At IMAGE, we believe in real beauty and celebrating difference. In our new Love Your Body series, we speak to real Irish women about what beauty means to them. While they might be of different ages and come from different backgrounds, they all have one thing in common: they have proudly embraced their bodies and real beauty. This week, Claire Ronan tells us how 'Kangoo classes' transformed her relationship with her legs.
"I suppose everybody has parts of their body they don’t like," radio presenter Claire Ronan, tells us. "But when you’ve weight on, it’s very hard to love any part of your body," the mum-of-five confides.
Claire isn't the only one to experience body confidence issues. A recent study conducted by Dove found only 20% of women in the UK, Australia and the US feel body confident on a daily basis.
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"If I was to be truthful," Claire continues, "I don’t particularly love any part of my body, but one part I've always been very self-conscious of, for all my life, is my legs. It's the shape of them... and I’ve big thick knees," she explains.
The Dublin-native, who now resides in Sligo, admits this impacted on the way she's dressed over the years. Claire would avoid wearing shorts during the summer and short skirts on evenings out, even with tights; opting instead for long skirts and trousers. "I would always be conscious of wearing a skirt that caught me mid-calf, and I would be conscious of not wearing anything that was too tight around my knees."
What's more, Claire's dislike of her legs made her feel so uncomfortable that she felt forced to stand at the back of group photographs, "so that only my face was showing". But in the past year, things have changed a lot.
Claire in her Kangoo boots
The turning point
In the past year, Claire has lost almost three stone as a result of regular, rigid exercise. The combination of weight loss and toning exercises transformed her relationship with her body; so much so she says, "The weather was so fab during the summer, I wore shorts all the time."
"My son got a fright when he saw how unfit I was. He was really good to me..."
It all started 12 months ago when she tried to go hill walking with her son. "My son is very fit and we went to walk up Queen Maeve's Bed in Sligo, but I couldn’t get up the first flight of steps," she recalls. "I couldn’t breathe. The turning point was looking at my son, who got a fright when he saw how unfit I was. He was really good to me.
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"I was so overweight and unfit that he said to me, 'Mum, I will get you a Fitbit and it will show you how many steps you walk in a day.’ And oh, sweet divine Jesus, I nearly died. I could have done just 2,000 steps a day. So that started me on a 10,000-steps challenge; I started trying to do 10,000 steps a day."
"I was the most unfit in the class, but the teacher persevered with me."
As time went on, Claire decided she was ready to join a fitness class as well as walking 10,000 steps per day. "There’s a girl in Sligo who does Kangoo classes. We work out on these things called Kangoo boots; they’re brilliant. They’re like bouncing boots, with a spring in them. You do a full cardio workout in them and they definitely, definitely change the shape of your legs. I’m convinced of it.
"I did those classes twice a week, and I did a body-toning class twice a week. I still go to them – for my head now, as much as my weight."
Claire says, "I was the most unfit in the class, but the teacher persevered with me. There was no pressure, everyone takes it at their own pace, and now I’m at the top of the class."
Putting her health first
Since shedding all the weight, Claire is determined to keep up her fitness routine, no matter what. "I prioritise it," she tells us. "I do my class over everything else. Now it’s a matter of getting the rest of my weight off and keeping it off.
"I live near the seaside so I walk the beach with the dog once a week. But I wouldn’t consider that exercise; that's mainly chatting with the pals and a cup of coffee afterwards. It’s social walking. I used to think social walking was my exercise," she says, "I’ve only realised in the last year that social walking is just that: social walking."
Comfortable in her skin
While Claire hasn't quite reached her goal weight, she says she's "so happy" her body is healthy now. "I’m not skinny. I still have about a stone left to lose, but I’m not in a mad panic to get rid of it," she says.
"I just can’t get over the difference in the way you feel in yourself – when the part of your body you’ve always hidden – when you suddenly don’t feel as self-conscious anymore. I’m much more comfortable showing my legs off now," Claire says.
"What you think of your body is more important than what anyone else thinks about it."
"I think body image is important; what you think of your body is more important than what anyone else thinks about it. And I think it’s very important to be proud of your own body because you only have one.
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"I let myself go in my mid-forties and I wasn’t proud of my own body – so what everyone else thought didn’t really matter to me. It was me, myself, and what I thought that mattered. I knew I had weight on, I knew I’d let myself go a bit. It took me a couple of years to actually approach it," she adds.
"Being friendly and having a big smile when you meet people is more important than if you’ve got a big, fat stomach..."
"But I think when it comes to body image, being friendly and having a big smile, and being pleasant when you meet people is more important than if you’ve got a big, fat stomach or terrible legs. It’s how you approach other human beings; a smile and shaking someone’s hand with a good, decent handshake. I think what’s really important has nothing to do with anyone else, it’s just what you think yourself."
Body image and the media
As our chat draws to a close, we asked Claire for her thoughts on body shapes in the media. She said, "I notice in magazines and the fashion sections of Sunday papers that the women are still all size 6 or size 8; tall, and willow. You don’t see many ordinary women dressed for fashion shoots, and it’s impossible to imagine what clothes would look like on you when you don’t see yourself represented on those pages."
"I think there’s a lot more pressure on women to get very thin very quickly after they’ve had a baby."
While disappointed with the type of models being used in fashion shoots, Claire's main concern is for new mums. "When you’ve just had a baby and you’re so tired, and you have your baby weight on; it’s a very vulnerable stage. What I think is an awful pressure, is young mothers who’ve just had their babies looking at the likes of Vogue Williams or Kate Middleton; seeing someone coming out of the hospital and getting back into their size 8 jeans at a time when you feel a bit vulnerable."
Prince William and Kate Middleton showing off Prince Louis, hours after his birth. Photo via Kensington Palace on Instagram
Kate Middleton is an extreme example. "It was mad," Claire says. "Four hours after giving birth and she had her hair and makeup done. Like, I feel sorry for her and I think she’s an amazing girl, but that’s just not normal.
"I think the pressure on women now, compared to when I had my first baby 26 years ago, I think there’s a lot more pressure on women to get very thin very quickly after they’ve had a baby.
"You need to nourish your baby and nourish yourself; your body has been through a traumatic event and you need to look after yourself. You don’t need any extra pressure at a time like that."
We admire Claire's attitude towards fitness and body image; it's more important to feel good in your own skin than it is to match the pictures in a magazine.
With that mindset and a good pair of Kangoo boots, there's nothing we can't do.