Michelle may only have become famous as a result of her husband being President of the USA, but since then her arms have taken on a life of their own.
She has graced most glitzy engagements in a sleeveless dress, showing those toned arms off to best advantage. So much so that newspapers refer to her as ‘Jackie O with biceps’.
“Physical fitness is serious business in today's world and if you end up with killer arms, that's a great bonus. It’s so important to find time for some form of exercise,” says top stylist Sonya Lennon and Off The Rails presenter.
“Michelle Obama has really raised the game. When she brought those arms into the public sphere, she showed us what they could really be, adds Aisling McDermott who runs the popular beauty blog www.beaut.ie.
“Most women have huge insecurities about their arms. As they age, the skin on their arms gets saggy, resulting in bingo wings. The majority will cover their arms with little cardigans and tops.”
Michelle, 49, works hard to stay fit and has spoken publicly about how she always makes time for exercise. Appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s show, she revealed she does treadmill, weights, jump rope and kickboxing and always includes exercise in her schedule, even if it means having to get up early.
“After I had Malia [in 1998], I began to prioritise exercise because I realised my happiness is tied to how I feel about myself,” she told Oprah.
“I want my girls to see a mother who takes care of herself, even if that means I have to get up at 4.30am so I can do a workout.”
Early morning exercise is something that Cork athlete and personal trainer Gillian O’Sullivan encourages her clients to do. “I think 4.30am starts are more normal in the US, but here people do exercise from 6am,” says O’Sullivan, who has represented Ireland at European, World and Olympic Games. “If you can manage exercise sessions at this time, they are brilliant. Nothing can interfere with it at that time and your exercise is done for the day. All it means is getting your gear ready the night before and going to bed a bit earlier than normal.”
Michelle is on a mission to pass on her love of fitness to American children with her Let’s Move programme. She starred with Big Bird in an awareness-raising programme in February. She has appeared on the Jimmy Fallon Show — her spoof routine Evolution Of Mom Dancing got 15 million YouTube hits — and she even got her friend Beyoncé to record a song and video to promote the initiative.
Her aim is to inspire us all with her love of exercise. “Michelle Obama walks the walk and talks the talk,” says Clare Rooney, a professional athlete, body builder and personal trainer in Galway.
“Michelle is giving a wonderful example to women everywhere that putting yourself first is a kindness that you and everyone around you will benefit from.
“The foundation of self-esteem is nurturing yourself. You can do this in many ways, but one of the most obvious ways is caring for the body with appropriate exercise and nutrition.”
Michelle said it herself on Oprah. “If I had to get up to take care of my kids, I’d do it. If I had to get up to go to work, I’d go to work. But when it comes to yourself, it’s suddenly ‘Oh, I can’t get up at 4.30am’. So, I had to change. If I don’t exercise, I won’t feel good and I get depressed.”
This is certainly a powerful message that more women need to hear. But why do Michelle’s arms and arms in general matter so much to women? According to Gillian O’Sullivan, it’s all to do with ageing. “Arms start to sag and lose tone as you age,” she says. “The arms are more on show at important functions, too, so we all would like for them to look toned.”
Clare Rooney believes it’s about body language. “The arms, especially the backs of the arms, are a key signal to the opposite sex. Where you store fat is an indication of your body’s hormonal profile and low levels of fat on the back of the arms are synonymous with a higher level of testosterone. Testosterone is normally deemed the domain of males but females produce it in smaller quantities and it’s responsible for the sex drive.”
The more testosterone you have, the more confident you feel and the better your arms will look, says Rooney. And the best way of ensuring this happens is by weight training.
“Not only will it tone up the body as a whole, it will also create a fat-burning effect in trouble zones such as the dreaded bingo wing area,” she says.
Michelle Obama is proof positive of this.
“She shows that if you do work out, you can maintain muscle tone well into your 40s and beyond,” says O’Sullivan. “But it doesn’t just happen, it requires work.”
For those of who don’t have the drive to follow Michelle’s full-on schedule, Aisling McDermott recommends a tan. “It instantly makes arms slimmer,” she says.
Quick-fixes aside, there is no doubt Michelle sets the gold standard for fitness. “She knows it’s important to look good for herself and her message is that we can all do that too. She’s a woman’s woman who says this is me and you can be just like me if you want to.”
By prioritising the right kind of exercise (see the accompanying panel), we can all follow Michelle Obama’s example and banish bingo wings forever.