Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Season greetings

I have been busy and have not been able to post at all. Christmas has already gone and we are getting ready to celebrate New Year. I will be offline for a while, as I will be travelling, and would like to wish you all a wonderful break with your loved ones. This is the time of the year we all spend cocooned away with family and those nearest to us.
I have been watching musicals, as one often does around this time, when TV channels tend to rehash old movies.
This is a clip from one of my favourites, The Bandwagon, with the incomparable Fred Astaire and the beautiful Cyd Charisse.

Belated Christmas wishes to all my followers and hope that 2013 will be a prosperous and peaceful year for everyone!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Red, red, red

Over the past three weeks or so every time I got to my local tube station to catch the train my eyes always fell on the stunning billboard size photograph, across the platform, advertising the exhibition of Valentino's dresses at Somerset House. There he was, the master of couture, surrounded by six beautiful models in rather dramatic poses, all wearing red gowns, in different styles,  all his own creations. That's an exhibition I will not miss, I keep on telling myself, knowing that I have plenty of time to view it, as it ends in March 2013.

But ever since I saw those gowns l have fallen in love with the colour red and have been hunting down red garments. I bought a red beret and a scarf, I also got myself a red tunic. Not quite Valentino, but I can luxuriate in the colour.
It is a Christmassy colour, I know, and thus it is seen around quite a lot at this time of the year.
At the end of November I did a photo shoot for The Guardian, for the Fashion for All Ages feature. Imagine my delight when I was given to  model a RED skirt by Ira von F├╝rstemberg with a matching red polo neck by Joseph. All that wonderful red filled me with warmth and joy and it made me want to surround myself with even more. Or was I pining for Valentino's gowns and trying to recreate the feel?

Photographer: David Newby for The Guardian Model: Alex B
So what is it with this colour red? I did a little googling and came across colour expert Kate Smith's website. Here she has a fascinating entry about red which I truly recommend. Red, she says, affects us physically, by stimulating us. It is the colour of the root chakra - all of you into yoga will nod in reading this - and thus it grounds us and increases our feeling of trust. Kate goes on to give us the significance of red around the world, with various snippets of trivia, utterly fascinating.  I did not know, among other things, that red was the highest arc of colour in the rainbow!
I love the popular phrases Kate has collected - 'red carpet treatment', 'caught red handed' and many more. Of course red is not always positive, as we all fear ' being in the red', when checking our bank statements  - and there will be quite a few 'red' statements  after the Christmas binge.
What is missing from that long list given by Kate is a statement about  red being a truly elegant colour. I never  realised it until I saw the Valentino's poster. Maybe it's the gowns and I am fixating on  the colour as a substitute. Maybe. The bottom line is that I will be wearing a lot more red in the coming year. And who knows, Father Christmas might decide to bring me a red Valentino gown!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Women's misogyny

The spate of derogatory comments on Yasmina Rossi's hair and general appearance in the Daily Mail was particularly distasteful as it came from other women. At 57, Yasmina, one of the models in the M&S Autumn/Winter campaign has long, grey hair and a figure that shows that apart from being blessed with good genes, she also cares about her body. She is all natural, no cosmetic surgery anywhere. Her face is not full of botox, she has wrinkles and her hair is luxuriant. The women who left vicious comments were particularly offended by this and recommended colouring and a haircut "to look younger".

Yasmina has been an inspiration to me, I grew my hair long after seeing pictures of her mane. I too embrace grey as a colour and a choice. I am not saying that women who colour their hair are wrong, I am saying that not accepting grey is wrong.

But what is this misogyny displayed by women towards other women?

"I frequently see women react with thinly veiled jealousy when they see other women stepping up and claiming a level of entitlement they can only dream of. An entitlement they either don't know how to, or don't feel entitled to claim for themselves" says Rosjke Hasseldine. This is echoed by Vivian Diller, who observes that "We seem so ready to judge the choices our fellow sisters make, from how we handle our relationships, children and careers, to how we deal with our aging appearance. Remember when we used to question, "Does She or Doesn't She?" Now we wonder, "Has She or Hasn't She?" You would think we would tire of all the scrutiny, maybe even try to stop it, rather than continue the cycle. I plead guilty at times, too"

So do I. I remember being at a lecture given by a woman, which I recently attended. The paper she read was beautifully written and very evocative, yet I could not help being distracted by my own mental notes on her outfit, her youthfulness, the fact she was wearing  red nail varnish and punctuated almost every sentence she read with a flourish of her hands, her  hair neatly blow dried and jet black in colour. Rather than focusing exclusively on her paper, I could not help taking in her appearance and implicitly comparing myself to her. I was suddenly aware that my outfit was not as stylish, I was not wearing nail varnish and I had not just stepped out of a salon. And as I became conscious of these shortcomings  of mine I hated her for being a step ahead of me. And I caught myself out attempting to find faults with her. 

Women internalize the dominant mode of gazing at women's bodies.

"Remember", says Vivian "by comparing, competing and then devaluing others in order to boost our own shaky sense of self, we join forces with the very culture that has created the need to do just that!"

I cannot help thinking here of French psychoanalyst and thinker Luce Irigaray who argued, in her (in)famous Speculum of the Other woman, a controversial book that cost her the expulsion from the University of Vincennes and the Ecole Freudienne de Paris, that women are the other, and only men are subjects. In Speculum, Irigaray uncovers a female subject position and discusses
the predominance of envy in women's mental life, an envy that sustains the cult of "the fetish prototype". She uses the image of the speculum, a curved mirror reflecting back on itself, to claim the position of the feminine, through "mimesis", a process of "resubmitting women to stereotypical views of women in order to call the views themselves into question".

Worth reflecting upon...

(Photos by Stuart Hendry and Antony Crossfield modelled by Alex B)

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Beautiful Adolescents

Photographer: me
Angel Sinclair of Models of Diversity recently posted a link on the Mature Models page on FB to a BBC viewpoint by Sara Ziff.
I found the piece very enlightening. Models are under pressure to be thin and are often subjected to unsolicited sexual advances, says Sara. This is something we have known for a long time, it is the ugly side of modelling.
But what really struck a chord with me was that far too often we seem to turn a blind eye to the fact that these girls that grace the catwalks and appear made up and dressed up in fashion magazines are more often than not, children. Sara discusses the "Peter Pan" syndrome in fashion:
"For a long time the industry has relied on a labour force of children, and they are valued for their adolescent physique. It's this obsession not just with youth, but really with extreme youth, that's the problem. A 13-year-old girl can be naturally skinny, like a beanpole, in a way that a grown woman, who has hips and breasts, generally can't - and shouldn't aspire to be. And I think we need to ask ourselves why that's become the ideal. Why do we have this perverse fascination with images of such young girls who are so small and inexperienced and really quite vulnerable?"
She continues: "It messes with the glamour if you stop to wonder, is this girl 13? Is there a clause in her agency contract that she cannot gain more than 2cm on her hips? Shouldn't she be in school?"
I'd like to reflect further on this issue of extreme youth and beauty, and the exploitation of young people it leads to, as also the fascination our culture has with adolescent beauty, a fascination that is historical.
Back in the 1970s the Italian film director Luchino Visconti made a screen version of Thomas Mann's novella, Death in Venice, written at the start of the 20th century. It is the story of Aschenbach, a middle aged, married, musician in the film but a writer in Mann's novella, who falls desperately and obsessively in love with a young Eastern European boy, Tadzio, while holidaying in a cholera struck Venice. Mann's book is full of symbolism and is a story of aestheticism and decadence, a meditation on ageing as a process and the loss of youth. To Aschenbach, Tadzio is the incarnation of an ancient Greek ideal of beauty. Nothing ever passes between them, apart from glances and Aschenbach dies of cholera on the day of Tadzio's departure.


The film is superbly acted by Dirk Bogarde and the beautiful Tadzio is fifteen year old Bjorn Andresen, who at the time became famous as "the Most Beautiful Boy in the World". And beautiful he was. Visconti had scoured the whole of Europe to find him when planning the film. But that was a stigma as far as Bjorn was concerned, something that affected him for the rest of his life. In 2003 he was interviewed by the Guardian, following a controversy with writer Germaine Greer who had used his photograph, without asking for his permission, as the cover of her book The Beautiful Boy, which was about "the boy as the missing term in the discussion of the possibility of the female gaze". Greer had requested the photo from the copyright owner, who granted her permission to publish it. It never occurred to her to ask Bjorn, who was "the model". "I feel used" said Bjorn "I have a feeling of being utilised that is close to distasteful".
And during the interview out comes the story of how while filming, Visconti and the crew took him to a gay bar and how he was being looked at, scrutinised by those present. "I am not homophobic" he says. But being subject to the gaze of adult men who saw him as "a nice meaty dish" made him very uncomfortable to say the least.
For Bjorn being the Most Beautiful Boy in the World became a burden, throughout his life.  Nothing he did after Death in Venice could quite match the fame and attention he received when he was fifteen. As a grown man he was not that interesting to look at. A fate that many a young female models also encounter when they grow up.
 The issue here is that of the gaze and those who are no longer children but not yet women or men. What do we make of it?