to you through significant physical activity and rigorous monitoring of your nutrition, then plastic surgery might be your next step.
This new buff standard of beauty, while it might be more physiologically healthy, is just as damaging emotionally as its more slender predecessor. Many studies show that class is connected to one’s ability to exercise and or access adequate nutrition are correlated. For those without the resources required to workout and eat right, he buff new femininity can be just as inaccessible as the skinny mythos.
The new standard of muscle will not be incorporated into our national body ideals overnight: however, this new trend in plastic surgery reveals that for whatever reason, arm muscles are now something to be coveted.
Everyone wants Michelle Obama’s arms, but maybe instead the media can start lusting after her policy proposals: Obama’s much touted projects regarding public health and the promotion of exercise and healthy food is a much more ambitious plan than her daily upper body workout.