How 'power arms' became the new status symbol for over 50s

kristi noem
Noem's arms stole the show when she recently endorsed Donald Trump for president - Reuters

You may have seen that a woman called Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, has endorsed ­Donald Trump for president and, should he secure the nomination, is tipped to be his first choice for running mate. ­Truthfully this whole episode would have passed us by were it not for the ­pictures of Noem, 51, reaching out to Trump with a set of very muscular arms that, frankly, stole the show.

Up to this point, arms like these have been called “power arms” and every so often a celebrity will be photographed with above-averagely-honed biceps and we’ll take a moment to reflect that women’s arms have come a long way since the Sitwells and Audrey Hepburn.

Now we’re having to readjust our expectations once again because Noem is not just a politician, she’s an actual bodybuilder, and while you can’t avoid the shoulder definition and the guns and the general sinewiness of her arms, you don’t look at them and instantly think, “Oh right, bodybuilding arms”, because (and the Noem pictures prove it) we’re already in new arm definition territory.

These arms are just the new ­frontier in a line stretching back to Madonna via Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie. A decade ago Victoria Beckham’s stringy biceps would have made you question what the hell was going on in the ­private gym at ­Beckham Towers; now you just think: woman in the fashion industry ­pushing 50, of course she’s going to have arms that look like she could rip the head off a gorilla.

Madonna bares arms
Madonna bares arms - Getty

Arms are how you ­demonstrate you’re fit and strong and more than up to the job when it might not be in your best ­interests to show off your abs or your thighs. You’re never too old to get your arms out and remind people that they are in the ­presence of a ­contender – that’s the theory.

Of course, not everyone has the desire or the resources to get high-­definition arms, but there is another way of demonstrating you’ve still got it and that’s on-show legs. These days you don’t have to have the elegant pins of an Avedon model, but you are more likely to be younger – just because having your bare arms on show is unremarkable until you get to your late forties and, equally, wearing short hemlines gets harder later on.

A firm leg woman: Florence Pugh
A firm leg woman: Florence Pugh - Getty

You’re also a different personality type to your arms-bearing sisters. Bare arms are the safest, least sexy body part you can expose in public without getting arrested and the one that speaks volumes about your ­personal discipline and self worth.

If you’re going for one-upmanship in the boardroom – a “Take me, I’ll get up at 5am for the rest of my life” vibe – then it’s arms out all the way. Leg-displayers are more of the barefoot mindset. We don’t necessarily see a lot of Sienna Miller’s legs, but we’re confident she’s a legs woman who may look good in ­politician’s wife creams and caramels but is most at home in sawn-off denim shorts.

Legs women are not necessarily hitting the gym; they’re the ones who would have liked to have hung out with the Rolling Stones – and would now if they weren’t so ridiculously old.

Oh, and you can’t be both an arm woman and a leg woman. You are instinctively a wearer of sleeveless turtlenecks and trousers or someone who’s happiest in a blouse and a short skirt.


Contender arms

These are anywhere on the spectrum from the XL bully arms belonging to Kristi Noem to the toned “professional at the peak of her powers” arms of Jennifer Aniston in The Morning Show on Apple TV+.

Aniston’s news anchor character is textbook Contender arms woman. Typically she’s roughly 50 or older (Aniston is 54 IRL) and her bare toned arms are proof of her ascendancy, drive and discipline. Women with Contender arms reveal little in the way of other flesh – they like to wear high-necked sleeveless tops and sometimes leather trousers, never take the lift and never say yes to the second cocktail.

Jennifer Aniston's toned arms in The Morning Show say “professional at the peak of her powers”
Jennifer Aniston's toned arms in The Morning Show exude “professional at the peak of her powers” energy - Erin Simkin/Apple TV+

Early adopter: Anna Wintour. Leader in the arms-as-armour field and also worth noting that she would no sooner get her knees or cleavage out than shop at Primark.

Current front runner: Queen Letizia ­of Spain

Contender arms front runner: Queen Letizia ­of Spain
Contender arms front runner: Queen Letizia of Spain - Getty

Fit mom arms

Not quite so in-your-face, but undoubtedly 60 per cent more toned than the mom arm of a decade ago, these are more likely to be seen either side of a lovely sleeveless dress at a wedding, and the owners will have worked extra hard at not looking too hench (or as their husbands call it, beefy).

Early adopter: Princess Diana

Current front runner: The Princess of Wales

Princess Diana is a pioneer of fit mom arms
Princess Diana is a pioneer of fit mom arms - Getty


Rebel legs

The leggy outfit Cara Delevingne wore for the Vogue World party the other night (Miu Miu pants over tights plus a cardigan) was classic Rebel legs woman in action. RL woman knows that a serious amount of leg on display signifies youth and energy and the confidence that comes with both, and if you skip the heels and substitute brogues or loafers or ballet flats it’s cheeky and cool and a feminist statement.

Kate Moss's famous legs are out whenever possible
Kate Moss's famous legs are out whenever possible - WireImage

Early adopter: Kate Moss. When you think of Kate Moss you think of her legs – a bit bandy, not especially long, but very much out there whenever possible (couldn’t tell you a thing about her arms).

Current front runner: Florence Pugh

Old-school vamp

Most recent examples would have to be Shirley Ballas of Strictly Come Dancing – recently photographed in just a shirt and high heels – and Martha Stewart, featured fairly recently on the pages of Sports Illustrated in nothing but a swimming cozzie. You don’t have to be older to have OSV legs, but you probably are, because you wouldn’t dream of showing them off without the benefit of a stiletto.

Current front runner Liz Hurley
Liz Hurley is the poster girl for old-school vamp - Getty

Note: Old-school arms are not a thing. Old-school arms are the ones with bingo wings from the time before weights and planking. You want to keep those ones under wraps.

Early adopter: Joan Collins/Angela Rippon

Current front runner: Liz Hurley/Davina McCall

Current front runner Davina McCall
Current front runner Davina McCall - Getty