The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) recently released statistics showing that both upper and underarm surgeries, designed to tone and re-sculpt these areas, in women increased an eye-goggling 4,300 percent. This is the kind of percent figure found on an ACME sticker stuck to the side of a crate in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. News outlets that picked up the story offered insight into the uptick in these procedures by citing the arm physique of women like Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie as individuals who had successfully tamed their "bat wings," conquered their "saggy lunch lady arms," beaten back their "flaps."
Most women toss around slang terms for what they perceive as their "problem" areas. These descriptors, "bat wings," for example, become shorthand for the shameful, uncomfortable and antagonistic feelings women have about their bodies. They often elicit snickers, giggles and nods of solidarity from girlfriends when tossed off in the course of conversation. "Cabbage Patch knees," is one of my go-to phrases to describe the puckery, round areas above and around my kneecaps. It is an apt descriptor and it gets a laugh, but it is really meant to excuse one of my physical insecurities. When women talk about themselves and their and bodies in this way, it only serves to naturalize what is in reality a damaging perspective. Guilty as charged.
The logic goes that the currency of language is more flexible, less subject to scrutiny when it comes from our own mouths and we can easily justify remarks as jokes. Language is never inconsequential. It is too easy to let self-harm pass for comical self-deprecation. Ideally, we should stop characterizing our bodies in these ridiculous and demeaning ways altogether.
At the very least, we can adapt a self-aware attitude about the words we use in order to acknowledge the way they skew body image. In the process, we might reclaim these ideas for positive ends. After all, what are bat wings but thin, powerful membranes that propel these little night creatures thousands of miles at a clip or the cool accessories that give Batman his superhero mystique? We should all be so lucky to have bat wings.
We might actually learn something from 30 Rock's Jenna Maroney's bizzarely girl-power centric ode to her "Muffin Top." Satire or not, it is the song of a woman who recognizes and celebrates the allure of her body, specifically of its features, which in a typical setting, would be objects of derision: "My muffin top is all that, whole grain, low fat," sings Maroney, ending with the lyrics "The boys all want my cake for free, but if you can't stop your fakery you can kiss my muffin top!" She might be onto something there.