Thursday, 24 July 2014

Let's talk about Dove

'Ready to strike' Model: me. Photographer: Adam Robertson. Design and styling: Jules Hawkins for Lux Tenebrae

Let's talk about Dove. In my last post I was led up the garden path when I trusted a couple of sources I usually find quite accurate and mistook a picture of Ms Rampling, highly photoshopped, for the official NARS beauty campaign picture. I ought to have checked first. Not to worry, it gave me and other women (and men) an opportunity to express our disappointment with the photoshopping practice.  Here I hasten to add that while I am aware that some degree of photoshopping is needed in order to adjust the brightness and levels of a photograph, the practice we are all disgruntled about is the photoshopping that transforms the body and smoothens the skin as to make a woman look like a Barbie doll.
Anyway as a result of that post someone got on a high horse, misreading a paragraph in which I mentioned that Dove was owned by Unilever  and that Unilever is behind the whitening cream sold worldwide, especially Asia and Africa, to bleach dark skin and turn it a few shades fairer. The cream is called Fair and Lovely and is made from pig tallow.  This person said Dove was not racist and that  I clearly did not understand the meaning of the word 'racism'. Then the same person ticked me off for using bad pictures of Ms Rampling. Oh my! Lots of assumptions here.
OK, let's start with Ms Rampling's  pictures. The one I used to contrast it to the heavily photoshopped one is not one of her worst. It's just a picture of hers and she does not look so bad at all.  But this is a trivial matter.
Racism. I never said that the Dove's campaign was racist (but others think it is, please look at some of these spoofs) , I was actually talking about Unilever and the whitening creams - the very concept of a whitening cream is, I believe, a tad racist but maybe I am wrong?
 I have been  aware, for quite some time of various damning reports about Dove, who are not as enlightened as some of us would like to believe - who knows, maybe this person that left that comment on my blog post does work for Dove!
 I have done my research and here is what I have found.
In 2011 Dove had an ad which showed three women, one black, one Latino, one Caucasian positioned against a magnified sample of skin seen  'before' and 'after', and which in the 'after' showed signs of being smooth and slightly whiter. The ad was withdrawn as it was deemed to be unintentionally racist  - people said that the ad seemed to suggest that Dove turned Black women into Latino and Latino into White. This was the VisibleCare ad.


I cannot but be wary of multibillion dollar global companies such as Dove embracing commodity activism and suggesting empowerment through the use of their products. It has been noted that Dove has a long history of  manipulating and capitalizing on feminine insecurities, insidiously using key phrases such as 'self-esteem' and 'real beauty'  and then proceeding to provide normative solutions. The Dove campaigns are examples of superbly competent and highly manipulative advertising, in a context which is ultimately - let us not forget this -  profit led.
Dove's products are not safe, they contain chemicals that are actually damaging. I would like to refer you to the paper posted by Sarah Scott from Cal Poly, in which she sums up the results of her investigation. Dove uses, in its products, a chemical known as triethanolamine, which is universally acknowledged as rather harmful and actually capable of producing skin irritation. It has also a carcinogenic effect.
So much for Real Beauty and Self Esteem!

Monday, 21 July 2014

A correction



So it seems that the image that has been floating around the internet accompanying the announcement that Rampling will be the face of NARS  Anniversary campaign is not by NARS after all. This is excellent news. The image has been published widely and also by a number of fashion and beauty blogs, such as That's not my age and The Beauty Plus and it has been used in various other publications. I would like to thank LR Fredericks for checking things.
So we shall have to wait and see. It is good though that the image has received a lot of 'thumbs down' by many women, revealing their  discontent for extreme photoshopping  and their desire to see wrinkles being celebrated.
So let's hope NARS listens!



Photo of me for Lux Tenebrae by Adam Robertson. Design and Styling by Jules Hawkins

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Tokenism and being wrinkle free - a rant

Charlotte Rampling Face of NARS, 2014


Charlotte Rampling is the face of NARS Cosmetics and everyone is falling over themselves in claiming that it is so wonderful that a woman of 68 should be chosen as the face of this campaign and of NARS 20th anniversary.

I have looked at the images, recently unveiled, and gasped. Ms Rampling,  with a beautiful face that bears every sign of her true age, as can be seen if you google all her recent pictures, appears with such a smooth complexion as to look in her twenties. Her face has either been heavily and badly photoshopped or she has had a massive injection of botox. Either way, the NARS picture is insulting and offensive.

Rampling 2012, Google images

My anger is not directed at Ms Rampling - she modelled for it and was handsomely paid for her effort, end of story as far as she is concerned. My anger is directed at NARS and their exploitation of the diversity agenda, their extreme tokenism and their  message to older women which can be summed up as: it's OK to be old, so long as you remove all the wrinkles on your face. We are here to help you with our products.
Double standard?
It is the same logic as that of those cosmetic brands that make skin whitening products - such as Unilever who also own Dove - whose (extremely racist) message is: oh poor you born with a dark skin. But we are here to help, here is a magic cream that will give a fair complexion.
So in fact NARS is not celebrating age at all, it is driven by an ageist agenda.
I see everywhere media people endorsing NARS, claiming that it is so wonderful that the parameters of beauty are being expanded, look we have someone like Rampling modelling for a cosmetic company that earlier would only have young models like Lily Cole and Amber Valletta.
If cosmetic companies have to be so disrespectful through their photoshopping when hiring older models, then please let them  continue to use Cole or Valletta or any other young model. It is less insulting.

End of rant.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Just graduated, female and looking for a job? Wax your legs

Polaroid (yes, old fashioned polaroid)  from my recent shoot for Lux Tenebrae. Photographer: Adam Robertson

I was irritated at the weekend by the very patronising article published by Company magazine, brought to my attention through a tweet by @EverydaySexism, with the title "Job hunter: you've got your degree now here's how to turn it into a job".  This is followed by instructions on how to remove "superfluous hair" from your legs in five easy steps.
I don't want to be misunderstood: I am not against shaving or waxing any part of the body. I have myself gone through different phases and still do, depending on my mood. Shaving is a personal choice. Articles like that are absolutely inane. You would never see an article addressed to men on how to get a smooth shave pinning on it their chance of getting a job.
The subtext is that young women should shave their legs and wear short skirts at their job interview because their legs are their most important asset. Not their degree and whatever other skill they may have, those are secondary, the main thing is to have a perfectly smooth pair of (sexy) pins.
(Of course if you are a model going to a casting for an ad for stockings and tights, your legs, the longer the better, do matter, but we are not talking about modelling jobs here)


Article in Company

Equally annoying is  that The Mall Galleries decided to take down a painting showing a woman smoking a pipe, with her breeches undone, and displaying her pubic hair.  The reasons given were, according to the bewildered artist, that the painting was  'pornographic and disgusting'.  The Mall Galleries have issued a statement to the effect that the painting had to be removed because children and vulnerable adults were fully exposed to it.Female pubic hair is pornographic?! It drives me crazy that Miley Cyrus can simulate fellatio with a sledge hammer in a music video which is aimed at young audiences, but the painting of a woman not represented as passive, but as someone who seems to be in charge of her sexuality is regarded as threatening and not to be viewed by minors.
Once more let me clarify that I am not saying that women should not shave their pubes, I reiterate that it is a personal choice, just as it is a personal choice to wear the hair on your head long or short, to colour it or to leave it natural.  What I am really upset about is that female pubic hair should be regarded as 'disgusting'.  Pubic hair is a signifier of female sexuality: it is what marks a grown woman from a little girl. Are we saying that female sexuality is disgusting?
What is the connection between the two stories? It's pretty clear. It is all right for women to be seen as passive and as sex objects, it is not all right for women to have agency.
Sexism is rampant and we need more feminism. Many young women seem to believe that we have equality so there is no need for feminism. What equality, girls? We are still second rate citizens.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

On alignment

Photographer: Maya Alice Art. Model: me

Today's post is short and sweet.
I have been thinking a lot about alignment of late. Not just in relation to my body, which is my number one commitment and priority- I will discuss this in another post -but generally, about the way I go through life.
Alignment: I align to people's energy, their thinking, their feelings (or I do not), we all do it, it's what happens when we make friends, when we are at work, when we fall in love, and in every relationship that we form, even if it is a brief phone call to chase up the order we placed with x company - even in such situations we are still interacting with someone, we can sense their humanity behind the business speak and we choose to align (or not) , albeit briefly, with them.  Life is about relating, connecting, but also about disconnecting and moving on, because nothing ever stands still. How we  manage alignment and non-alignment are key and most of us do not do it consciously. This is what I have learnt to do. When I feel I am no longer aligned with something or someone, when I feel overwhelmed by a sense of awkwardness and discomfort, I consider whether it is time to move on. It does not mean this leads to a massive fall out - I have been through a few of those several times, I used to have a penchant for drama.

Selfie

These rows are most unpleasant and draining, usually the result of ignoring any mis-alignment and dissonance when I first perceived them. Moving on may simply be a subtle inner change in attitude, but it is an acknowledgment to oneself of the need for a different fit.
Ever wondered why someone you meet briefly but periodically, maybe at work, or at your local gym club, and with whom you interact most politely, makes you feel really uncomfortable? There is nothing on the surface to justify the discomfort, which may even weigh you down physically. But you feel the awkwardness of the interaction, even a greeting can be difficult to utter and you feel totally confused. You just wonder why and ask yourself if you have done something wrong, if you have ever said anything out of place. You just feel it. It's simple: yours and that person's energy are not aligned. Just realising that this is what it is, provides you with a way to detach, emotionally. You don't have to avoid them, or worse, confront them because there is nothing to confront, it is an emotion, a feeling. Just breathe and feel detached. There is nothing wrong in not being in alignment with this or that person. It just is.

From the music video Epitaph, 2011  by Chino Moya. Video here

On other occasions you may need to remove yourself from a situation that does not fit and there is no point in hanging on. I once joined a course for which I had to invest a lot of money and time and which I had to justify attending to my then employers, who had to give me permission to take time off to attend classes. I had to jump through hoops to enrol. Then the first day of term came and I knew from the moment I walked into the classroom that it was not right for me. I totally ignored the alarm bells and did what was expected. It took me two years, many tears, a feeling of dread that enveloped me every time I had to go to class, for which I was always late, and overcoming a sense of great shame for being 'fickle', not to mention a series of rows, to find the courage to end it a year earlier, in the full knowledge that it was not what I either needed or wanted. If I had removed myself earlier, I would not have wasted so much money. I stayed just for the piece of paper - I knew I could get a certificate after two years, a diploma after three. I stayed because a former partner told everyone that flighty as I was, I would drop out within two months and I desperately wanted to prove him wrong. The certificate is in a drawer, somewhere. Never used it. If I learnt anything out of that experience is that when you know you have to leave and disengage, you should follow your heart. And what others think should not rule your life.
Well, I said it was going to be short and sweet, did not do too well in this respect, so here's where it must end. Comments always appreciated, you can use an alias.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Modelling without vanity

Ella and I. Models: myself and Ella Rose. Photographer: Mark Bigelow

I was browsing this morning and came across a great article penned by model and writer Ella Rose for Modelmayhem. It was about modelling, vanity and self awareness, the latter being what Ella Rose identifies as a prerequisite for good modelling.
I totally agree with Ella Rose, with whom, by the way, I had the great pleasure of working, collaborating on a shoot for Mark Bigelow, one of my favourite photographers. The self awareness Ella Rose discusses is what I would call being embodied, which is what I try to be all the time, whether I am modelling or not.
A while ago I watched the series of short films made by Nick Knight for ShowStudio about the history of fashion modelling as told by the models involved. One of them was with supermodel and Cambridge graduate Lily Cole, whom Nick asked whether modelling was a skill that could be taught. Lily replied that intuitively she would say modelling is a skill, but no one teaches you (apart from walking on the runway and to be honest, judging from recent performances at GFW, I believe that agencies are no longer employing good catwalk trainers but, as usual, here I am digressing).
Yet, somehow, models do develop modelling skills. And the first thing they learn is to look at their own photos without any thought of whether they look good in them or not. It is something you just have to learn to do, the sooner the better or modelling will simply be too much for you to handle.
I remember when I first started modelling how I would hate certain pictures of me because they 'made me look ugly' and would beg the photographers involved not to use them. No fat chance of doing that when the photo was for a commercial shoot. But for art nude or portfolio shoots models can ask nicely and many do. However, I stopped doing it a long time ago. I just look at the picture as objectively as I possibly can, notice what does not work and remember that for the next time round - as Ella Rose points out, some angles work, some don't.
These days there is the additional instagram picture that needs to be accounted for. Some are horrendously lit, but there is nothing you can really do, except shrug it off as an instagram picture. I happened to complain to a photographer about one of such recent instagram pictures of mine that a blogger took - she was actually being extremely nice to me and putting that picture on her blog was a lovely gesture. Except that the picture vexed me no end. I felt uncomfortable about still having such feelings, after so many years of modelling. I realised I was being vain. Part of me wanted to contact the blogger and politely ask her to remove the photo, offering a different one taken from my portfolio. Part of me, my wiser self, was definitely against taking such a step. Then I showed the picture to this photographer friend, and what he said was not, as I had expected, 'you look awful', but 'how did she manage to select such a horrible spot for the picture? It's so dim! you can't even see your hair'. At that moment I realised he was looking at the picture, not me. As one should. Of course I immediately abandoned any idea I had entertained about contacting the blogger to remove the picture and felt a lot better.
Ella and I. Models: myself and Ella Rose. Photographer: Mark Bigelow

Vanity does you great disservice as a model. It comes in the way of a good result. Self awareness, being totally embodied is what does the trick. I sometimes treat the camera as a lover and always with respect. Please note, the camera, NOT the photographer, I am a firm believer in boundaries when I work (but of course I do treat photographers with respect!). The camera represents all the people that are going to look at my photograph. What do I want them to see? How should I interact with them? They are my audience. The photographer is there to help me to convey a certain mood, a certain expression, he (or she) has control over the composition. But my performance is very much my own, how I emote is my own doing and the sooner I abandon ideas of looking 'good', the better.
When I was younger, at one of my dance classes, my teacher totally forbade me to look at myself in the mirror and positioned me with my back against it, because I kept looking at my own image and did not feel the movement at all. I had to be able to feel whether my posture was right and where my limbs were. 'There are no mirrors on stage' she would tell me. Somehow this piece of advice stayed with me and when as a beginner model I was told to practise poses in front of the mirror I never did. Instead I practised some poses 'feeling' them. I then worked with one or two photographers that absolutely hated any hint of conventional posing, asking me to be 'myself'. It always makes me laugh when I hear it because I am never 'myself' and always 'myself'. But I know what they are after when they ask me that, they want something understated and a real connection with the camera.  It may take several shots before it comes. And when it does, that's it, that's the shot. It is a great feeling for everyone involved.

Ella and I Models: Ella Rose and myself. Photographer: Mark Bigelow

What about modelling for visual artists? There are differences and similarities. First of all there is never any expectation, on my part, of a true likeness. Sometimes the people that draw me are not very experienced so they will inevitably get my proportions wrong. Or they will see different things in my face and in my body. For me, as a model, the main thing is to be able to hold the pose for the required length of time, so I need to choose something that can be held without being very uncomfortable and also interesting enough to encourage drawing. Once again self awareness or the sense of being embodied is the key and vanity should be left behind, as it does interfere.
As Ella Rose says, there will always be 'ugly ' pictures of oneself floating around. But after a while that sense of being ugly will evaporate. They are after all just pictures and a few years down the line, you will be glad to have them.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The problem with Terry Richardson and Dov Charney

Photographers: Faby and Carlo. Model: myself

The papers in the past few days have  reported that Dov Charney, founder and CEO of American Apparel has been ousted because of the string of sexual abuse he seems to have committed. We are talking about rape, in a few cases, and various other instances of non-consensual sex. Charney notoriously had a very pseudo-libertarian attitude to sex, inviting - meaning expecting - employees to masturbate in front of him, walking around at work in his underwear, giving gifts of vibrators to female employees he fancied and allegedly even conducting an interview while being given oral sex by a secretary - here I can't help wondering why the interviewer did not leave? I call his attitude  pseudo-libertarian because all this is, definitely, sexual abuse.
American Apparel has been a very successful brand. I admit to owning an American Apparel top, which was actually a favourite of mine for months, it fitted me to perfection, still does. I was also very pleased to see 62 year old Jackie O'Shaughnessy model for the brand and for once not being cast as a granny, but as a sexy older woman. I am younger  than O'Shaughnessy but I do face the problem of having to present myself 'like a nan' at castings for commercial work and, needless to say, I do not seem to be doing it well, but here I am digressing.
Charney has been a very capable CEO but the bottom line is that he is an abuser and therefore measures should be taken to prevent him from striking again.  However, it also has to be recognised that sexual abusers can be very capable people. So how do we deal with it?

Self portrait at the park on expired film

This is even more apparent in the case of photographer Terry Richardson. He was very recently profiled by the New York Magazine and the gist of the article was that he was a troubled artist. Model Alliance made it clear that this is not the point. So did The Guardian.  The point is that being a sexual abuser - which Richardson certainly is, judging from the number of accusations from models that have worked with him - does not imply that the abuser is a talentless person. Nor does it mean that sexual abusers cannot be charming, and that they may behave differently depending on who they are with. So the point made by the magazine that Kate Moss was not abused nor was Miley Cyrus when they worked with Richardson is not a point at all. Richardson would not be so stupid as to do it with famous and powerful people, though it has to be noted that as he went along he became less careful about covering his tracks. His line of defence, reported by the New York Magazine, is that he always respected boundaries, it was just an exploration of sexuality for artistic purpose and among like minded people. Well, his entourage may have been into it, but the models were not. Young girls, a bit naive, told by their agency that they were working with a very good photographer that would make or break their career. That can be intimidating. I think that bookers are often callous, caring very little about the girls and on occasion, they can be, frankly, inept. It is what I would call a structural  problem of the modelling business which needs an overhaul, greater transparency and which needs to offer greater agency (no pun intended) to models.

'Death approaching'. Photographed on film by Piotr Karpinski. Model: myself

On the whole I found the piece in the New York Magazine quite offensive in its attempt to present Richardson in the best possible light. He is an abuser. Whether his photography is great or not is a matter of taste but his behaviour has gone too far and he has to be held accountable.
I have had personal experience of working with a photographer who is currently being taken to court by a brave British model on charges of sexual misconduct. He is not famous but has worked with some reputable agencies and knows his craft. My experience with him was positive, he did not try anything objectionable. I am too old and too savvy to be cast as prey. We did the shoot, I was disappointed that he would not reimburse me of travel  (which he had agreed to do) but nothing apart from shooting happened when we worked together. His conversation at times strayed into rather personal areas, with him attempting to find out more about me as a sexual being, but I cut each question short and he soon realised it would be better to keep the whole shoot extremely professional as I was getting rather irritated. However other models, much younger and more vulnerable than me, were definitely molested and in hindsight I can see how he would perhaps trap them into talking too much, perhaps have a drink together and then make them do things they had not intended doing.
 The point with the likes of Terry Richardson and Dov Charney is that their outrageous sexual behaviour does not imply a general impairment of their faculties. Sexual abusers can be very competent people, good at business, good at their job, whatever that may be. The point is that they do something that is unacceptable, as they coerce their victims to perform sexual acts they do not feel comfortable with. Even when the coercion does not involve physical violence, it is still coercion.
Richardson should be properly investigated and prosecuted and the fashion industry should stop endorsing him as a photographer.
Ultimately, I do hope that models will begin to feel that they do matter and that when they speak out they will be heard.

Disclaimer: please note that neither Faby and Carlo nor Piotr Karpinski whose photos appear in this post have anything to do with the British photographer I have mentioned, who for legal reasons, cannot be named.