Thursday, 26 February 2015

Our bodies, ourselves, our selves

Photographer: Michael Clement for BMA models. Model: myself 

Our bodies, ourselves was the title of a great book first published in the 1970s by the Boston Women's Health Collective which I remember reading avidly way back and referring to whenever I had a question, which grown ups would not answer, about my then pubescent body. The book is still available, updated for the 21st century and translated into 29 languages.  There is now a website and a series of global projects linked with the collective, now renamed Our Bodies, Ourselves. I absolutely love this book  and I would say that it shaped my attitude to my body in a big way. Learning to look at my (female) body and the way it functions instilled in me a sense of awe for this  most perfectly designed complex organism that is the human body. Like most other women (and men) I too have suffered and occasionally still suffer from body image anxiety, but I am able to shake it off by reminding myself of all the wonderful things my body does and can do. That's why I try to give it nourishing food and exercise it because my body thrives on it.
One of the very best life coaches I have ever met - witty, intelligent, empathic, well read and definitely  knowledgeable (and also author of a beautifully written blog) -  is Dr Vena Ramphal,  among the very few people I know who can talk about sexuality in a very open and frank way, teaching women and men to enjoy and understand their relationship with their bodies and themselves and approach their sexuality with joy and appreciation. She suggests a wonderful exercise that everyone, in my view, should do: when you are on your own, take all your clothes off and look at yourself in a full length mirror. Inevitably there will be the usual criticisms, the usual judgements we pass on ourselves, but, she says, let go of them,  let these thoughts arise and then breathe them out. After a while you will be able to look at yourself with appreciation of who you are.
After all, when we are in love with someone, we love them even if their bodies are imperfect, in fact we find their imperfections very endearing. So why should we be so hard on ourselves?
Our bodies are not just an outer shell, separate from who we are - hence the 'our selves' in this post's title. Our cells and our emotions are linked, we feel with our bodies and our emotions are stored in our bodies at a cellular level. And no, I am not going to invoke a quantum reality, as it has been the fashion for a while now - I even know of a Californian life coach that talks about the quantum universe that is our flow and how we should re-programme it by talking to it.
 (I recently did some research about this stuff and came across the ultimate Californian weirdness, the work by John Lily, a former doctor who styled himself a psychonaut and advocated rewiring the brain through dropping acid or being immersed in a sensory deprivation tank. It was at the height of the 1960s counterculture).
No, I am referring to the work by Dr Candace Pert on the opiate receptor , which later led her to embrace the notion of a unity of body and mind.

Photographer: Michael Clement. Model: myself

There is so much we don't yet know about our bodies and our minds. I do find the 'alternative' milieu somewhat difficult to navigate, with a lot of roguery and ill collected information. But one thing is certain: the old paradigm of a separate mind and body has been severally challenged. This for me has implications on the way we relate to, and can, our bodies and our selves.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

A crush on Beethoven

Mirror. Photographer: Oliver Morris

The day after Valentine's Day... you probably feel quite overloaded if not exactly loved up,  you may have eaten or drunk too much too. Valentine's Day is the time of the year when love is 'celebrated' at its maximum commercial value. Retailers, especially florists, do well, next to restaurants. But there is a growing profession that capitalises on occasions such as Valentine's Day, this being the time when those who do not have a Significant Other  feel quite miserable (or are made to feel miserable) - what, no card, no flowers, no billet doux?! Does it mean that NOONE CARES ? (Mind you several happy couples actually opt not to surround themselves with all the paraphernalia of consumer love, not to mention that some people prefer to have a 'Distributed Significant Other' but that's another story).
The burgeoning profession I meant is that of  relationship coach. The job of the coach is to tell you how to find the love of your life and "here is my latest podcast,  my latest video, my latest book, subscribe, it will only be a few bucks and it will change your life" etc etc.
Of course it's not only the loveless that need coaching, there is money to be made out of various insecurities and anxieties, for example by advising those who are in a relationship on what works and what does not, what should be done, what should not be done about everything, from money to sex.
Life coaches, you either love them or you hate them. They seem to find everyday a new specialism and new ways to reach you via FB or other social networking sites.
And so it is that I ended up clicking on a link via Google  that took me to a series of articles on crushes, you know what I mean , those playful infatuations with the man (or woman) you see on the train to work every morning,  your  flirtatious personal trainer who gives you butterflies in your stomach every time you have a session, or the guy you partner at your tango class, about whom you know absolutely nothing (and you don't really want to know anything about).
Experts  are definitely not in agreement on this matter. Crushes are very good for you and your existing relationship, opines one coach, they are harmless and make you feel, well, alive. Not so good says another, crushes are there to show you what you need to work at in the context of your relationship. Oh dear, having crushes while in a committed relationship is inappropriate, then.
I am not a relationship coach so I am not going to advise anyone. But I enjoy crushes now and again, I love indulging in the feelings a crush evokes. I would never act on them, simply because I know that if I did, my love object would end up being most disappointing - oh no, he begins every single sentence with 'In my honest opinion', I preferred it when he did not speak.  And so on.

Model: me. Photographer: Michael Clement for BMA Models

Some of the best things that happened to me, were because of crushes - an infatuation with an art teacher, when I was in school,  got me into art in a big way. I adored him and wanted to be as cultured as he was - I probably have surpassed him, now, but there you are, he was a catalyst.
But  the object of my infatuation does not even have to be a real person or someone alive! Right now, I have a huge crush on Ludwig van Beethoven. I love his music so much, I listen to it day and night and I mean it, because when I know I am perfectly alone I go to sleep with an iPad next to me set on a looped Beethoven playlist, which begins with the Pathetique (I got so excited when I saw that the Royal Ballet class broadcast on World Ballet Day used the Pathetique for the barre exercises) and a few other sonatas and then continues with the symphonies. I have on occasion been woken up in the middle of the night by the fourth movement with its magical "Freude! Freude" feeling somewhat confused, only to go immediately back to sleep when I recognised my surroundings and the music.
This is a crush: Beethoven intrigues me, a man so profoundly deaf and yet capable of creating such amazing sounds. I hear the music and I do feel butterflies in my stomach. I long to play it myself, only I don't know how to, I never learnt to play the piano.

Beethoven's statue, Bonn

Some people would not call it a crush, but to me it is. I wonder about Beethoven the man and imagine what I would say to him if I could have a one to one with him. Other women might fantasize about their Costa barista, I do that about Beethoven, it is essentially the same thing.
In a few months time I will probably get a little tired of listening to Ludwig and will move on to some other composer or a different genre - last summer my crush was on  Jim Morrison. If you believe in astrology , there is a common thread, as they were both Sagittarians. But I don't believe in astrology, so this is just a piece of trivia.
In conclusion, crushes are definitely good, as far as I am concerned. And I would not take kindly to any real life partner that objected to my listening so intensely to Ludwig. Fortunately, I have a spare room.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Is age only a number? JD Williams new campaign

JD Williams new campaign. Models: myself, Nicola Griffin and Annabel Davis. Photographer: Mark Nash 

The other day JD Williams released the photos of its new campaign, Over 50 Shades of Grey lingerie. It featured three models - myself, Nicola Griffin and Annabel Davis - and also, shot separately was a former JD Williams house model, Jeannie Galston, who used to model for them in the 1960s and who was a Miss Universe twice runner up . The shot with Jeannie recreated the pose of an old ad, whereas the photos of us three were reminiscent of the Dove campaign images, with no retouching except the usual permissible adjusting of light, tone etc which one needs for digital photography. If photos were used straight out of the camera they would be snaps, right? Advertising campaigns need professional photography.
I am delighted to have been among the models selected for this job, it has brought us national exposure. Nicola and I are in our fifties, Annabel is over sixty.
I like JD Williams' attitude and I thought for example that their response #PerfectlyImperfect  to Victoria's Secret infelicitously named campaign The Perfect Body launched last year - and hastily renamed following thousands of complaints - was really good. Lingerie is for all women of all ages. Why not make lingerie pieces that suit different body types and different ages?

JD Williams #PerfectlyImperfect 2014 campaign

 I do not endorse 'agelessness' of the Hollywood variety.  I don't think that age is only ever just a number and that you are the age you feel.  I mean, age IS a number and we should not get so hung up about it. But at the same time that number indicates a reality, one which should be embraced. Would you really want to have the body and mental age of a baby throughout your life? No. So why become fixated with having the body and mental age of a sixteen year old or any other age you may choose, depending on your personal experience? I have said it a few times and will repeat it. Age is part of living. You can have a zest for life at any age. Or you may lose it at any age.
The release of the Hollywood film Fifty Shades of Gray has inspired quite a few spoofs and parodies, the key word being 'Gray'. I have just completed filming a commercial inspired by it which will be out soon and which was great fun for me to do (can't tell you more, I am afraid, all in good time).
Back to JD Williams, it has been great for me to be involved as I have been harping on about lingerie for older women for quite a while. I wrote about it for the Huffington Post and even participated in a radio broadcast for BBC Tees, giving my views.
It has all come full circle, but it is only just a beginning.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Model thinness and eating disorders

Me with other models and MUA/hairstylist at Maggie Killick's fashion show

I was very intrigued by the article published in today's Guardian and authored by Caroline Evans, from Central St Martin's, University of the Arts. It is about the issue of model thinness and it makes the point that models from when the profession began have always been slender. Incidentally slender is not the same as skinny, but let's go on. The article is actually a plug for the exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, Silent Partners. Artists & Mannequins from Function to Fetish, which is on until Jan 25th and which I now really want to see, as it sounds most interesting. The exhibition is about mannequins, not models. The article plays on the double meaning of the French word mannequin, which also refers to models in flesh and blood who were initially named  'living mannequins'. It is an article that ends quite abruptly, quoting another University of the Arts  academic, Agn├Ęs Rocamora, from London College of Fashion,  who maintains that there is no real correlation between model sizes and eating disorders and that it will never be possible to substantiate any claim to the contrary.
Not really sure about that.

Silent Partners Exhibition trailer
I don't know whether Rocamoras' statement was taken out of context but I find it surprising. If the argument is that models have always been thin, they must be thin for whatever reason, and body image anxiety and eating disorders that seem to be so prevalent in our contemporary society have little to do with the fact that models are thin and that there is no quantifiable data that shows any link, well this argument does not strike me as sound. It strikes me as disingenuous. To begin with, one can never say that it will never be possible to find a link. Why so?
For one thing, extreme  thinness as a requirement for modelling has had a direct link on eating disorders in those instances of models and would-be-models that starved themselves to death and died on the catwalk.
A model I personally know told me that the agency that initially signed her put her under so much pressure to lose weight that her parents had to intervene - she was only 17 at the time - so she eventually changed agency and she is now working a lot, being a UK size 8 , 5'11 in height and weighing 59 kg - she had been asked to go down to at least 50kg.

Anna Carolina Reston a model who died because she was suffering from anorexia

Model Bonnie Bee, when campaigning for  Models of Diversity,  talked about her struggle with anorexia and how long it took her to recover. Young girls are encouraged to lose weight in order to be ready for Fashion Week. So here you have at least one demonstrable correlation between model size and eating disorders. 'Oh but not everyone is  or wants to be a model". This is the difference between attitudes to models in the 1900s up to well into the 1950s, when models were perceived to belong to the demi-monde and no respectable woman  really wanted to be a model, and attitudes today ,when every young girl looks at magazines and wants to be a model, because some models become celebrities and/or they date famous actors, rock stars and footballers. So young girls do starve themselves in the hope of being scouted or simply to be perceived as beautiful like 'so and so'.
Only in June the same newspaper carried an article about size zero campaigners discussing body image issues at an event held at that very same college where Rocamora teaches and at that event the correlation which Rocamora believes does not exist was discussed at length.

Eliana and Luisel Ramos models who died after starving themselves

It seems to me that today's  article is making the point that model thinness is OK. As I understand it this is how the argument goes: model thinness does not REALLY have a link with body image, body anxiety and eating disorders. Only a little bit, maybe. But young girls do not starve themselves because they see thin women in magazines and on the catwalk. Oh no, they do it for different reasons altogether. Models have always been thin, there was no anorexia amongst young women in the early 1900s, though models were thin even then.
Now let me ask you this question: until very recently it was OK to have models that were only white skinned. That has, begrudgingly, changed. The arguments for white skinned models were " Oh I am not racist, it's just that paler complexions make the clothes look better" Or "you can't do much with non-caucasian hair". Compare this with saying "Oh clothes fit better on a very skinny body, that's why models have to be skinny".
Of course, there was no correlation between racism and the absence of models of colour. It was only an aesthetic choice. Or was it?
Do you now see why the article in The Guardian makes me feel uncomfortable?

Monday, 12 January 2015

Acrobats and clowns

Model : me. From Metropolitan Magazine, Jan 2015 issue

I don't know what compelled me to go and watch Kooza, a show by the Cirque du Soleil, on a cold and rainy Sunday evening  but I certainly do not regret it.
I was brought up on a Fellini diet and he was a great circus lover.  La Strada which is one of the best films ever, one which I cannot watch without bursting into tears as soon as I see  Gelsomina's face, is about a violent circus performer and a carefree sweet girl who is sold to him and performs mime and clownish acts only to die prematurely and so many more films by Fellini portray scenes from circus life, with his beloved clowns.

I too love the clowns. They are acrobats who  bring out the fragility of the human experience, through their fake clumsiness and their slapstick. And of course, the 'serious' acrobats, the tumblers, the contortionists: they mesmerise me. They are human beings with a hyper disciplined body: yet in one split second, things can go incredibly wrong, a reminder of our inescapable mortality.
I saw Cirque du Soleil for the first time many years ago, in the 1990s. I went back yesterday and  I was transported. Cirque du Soleil's shows are wonderful: they bring together some of the very best acts from around the world and they have a theme that is explored throughout the evening. Add to it gorgeous music, skilled dancing and you have a typical Cirque the Soleil performance.
Their show for the Oscar ceremony 2014 was beautifully put together, beautifully choreographed, with scenes from famous movies juxtaposed with live acts. It was also an implicit homage to the stuntmen of Hollywood of yore, a breed that is fast disappearing in these days of enhanced digital manipulation.

But the circus no, it will never disappear. It's been around for thousands of years.
I can't sit still if I watch the circus. I am totally focused on  the performers and hold my breath when they do something dangerous - basically all the time - and then let out loud gasps and begin to applaud and shout out my appreciation. Sometimes I stand up, to the annoyance of those sitting behind me - I do not do this these days but I used to.  From where I was sitting yesterday everyone after a while began to behave like me though, leaning forward, gasping and with cries of 'Oh my god...Ahh'.
I love the  focus and body control that is on display and the fact that there is always, always  a sense of real danger. When  things go wrong, we are made aware that  these are people with real bodies challenging themselves to do  the most daring things ever. Last night  I saw women tumbling in stilts, performing triple somersaults before landing upright on their stilts on a tiny mattress held by their colleagues,  contortionists who seemed to be made of rubber, two men who appeared to have the gift of flying when they got out of the rotating Wheel of Death contraption - the very name is a reminder of what it can actually do - and a Chinese acrobat who would stand upside down on some ten chairs stacked high on top of each other, carefully balancing on them on his hands and performing splits in the air. I could not believe my eyes.
Two years ago a Cirque du Soleil acrobat died in mid performance. It was horrendous for the audience to watch. But that is the life of a circus performer, full of calculated risks and tremendous exhilaration.
Even more than the actual acts, I love watching circus performers in rehearsal, without the glitter of their magnificent costumes - last night I nearly fainted at the sight of so much satin and feathers and diamante.
In Bristol in 2002 The Invisible Circus began performing in squats and in derelict buildings, providing a sense of community. The film by Futureartists Invisible Circus . No dress rehearsal follows them on a four year journey, for 98 minutes. Beautiful performances!

Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal - www... by futureartists

 Today The Invisible Circus is a thriving company, praised for its educational work.
Nothing beats the circus and it has to be seen live, films and DVDs cannot do it justice.
Which is why I braved a cold evening and went to see the amazing Kooza. I strongly recommend it.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

2015 From the Future into the Present

Metropolitan Magazine cover Model: me 

Any fan or even non-fan, anyone who is aware of the film Back to the Future knows that this is it, this is THE year. 2015.  And what will it bring us?
No, I am not going to engage in yet another piece of writing to assess the year gone by and forecast what 2015 has in store for us. You can pick just any magazine for that, it is customary to begin the year with a write up on what has happened and what we might expect.
2015 has a ring to it, only because it was the year that featured in the Zemeckis' movie.
But it's just a new year. We mark the end of one year and the beginning of the next on the 1st of January. Other cultures mark the new year at a different time, in Spring for example.
We know that our Christmas and New Year  took over the Winter Solstice celebrations. The winter solstice is important in the northern hemisphere because on 21st/22nd December we get the shortest day of the year.
Anyway, back to 2015. Back to the future. I am well past the half a century milestone and so glad I am still around. These days the fifth decade of one's life is not regarded old age yet, but this is a relatively new development. When I was fifteen  anyone over the age of thirty was definitely past it, as far as I was concerned. I had plenty of time to revise that opinion.

This month the department store Selfridges celebrates the Bright Old Things, which features 14 people aged from late 40s to 80s who have found a new vocation in their mature years and who have made a mark for themselves. It is a celebration of agelessness, so they say. I would see it as a celebration of maturity and the fact that older people continue to be creative, in other words, creativity does not belong only to the young. Such a misconception, one that has always been proven wrong. Take someone like Ludwig van Beethoven (of whom I am a great, great fan). He composed his splendid Ninth Symphony in his late forties, and he was totally and completely deaf, on top of everything!
Anyway, though the Bright Old Things is ultimately a marketing ploy, it is an intelligent one. It opens on 18th January. Susan Kreitzman, who was featured in the film Fabulous Fashionistas, the expatriate New Yorker who has made London her home  is one of the people selected for this project and I look forward to seeing what she has designed for the store.

I have a personal connection with the Bright Old Things. I too began a new career in my late forties, as a model,  and I have now had the honour of modelling for the feature written about the event in Metropolitan, the magazine available to Eurostar travellers in three languages. I am in fact on the cover (and inside the magazine). The article is written by Billie JD Porter, known as a contributor to
Vice, Dazed and Confused and Jalouse, discussing the new phenomenon of 'silver power'. So if you are travelling on Eurostar throughout January, either Paris bound or Antwerp bound, look out for the magazine on board!
Happy 2015 everyone! Celebrating my very first cover!