Jennifer Lawrence
Jennifer Lawrence (Photo: Getty Images)


With “arm vagina”, we enter a new territory in ridiculous beauty standards

Perfectly normal bodies are maligned on the red carpet. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad, says Caroline O’Donoghue

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

Remember that scene in Mean Girls, where the sweet, sheltered Cady is standing in front of the mirror with her new friends, amazed by how many things they have found to be insecure about?

“I hate my calves,” says Gretchen Wieners.

“At least you guys can wear halter tops. I have man shoulders,” says Regina George.

“My hairline is so weird.”

“My nail beds suck.”

“My pores are HUGE.”

The gang look expectantly over at Cady, waiting for her to say something incredibly specific about how terrible she looks. She hesitates. “Uh, I have really bad breath in the morning.”

If the girls were huddling around a mirror in 2017, it seems that “arm vagina” – the fold of skin where your arm meets your torso – would be one of them. The term first came into circulation in 2014, when the then-23-year-old Jennifer Lawrence rebuffed Giuliana Rancic’s compliments at the Screen Actors Guild awards with the retort: “I know I have armpit fat, it’s OK… it’s armpit vaginas.”

The two laugh and it’s an imitation of that Mean Girls scene we’re all so familiar with – where you and another woman use your mutually bizarre body-image issues to bond with one another. It’s a little like when you meet someone for a long-looked-forward-to lunch and endlessly exchange how you have been “just the worst lately” about arranging it. It is the perpetually female dance of, “No, I am terrible,” and, “No, YOU are great, I AM the one who is terrible.”

'Arm vagina' might sound nuts now, but 'cankles' probably sounded mad to my mother, when I asked her if I had them

But “arm vagina”, it turns out, is not just some mad thing that Jennifer Lawrence made up while attempting to make conversation with Giuliana Rancic. “Arm vagina”, it would seem, is a common complaint that red-carpet stylists are faced with.

“Sometimes it’s the weirdest part of their body,” confided Hollywood stylist Rebecca Corbin-Murray to The Times this week, seemingly exasperated by how hard her job has become. “They [celebrity clients] say, ‘I’ve got this horrible blah-blah,’ and you think, ‘What are they even talking about?’ The one that comes up all the time is arm vagina.”

Now, as someone who once turned to their best friend on the bus and said, with great solemnity, “I know I have greasy eyelids,” I get that people have weird issues with their body. But surely there’s a line somewhere? And that line, I think, is the term “arm vagina”. Two utterly innocuous words that have come together to create such a depressing sentiment that if I could go backwards in time so that I had never heard it, I would.

If you’re still confused as to what “arm vagina” is, because as far as you're concerned, a little puff of armpit skin spilling over your bra strap doesn’t look anything like a vagina, consider this: the term “arm vagina” exists for people who live in a world where vaginas look like that. Where vaginas are hairless skin-bubbles, virtually indistinguishable from a kitten’s nose. Imagine paying that much for your vagina to look like the skin on the rest of your body, only to be sad because… your vagina looks like the skin on the rest of your body?

Of course, this is not a problem for us. This is not a problem for regular women, the ones who are too busy worrying about their 2016/17 tax bill to give a shit about what Jennifer Lawrence’s upper-arm fat is doing. This is the fashion world, this is showbusiness. This is the industry that we peer at but, ultimately, we know has very little to do with us. Right?

Except that, as Gaby Hinsliff pointed out in The Guardian, the red carpet is where many of our most insidious body standards originate from. “Muffin tops”, “bingo wings” and “cankles” are all words I first learnt from the old days of Heat magazine’s circle of shame, back when I was learning that I should never wear Special K red (where adolescent sweatmarks show up all too easily), never wear spaghetti straps (bra straps, darling!) and that boat necks were “unflattering” for my shape. (My shape = a 15-year-old girl, with no shape.)

Ridiculous terms like “arm vagina” get thrown around for the same reason that “cankles” and “muffin tops” did – they sound mad, they’re slightly funny, they’re vaguely relatable, they sell magazines, they generate clicks. We hear about them through celebrities, agree they’re stupid, but they somehow make their way into our communal lexicon anyway.

The teenage girls who criticise their bodies in front of the mirror have their insecurities selected for them by professionals – by Hollywood and by magazine editors. “Arm vagina” might sound nuts now, but “cankles” probably sounded mad to my mother, when I asked her if I had them. I’m too old and too jaded to be taken in by “arm vagina” – but that doesn’t mean women younger than me won’t be.


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Jennifer Lawrence (Photo: Getty Images)
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Sexism in the media

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