I first noticed I had much smaller wrists than my peers when I was 13. I was playing a pickup game of basketball with a few friends, two of whom could wrap their long fingers around the ball and control it with ease. When I tried to imitate them, though, the ball immediately slipped from my grasp. After a fellow player and I compared our arms afterwards, the disparity was obvious: I had normal hands (more or less), but my wrists were noticeably slighter in comparison, which he pointed out with a laugh.
Middle school is riddled with insecurity for almost everyone, and I’d already collected my fair share: I was short and scrawny with peach fuzz all over my face. But while I was lucky enough to eventually fill out to a fairly average 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, my wrists and forearms have remained quite slender, even after I began regularly lifting weights in high school. To this day, my wrists have a circumference of between 6.5 and 6.75 inches, a bit below the apparent male average of 7.25 inches. In practice, this means I can almost wrap my thumb and index finger around one of them. (According to several women I asked, in middle and high school they’d do the same to see who had the skinniest wrist, which was perceived as a desirable trait.) And when I wear watches with a leather strap, I always have to use the hole nearest to the watch face. On one particular band, I even had to punch out a new hole with the awl on a Swiss Army knife.
Now admittedly, as an adult, I don’t think about my wrists very often. But if you spend an evening perusing online forums dedicated to masculine self-improvement, you’ll find a litany of men who are deeply concerned about them — and to a worrisome extent. “When I wear a long-sleeved shirt with only my hands and wrists sticking out, I look like skin and bones,” notes one concerned redditor.
Over on bodybuilding forums, men with frames similar to mine often ask if their slender wrists will prevent them from bulking up. And while commenters frequently reply that smaller wrists make the “taper” from the forearm to the bulging bicep all the more dramatic, it doesn’t always wholly assuage fears. (The same can be said for the comfort wrapped in gentle chidding: “Usually, it means your bones are hollow. On the plus side, you should have a natural affinity for flight,” one poster jokes.)
Naturally, the tone is darker on incel forums, where small wrists are part of a self-identified stigma that proves that these men are fundamentally unfuckable at a genetic level. The exact form of bizarre incel slang varies from user to user, but the focus on wrist size is part and parcel of incels’ greater obsession with traits that they view as wholly natural — e.g., the shape of their jawline, their height and their overall size. If any of these are insufficient, they’re considered a “manlet” or a “framelet,” and destined to an eternity of loneliness.
From the outside, it’s easy to poke holes in this sort of self-defeating worldview, but lurking insecurities like tiny wrists can seep into the lives of seemingly well-adjusted men, too — men such as Michael Piscatelli, a watch buff with a wrist circumference of around 6.25 inches. Like me, Piscatelli first became aware of his “condition” in middle school, when a few of his friends noticed his wrist size and would crack wise about it, even grabbing at them for dramatic effect. Also like me, as an adult, he says that he’s never had a friend or colleague mention his slender wrists in his daily life. Still, they manage to take up valuable mindshare, which he realizes is completely silly. “When I mention to my wife that I was insecure about them when I was younger, she always just laughs,” Piscatelli explains. “Since I’m 5-foot-11 now, it’s not the sort of thing that most people notice, if they’re even looking for it.”
Piscatelli is, of course, a special case: He engages almost daily in a hobby that heaps tons of attention onto his wrist. As a devoted watch collector with dozens of timepieces — I found him on r/watches — he says that he’s become well-known in his local horological community for having the smallest wrists at their various meet-ups. Since the design of popular timepieces like Rolexes and Omegas has tended toward bigger faces and hulking lugs in recent years, Piscatelli says they look “absolutely ridiculous” on him; instead then, he’s come to specialize in vintage pieces.
“It’s just become one of those things at meet-ups,” he explains. “Somebody will be showing off some kind of massive, expensive watch — one that’s 45 millimeters or bigger — and somebody will tell me to try it on. They very rarely say anything to me about it, but it’s pretty obvious. It looks way, way too big on me. There’s one watch I particularly like by IWC, called Top Gun, which is 45 millimeters or bigger. I’d love to own it, but I put on my friend’s, and it’s just so oversized. I tend to stick to around 34 millimeters myself.” (While you could argue that he could employ women’s watches as an alternative, on watch forums, women’s pieces are considered their own aesthetic category.)
Though Piscatelli admits that he’s spent more time thinking about his wrist size than the average guy, he remains adamant that he doesn’t consider it a source of anxiety. Even still, he says that if he had a choice, he’d definitely prefer to have larger wrists, if only to have slightly more freedom in the types of watches he could flaunt. That’s partly why he started using a hand gripper to try to strengthen (and embiggen) his tendons every night when he watches TV. “I don’t actually expect it to work, and my wife always laughs when I do it,” he says. “But still, I told myself I’d do it for a year and see what happens. So I’m sticking with it. I’m three months in, though, and I don’t see a difference.”
Within online discussions of the benefits and drawbacks of different wrist sizes, you’ll often find armchair MDs who claim that slimmer-framed men are more likely to suffer from joint pain or carpal tunnel syndrome than those with larger wrists. Since I have occasional wrist pain myself, I couldn’t help but wonder if these seemingly-logical ideas held up to any sort of professional scrutiny.
“There are problems associated with big wrists, and problems associated with small wrists,” explains Steven Beldner, a well-known hand and wrist surgeon serving the New York City area. “People with smaller wrists are more likely to get tendonitis, because the compartments where the tendons live are smaller. So they’re at an increased risk for carpal tunnel, because all of the tendons pass through the wrist, and if there’s not a lot of room in there, they’re more likely to pinch the nerve. The disadvantage of having a bigger wrist is that those people are generally larger, which means that when they fall, they fall with a lot more force. That means that although they’re less likely to get tendonitis, they’re more likely to break a bone or tear ligaments in their wrist.”
As far as the gripper that Piscatelli pumps away with every evening, Beldner urges caution. “If you can get stronger and bigger with no pain, it’s fine,” he says. “But the larger you make the tendons, the more likely the compartments in the wrist won’t be large enough to accommodate them, which means you might run into tendon-entrapment syndromes like carpal tunnel.”
More largely, while you can’t change how you feel about your body overnight, when it comes to slim wrists, it’s clear that this is one insecurity that exists almost entirely in the minds of people who suffer from it. To that end, Piscatelli puts it best: “Other people just don’t care about your wrist size. It’s not a thing that people notice. It’s that simple. Once I realized that, my life became a lot easier.”