Thursday 27 April 2017

'What is presented as the ideal shape and size is not the norm' - Maria Walsh talks fitness and body image on Operation Transformation

Former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh leads the girls of Presentation College, Headford in Co Galway through the final moves from the It's Your Move challenge
Former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh leads the girls of Presentation College, Headford in Co Galway through the final moves from the It's Your Move challenge
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh puts the girls of Presentation College, Headford, Co Galway through their paces in tonight's Operation Transformation.

Maria, a former student at the college, reveals the final steps in the It's Your Move dance routine on the show with the help of instructors from the Raw Edge Crew.

It's Your Move is a campaign aimed specifically at girls at Secondary School level and aims to encourage them to get fit and stay active through dance.

Speaking about why she got involved in the It's Your Move campaign, Maria said, “The industry norm - what they are presenting to us as the ideal shape and size - is not the norm.

"I am not your industry norm. I am a curvaceous girl, I’ve played sports for many years so I will never be a size zero or size 2 but I am perfectly comfortable in my shape. I am physically fit. We need to start celebrating the more fit-shaped person than the skinny shape."

Read the full interview with Maria after the video.

You went back to your old school...

That was my old school but just to specify, I am a Mayo woman! Presentation College Headford is literally seven kilometres from the Mayo border. It is always very, very important to specify that considering I am a GAA head!

What was your reaction when Operation Transformation called?

I was like: ‘There’s no way. They want me to be one of the contestants. I know I’ve let go for a few months but tough crowd!’

I am not a professional dancer nor am I the most pretty looking while dancing but it really was an easy sell for me because I had such fun. Ballroom dancing is something I have always wanted to get back to and try out. When I was a kid I used to do modern dance and Irish dancing before Gaelic and soccer took over my life. But I was really fortunate, at the tail end of my Rose year, on The Late Late Show, to be part of Strictly Come Dancing. Very proud to say that I met George Hook and got to win the trophy on the night but bear in mind I am not a good dancer. Post-Christmas is not the most glamorous of times to be comfortable in one’s body so that was a concern but I was so delighted and I hope it came out well. I know the students had so much fun.

Why did you want to get involved?

It is such a great message and I hope other schools across the country really get involved in it too. It was fun, it was dynamic... When you are in a hall and when you are with your peer group, you can kind of go wild. The music is great, it is not as if it is old time waltzing where you have to be cautious of the steps. The instructors really promote you being an individual within the dance and I think that was really, really special and unique because it is not about conforming to something that the modern world tells you, it is about embracing yourself in all shapes and sizes. My school had such beautiful shape – tall girls, curvaceous girls, lean girls, athletic girls, dancers, all sorts and I think it is really important to showcase to everybody that you can exercise, you can dance, while being at any fitness level.

Were you into sport at school?

I love team sports because I love people. I love the craic and the camaraderie that you would have with people. I played football and soccer all through my five years of secondary school and then outside that I played team sports. Equally, I would try and participate in musicals, just to get my feet into other groups. I know a lot of my friends weren’t sporty and there was a small pocket of us who would always participate in PE because we loved sport. Most of my PE class for all five years was two or three of us playing sports where all the other girls would sit out.

Why do you think that happens?

I think it is comfort level in your body. It is peer pressure from other girls who don’t want to participate but have loud personalities that shrink those that really want to be involved. In most secondary schools it is due to lack of resources. A lot of it was the physical sports - soccer, gaelic football, or basketball - and if you didn’t like those type of sports, that was all that was on offer. Interestingly, we had badminton for a couple of weeks which I found to be a snoozefest, whereas a lot of the other girls loved participating in that because it was - not ladylike - but certainly less physical.

If you had one message for teenage girls arising out of your involvement with It’s Your Move, what would it be?

To understand that the industry norm - what they are presenting to us as the ideal shape and size - is not the norm. I am not your industry norm. I am a curvaceous girl, I’ve played sports for many years so I will never be a size 0 or size 2 but I am perfectly comfortable in my shape. I am physically fit. We need to start celebrating the more fit-shaped person than the skinny shape.

We have to give back to our bodies, understanding that exercise, whether it is walking, playing sports or dancing and eating well, is contributing to a healthier person. Health is fitness, it is eating well, it is keeping your mental state happy and well.

There are a lot of dynamics that make you into a beautiful person and you have to understand them. I think until we start voicing it then you don’t really fully get it. That’s why I think it is so great that Roz Purcell, a model, went back to her school; Stephanie Roche, a soccer player went back to hers; Anna Geary, a camogie player, the same. It is so cool when you have well known personalities going back to really showcase that it is not all about what we see is the industry “norm”.

How did you find the dance routine?

I realised that I am more out of shape than I was trying to give myself credit for! Dancing is so cardio driven, so I was working and using parts of my body that I would never use for football or soccer unless I was pretending I was Van Persie or Ronaldo and dancing my way across the football field. It was a great workout, I was definitely exhausted afterwards and I think the girls got a great workout too. It definitely kicks the derriere!

Operation Transformation, Wednesdays and Thursdays, RTÉ One at 8.30pm.

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