Sunday, 21 December 2014

Sensory marketing: a big hype?

Photo: Terry Slater "Zoomphoto". Model: me 

Sensory marketing is in full swing. A while ago the cake makers Mr Kipling unveiled a giant edible billboard in Westfield, made up of little cup cakes which were then distributed to people when the board was taken down a few hours later. It gave people the opportunity to see, smell and then eat the lovely, exceedingly sugary, cakes. 

Mr Kipling's edible board

Fashion events have also embraced technology that enhances the sensory experience. Ralph Lauren's 4D experience last Autumn in NYC involved the use of scents and holographic water projection.
The idea is to engage all the senses, not relying exclusively on (boring) vision.
Aradhna Krishnan, Professor of Marketing at the University of Michigan, is one of the most prominent writers on sensory marketing and why this is the way of the future: in her book Customer sense: how the 5 senses influence buying behaviour (2009) she states: "Accepting the importance of the senses brings about a change in how a manager views his or her products. What changes can be made in the packaging, branding, and advertising to captivate the consumer's senses? What changes can be made to the product itself?" And indeed her questions have been taken on board very seriously - hey guys, there's bucks to be made here. We can see more and more attempts at selling us things appealing to our sense of smell or that of touch - the sense of hearing is already fully engaged  in advertising campaigns, we see things and we hear sounds, most commercials involve the auditory experience and the visual intertwined. The  advertising of the future may include ways of letting us smell perfumes and inhale the aroma of chocolate and what-have-you when the ad appears on our screens.

Ralph Lauren's show. Images: Ralph Lauren

It's the era of neuro-marketing - another neuro-trash, neuro is the buzzword of the moment, there is even a neuro-philosophy and  a neuro-literary criticism, believe it or not. I am waiting to see the birth of quantum- aesthetics, that would be interesting but quantum has not had the same PR as neuroscience, maybe because of its indeterminacy?
This appeal to the senses for branding has its supporters - anything that can boost sales is welcome - but also its detractors. I for one would not wish to be constantly assailed by technologically recreated odours, the smells of the city are just enough for me, not would I relish  being  bombarded with exotic smells all the time. The attempt to engage touch leaves me very indifferent. I am used to seeing ads and I know how to switch off, it has become ingrained for us to see images and pay little attention to them, even though they still work at a subliminal level.
I am not saying this because I don't care about smelling, touching or hearing.  It's just that to me me smelling and touching, not to mention tasting,  are very, very personal. I already hate it when people go round distributing confectionery and asking you to try one - all that sugar!  I once went to a casting where they were distributing chocolate bars - that's poison to me, I like my chocolate to be bitter and completely organic, I would not have a Cadbury flake near me ever - well, unless they paid me to hold it (just joking). It's already quite a task to shake off politely eager assistants at airport duty free shops, waving their little card samplers with scents on them to invite you to buy the fragrance of the day - I wait for them to engage another customer and then go and choose my fragrance, if I have to get one.

Raymond Tallis' thought provoking article in the New Humanist

Ok maybe I am not enlightened enough. But reading that Martin Lindstroem, the guru of sensory marketing  and author of the best seller Brand Sense: Build Powerful Brands Through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, and Sound (2005) has uttered words of caution is enough to make me ponder whether sensory marketing is after all a big hype. According to the branding expert  "Scent is extremely powerful and dangerous if used wrong. So far, we're not advanced enough to use it that way, but I've wanted to have a dialogue on the implications of this, and nobody's talking."

Friday, 12 December 2014

Romancing yourself

Passion coach Vena Ramphal. Photo by Irven Lewis

The British Yoga Festival was in full swing at the Design Centre in Islington, north London, last  weekend.  I visited on the opening day and was drawn to one of the workshops in particular,  it seemed different from the others, full of promise. Entitled 'Head, Heart and Hips: the Yoga of Relationships' and led by Vena Ramphal,  a 'passion coach' who specialises in relationships, the workshop lived up to its promise and was  intellectually and emotionally satisfying.
What Vena  really teaches you and encourages you to do is to have a fuller, more meaningful relationship with yourself. She says that one needs to see oneself as a whole, never as a 'half', stressing that being with someone is not about being completed by someone else but about being enriched by and enriching someone's life.

Photographer: Vanessa Mill. MUA: Tori Harris. Model: me

In the workshop we covered topics such as breath, the body, the mind, manifesting and using savasana, the corpse pose, as a way to listen to the body. Savasana is the most important yoga pose!
Vena talked about cultivating romance and ended with five very important points which I am passing on to you, my readers, in the order in which  I received them and without any commentary of my own:
1. Romance doesn't just happen. It needs to be invited in.
2. You can't force the magic. Romance will visit when it's ready.
3. A clear relationship nurtures romance.
4. Romance breathes in the space(s) between you.
And the final one, which I thought was really  beautiful and nourishing: always have a secret romance with yourself.
Thank you Vena, you truly are a breath of fresh air!

Monday, 1 December 2014


Photographer: Vanessa Mill. MUA: Tori. Model: myself

I am very proud to announce that I have contributed to an article about going grey. You can find it here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Postcolonial grey hair

Photographer: Vanessa Mills. MUA: Tori Model: me
I was invited to have tea by my son and his girlfriend at their new flat. The conversation at the table took a nice turn. We were talking about body image, as this is what I am interested in at the moment, especially through my connection with All Walks. The Girlfriend told me that by Korean standards - she is from Korea -  I would be a plus size and that my white hair would be 'abhorred'. After a moment of slight discomfort, during which I instinctively pushed the plate with the gorgeous slice of chocolate cake well away from me, lest I took a mouthful too many, I began to process the statement.
I could not get my head around it. Not the plus size - I know Asian women tend to be very slender and petite and on these terms, I am a plus size -  but the white hair bit. Surely going grey affects all ethnicities. Why this horror of grey? I was puzzled.
Later at home I came across an article by Mary Crescenzo in the Huffington Post and that held some of the answers.
Yes, I tend to take for granted that silver hair is beautiful, partly because many of my friends are  involved in  the 'Embrace your Silver' movement.  But a great many people truly do not think grey hair is beautiful. Definitely not. And that goes for both men and women. Here I am referring to our western culture and society and the views that prevail.
My son, for example, is twenty seven and having inherited my genes, is going grey. He hates it and has confessed to plucking his grey hair out - big mistake by the way, because it grows stronger and it multiplies (been there, done that). 'Why?', I asked him. 'Just because' he says, his favourite answer since his teens, meaning 'none of your business'.  But now, having read  Crescenzo's piece I can guess. 'Want to rise in the corporate world? ' writes Crescenzo 'White hair will get you nowhere' - Crescenzo uses 'grey' (in its American spelling 'gray') and 'white' interchangeably and refers to both men and women.
So for educated, go getter women living in Asia, aspiring to go up the corporate ladder, going grey is associated with being a granny and with living in the village. Who wants that image?
Out of curiosity, I scoured the internet for pictures of Asian women with grey hair and the only one I was able to track down, amongst a myriad of "old toothless white haired woman from x village" part of ethnological collections, was  a picture of the incredibly beautiful and elegant Aung San Suu Kyi, sporting some grey at the temples.  Of course Aung San Suu Kyi is a formidable role model, but in a different way. She is a freedom fighter, an intellectual and a martyr. A heroine, willing to sacrifice personal family ties to stand up for democracy. She is definitely not an average woman, by any standard. She also stands up for tradition, so it suits her to have delicately greying temples, wearing traditional Burmese attire.

Aung San Suu Kyi. Google images
Crescenzo reminds us that in our western society 'when men in ads have gray hair, the women beside them do not. Unless you're Mrs. Santa, the mean witch or a kind Grandma with an apron and a tray of cookies, you are cast on your way to the grave...When female stars date younger men, they make sure their hair is anything but white."
And these are the images that are touted globally. So it is no surprise that Asian women not planning to emulate Aung San Suu Kyi, women who feel less heroic perhaps, much prefer to reach for the dye bottle, caught up as they are in the just fight to be perceived as independent, working women of today, equal to men, working in male dominated environments. It's a case of internalising western aesthetic values.
I occasionally worry that the 'Embrace your Silver' movement may remain the preserve of a few middle class Caucasian women,  rather like feminism when it began. However, as Crescenzo reminds us, ageing cuts across social, racial and, to some extent, cultural barriers - even though it remains a cultural construct.  Perhaps it is time to subject 'the Going Gray Movement'  to some postcolonial rethinking.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Lets talk about ...Julien Blanc

Photo by Nagib. Model : me 

Back from a great ballet class,  I sat myself on the sofa and began to read The Guardian on my iPad while lunch was cooking  and came across Ms Hyde's piece for Comment is Free in which she argues that Julien Blanc, the American pick up artist who encourages men to be abusive, should be allowed in. According to Hyde immigration control is worthless,  because his ideas, thanks to the internet, have a global remit. Yes, he should be allowed in, she says, because if he has truly committed any crime he should be investigated, but denying him entry makes no sense, because liberty as a principle is at stake: "the trade-off between liberty and security, in which so-called security has too often prevailed in recent years" should be avoided.
Excuse me?
It's good I had not eaten lunch yet when I read this piece, I was actually about to, but I felt sick in the stomach and had to delay it. I like the French word 'bouleversé' it really conveys how I felt.
No, I truly think that Julien Blanc should not be allowed into Britain. I am so glad Australia curtailed his stay and threw him out. Well done! I have signed the online petition  and I urge you, male or female, to sign it too.
Blanc is racist. He has said in Japan that 'white men can do as they please' so they can force any Japanese girl to suck their cock. The seduction techniques he teaches are abusive and entail forcing women to have sex and endorsing domestic violence, both physical and emotional.
Sorry Ms Hyde, I really cannot condone this. Far too many women have had experience of abuse and even if you have not, please spare a thought for those who have. Some of your closest friends may be among them, only you may not know, because women who have been subjected to domestic violence are loath to talk about it in public. That's my experience.
It is not up to the UK government to investigate Blanc's alleged crimes. He should be denied entry precisely because there are such allegations - with videos and social media statements to prove them.
Even if what he says is meant to be humorous, as someone has noted, this is still unacceptable in the same way that racist jokes are unacceptable. Why is it that when women are concerned there is such a lax attitude?
This is Julien Blanc' s adaptation of a Domestic Abuse Intervention Project chart. Does it not make you sick?

If it is a joke, it is unbelievably crass. If it is real, this man deserves to be given a taste of his own medicine.
But what beats me is that so many men are willing to part with good money to be taught this rubbish. Is this what men believe they have to do to find themselves partners? Is it a believable proposition?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Plus size, normal size

Myla Dalbesio Photo: Lachlan Bailey for Calvin Klein.

There has been a lot of talk about model Myla Dalbesio who appears in a new Calvin Klein campaign. At 5'11 (180.34 cm) she is US size 10 (UK size 14). Compared to other agency models of the same or similar height who wear a US size 4 or less  she has a fuller figure, so she is being slotted in the 'plus size'. The plus size category is rather fluid and it goes up to 18 and 20.
Of course thousands of people have commented that Dalbesio is normal size and absolutely gorgeous. She definitely is. And yes, for her height, her size is perfect. She may be 'plus' in comparison to the slighter models, but she is perfectly proportioned, and her body is toned and athletic. So far so good. If being aspirational is part of what being a model is about, Myla Dalbesio is aspirational in the best possible way.
I am just slightly concerned however that the whole debate on size hardly ever takes height and musculature into account. At 5'11 being size 14 (I am now using British sizes so that no one gets confused, I am writing from the UK) is absolutely in proportion, normal, if you are fond of that very overused word. At 5'1 (154.94 cm) size 14 is not quite in proportion, it is definitely an indication of being somewhat  overweight, especially if the bone structure is light.
What I am trying to say is that being of this or that size is pretty meaningless. It is the relationship between body type, weight and height that matters. Being very overweight is as unhealthy as being severely underweight. If a 5'3 woman says she is size 18 and loves her curves, good for her, but technically she is overweight, with all the disadvantages that being overweight entails, from a medical viewpoint.

Photographer: Jeremy Howitt. Model: me

I love this ad because it does not distinguish between 'normal' and 'skinny'. All the models appear together and the caption under Dalbesio's picture is 'Perfect Fit'. What could be more complimentary than that?
Some model agencies  still put pressure on the girls to lose weight, unnecessarily. A model friend, 5'11, size 8, 60 Kg in weight was told by her former agency she should shed at least five kilos to be a 'regular' model. She quit the agency and found another almost immediately: with her look, still in her early twenties, she can find modelling work quite easily, without losing any weight.
We need to rethink the whole issue of sizes without fixating on the actual number. The whole discourse on body shape and body size should shift to considering the health factor rather than just the aesthetics. The latter is transient and can change, as the Calvin Klein new campaign shows.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Is it really paedophilia?

I am very aware of the fact that sexual abuse is rampant, children are trafficked around the world for sex and subjected to the most horrific tortures for sexual gratification. I am also very aware that children in our culture are sexualised from a very early age, they learn in school about being 'sexy' well before reaching puberty and sometimes people very flippantly would describe a cute outfit for a child as 'a sexy number', forgetting that children should not be seen by adults as sexy, it is the wrong mind set.
But I am at a loss for words to describe how I feel about what happened in Paris a couple of days ago. Photographer Diane Ducruet, an established artist whose work has received much acclaim, saw her work removed from the Gallery that had invited her to exhibit because of some anonymous online accusations of paedophilia and some threats.
This is Ducruet's offending photograph, showing a mother and daughter intertwined, yet the piece is abstract because it is a composite so what you think you might  be seeing  is not necessarily what  it is

Apparently even more offending was the invite where again you see the mother kissing the daughter:

I don't know about you, but I do remember playing a game with my son when he was a toddler - way back, does time not fly? I would pretend to eat him and he would do the same to me, have you never played this game with your children?  I would not put myself in the category of paedophiles for doing that nor would anyone else (I hope!). The point I am making is that  the picture on the invite reminds me of that game.
I can see that what some people may find disturbing is the nudity, real or imagined.  Actually we don't know whether they are naked and here the fact that Diane is an artist does kick in  because art often rests on ambiguities and it's meant to be provocative. It should make you think about what you see.
I do not think there is anything untoward in any of these representations and I personally find the embrace very moving. When mothers are with their very young children they may at times be naked with them. They might take a bath with their toddlers. They might hug their young children while wearing just a bra and knickers or even topless. Nudity should not always be construed as indicative of sexual activity.
The people who objected to these pictures are probably the same kind of people who object to breastfeeding in public. Enough said.
You can read about Diane Ducruet here and also visit her website to see her body of work

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Renee Zellweger, youthfulness and identity

Photographer: Hugh Gilbert. Model: me

Oh no, I hear you say, not her again. Not Renee Zellweger. We have been swamped with news and detailed discussions of her appearance. Who cares if she has had 'work' done to her face? I totally agree, it IS a most trivial matter. But Zellweger's appearance has become an issue because of the way the media and the public have reacted and because what underpins it is the issue of ageing.  So I feel compelled  to comment, as this concerns me, as an older woman and an older model.
Briefly, in case you were away on Mars and further afield for the past week or so: Renee Zellweger, best known for her interpretation of Bridget Jones, for which in order to portray the character she had to pile up the pounds, only to lose the extra weight  immediately after filming,  recently made a public appearance and  sent the media in a frenzy because she looked 'different'.  How different? Well, she is 45 and is a Hollywood actor, struggling to get roles because by Hollywood standards she is somewhat past it.  Like many women in her position and tinsel town dwellers, she has allegedly had botox and cosmetic surgery to ensure she looks youthful. But somehow the surgery, according to observers, seems to be obvious and her eyes seem to be somewhat rounded, in comparison to what they were  before - when she was younger. The result is that people decry she is no longer the Renee audiences fell in love with, the Bridget Jones that stole our hearts, and all this because apparently the eyes look different, now that her face is more angular.

Renee Zellweger. Google images

This is quite bizarre. Even if she had not had any work done to her face - and we do not know for sure -, even if she looked CONSIDERABLY older, which she does not, she still would not have looked they way she did when she was Bridget Jones. Everyone changes. I certainly do not look like I did at twenty or twenty five. And yes, eyes do change! Look at mine in this photo of me at three.

I recently met a woman I had not seen in years. I did not recognise her at all, she was larger, her face was not  as I remembered, she had to remind me of her name and the occasion of our meeting  before I could recollect who she was and truly, she looked nothing like her former self. Not worse, just different and older. Like I do too, to anyone who meets me after a long gap.
Zellweger looks amazing, a very well preserved 45 year old, great figure, great face. So why are people suddenly saying she does not look like herself? What is it that makes you who you are? Your hair, your eyes, your legs? Or is it something else altogether, such as your personality?
This twisted notion of having to look youthtful at all costs really bothers me. It is really warped. According to it one should be youthful but  at the same time it should not be obvious that the youthful look has been achieved through an external intervention. Zellweger's 'sin' is that she does not look ageless, she looks merely youthful, yet different from what she used to be.
I am very troubled by this idea of 'effortless agelessness', apparently women should aspire to have  a 'classic ageless' look, whatever that may be. In practice this means showing some very minor sign of ageing - perhaps a touch of  grey hair, if the hair is beautiful, but definitely an unlined or only mildly lined complexion, blemish free, and a toned, slim body, are de riguer. If you have cosmetic surgery, it should be subtle. By all means remove thread veins, and any other 'unsightly' blemish but do not let it be guessed.
It's fine to be ageless, less so to be youthful with evident help. The problem with either looks is that neither bears any resemblance to your younger self, no matter.
I will not address here the strain of unwarranted comments by those who feel entitled to a 'holier than thou attitude' and find faults with the fact that some women do have recourse to cosmetic surgery, as they grow older, claiming that this is anti-feminist. I will discuss this in a different post. All I will say is that these are personal choices, like that of dying one's hair or shaving one's armpits. Sure, they are often taken because there is pressure to look youthful, especially in the entertainment industry, but I think that  pitching one celebrity against another, claiming that one is more feminist than the other only because the 'work' she has had done is less visible as to appear non-existent, is complete nonsense.
The good thing for Zellweger is that she has received so much attention, it cannot be to her detriment in the long run. Perhaps an unplanned yet very effective PR exercise?
As we ponder on which part of our body is likely to encapsulate our 'identity', a notion the media seems to have embraced in connection with the Zellweger case, I invite you to view the inimitable Russell Brand and his comments on the case. Enjoy! (click here if you are using a mobile device)

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Christine Keeler astride a plywood chair: when images become iconic

Christine Keeler by Lewis Morley. Google Images

If there is an iconic image, it has to be that of Christine Keeler astride a plywood chair taken by Lewis Morley in 1963. Keeler is nude but the back of the chair covers her, so nothing can be seen.
I was visiting a photographer friend on Tuesday, with the idea of doing a shoot in his studio. He showed me an original print of Keeler's photograph taken by Morley and signed by Morley. It was so beautiful I practically begged him to photograph me in a similar pose, I really wanted to do my own version of this iconic image. I really wish to thank Hugh Gilbert for humouring me. You can see the image here.
Shoot ended and on the way back home, I could not help reflecting on why this image of Christine Keeler has become so famous and is so embedded in popular consciousness. The Victoria and Albert Museum has an entry on it in its online catalogue , as a gelatin silver print of Morley's endeavour is now part of its photographic collection.  Morley claims this was an accidental shot, the last exposure on the film he was using.
An exhibition of the photograph at the National Portrait Gallery in 2013 prompted Jonathan Jones to write in an article published by The Guardian that "Keeler was in a tradition of unrespectable women in the public eye that goes back to Restoration royal mistresses such as Nell Gwyn. Compare her with Charles II's lover" also at the National Portrait Gallery.
It is very hard to say why a particular image captures the imagination of millions and thus becomes iconic. Maybe it is that the image strikes us at a deep emotional level, maybe it is because it  perfectly captures an instant which cannot be replicated and has a ring of truth, no, authenticity, about it.
It is not just photographs that achieve this status of being instantly recognisable, of speaking directly to someone at an emotional level. Paintings do too. Or images like the wayang (Javanese shadow puppet theatre), replicated even on tees, which have become signifiers of Indonesian culture.
As author Martha Tedeschi states,  “Whistler’s Mother, Wood’s American Gothic, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Edvard Munch’s The Scream have all achieved something that most paintings—regardless of their art historical importance, beauty, or monetary value—have not: they communicate a specific meaning almost immediately to almost every viewer. These few works have successfully made the transition from the elite realm of the museum visitor to the enormous venue of popular culture.”
I guess Christine Keeler's astride a chair has achieved this status, starting off as a popular image and making its way into repositories of high culture, such as museums and art galleries. 
 Martin Kemp  writes that truly iconic images accrue legends:  extraordinary images demand an extraordinary explanation. Morley's photograph of Keeler shares in this tradition, stories about it abound.
Why so? I am not sure. We all recognise iconic images but it becomes enormously difficult to say why they are so. This mystery makes them even more alluring, enhancing their iconicity.

A friend and member of deviantArt wrote the following comment (I usually  plug my blogposts on dA):
The nature of the "iconic" also interests me... how does an image become so? It's easier, I suppose when it directly captures a specific moment of triumph or trauma shared by millions... the moon landing, The crowd at Martin Luther King's death pointing toward the shooter, etc. In part that photo was associated with a moment in history, the Profumo Scandal, as well as a visual allusion to the newness and differentness of social mores of the time... it helps that Keeler was such a beautiful young woman... who better to be the face of such a moment? But even now that Cold War politics and the pretence of "respectability" amongst those in high places have washed away, the image remains and still has power. I sometimes liken it to parapsychologists' hypothesis of how a haunting works... a moment of such emotional energy occours that it leaves some kind of "print" on a place that some people can feel. Don't know if I truly believe in ghosts... but socially, the iconic image, the moment that leaves behind a symbolic impression that encapsulates an entire experience seems to work like that.

Very well said!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Galliano: forgive and forget?

John Galliano modelling. Google images

I have been thinking a lot about John Galliano, after I was given a link to an interview he gave to Ingrid Sischy for Vanity Fair, over a year agoIt was an interesting read, not least because it highlighted one of the endemic problems of the fashion industry, how it saps the energy of  the creatives that are involved in it, with its imperative to produce, produce, produce. Galliano's meltdown, following an alcohol and drug binge, went viral in 2011, when he hurled anti-semitic insults in a Parisian boite. At that moment he crossed a line and he had to go, there could be no further tolerance of his drug and alcohol fuelled idiosyncratic behaviour. So he relinquished his position as head of the Maison Dior. He  had no choice.
But the fashion industry needs talents like Galliano's and he seems to be sufficiently contrite and remorseful to warrant him a second chance. After all, was Kate Moss not called back to model following her cocaine snorting incident? Miss Moss is an iconic model - here it is, the dreaded little word I discussed in an earlier post. And Mr Galliano is an iconic designer. So why should he not  do what he is best at?
Drugs and alcohol can play havoc with your ability to control your thoughts and behaviour. I have often wondered whether things would have been different if the insults hurled by Galliano had not been videoed and gone viral. In hindsight it is a good thing the video was seen by so many people as it forced Galliano to take stock and do something about his addiction. And he has.

Galliano's Fall 2007 collection
Galliano is no ordinary designer. He has a great team but no collection of his goes without his personal input in conceiving the clothes and the way they are going to be presented. There are designers whose main ability is that of putting together a brand and market it, and designers who create the look from scratch, who are practitioners of the craft - an art really. They are the designers as practising artists. Think of Vivienne Westwood, Hussein Chalayan, Alexander McQueen as opposed to, say, the Victoria Beckhams of the fashion industry.
Galliano has great originality and a vision. His shows were true spectacles, great performances, in which the clothes themselves were 'performed'. His sense of theatricality is supreme. The move of fashion shows into the realm of the spectacular  is very clear nowadays, we only have to think of the recent Paris Fashion Week and the show put on by Karl Lagerfeld.  Unlike Lagerfeld's, whose ironic take on feminism could be construed as trivialising,  Galliano's theatricality does not have a hint of the trivial or cheap.
So yes, I think Galliano should be given another chance. It is rumoured he might take up a position with Maison Martin Margiela. I hope it is true.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Gravity, age and the body.

Cast no shadow: photo by Isaac Julien

I owe choreographer Russell Maliphant two things: a love for Sicily and an introduction to Rolfing. Let me explain. When I was in New York in November 2007 I went to see Cast No Shadow which combined choreography by Maliphant and filming  by Isaac Julien.  Parts of the film  had been shot  on the coast of Western Sicily. It sparked the beginning of my passion for the island of my ancestors, which I had not ever visited till then.  That evening I spoke briefly to Maliphant to congratulate him on his work and found out about his being a certified Rolfer, among other things.
 I never really got into Rolfing however until this year, never felt the need for it, but circumstances have changed. I have been suffering from severe back problems. A traumatic fall when I was much younger has left a mark on my spine and though for years I ignored the occasional ache it has now become increasingly difficult to pretend it is not there, so I have embarked on a tailor made programme, tailor made by me I should say, to try and find out what can be done. The conversation I had with Maliphant all those years ago and an interview with him I read online reawakened my curiosity and I decided to do  a course of Rolfing. It is a course because you need to do  ten sessions at regular intervals for it to be effective. It will help you to realign and learn a new way of inhabiting your own body. It also brings about new thinking and a new body awareness, which sadly most of us do not have.  Apart from Rolfing I am doing as much as possible by way of yoga, exercises for my spine to increase its flexibility etc. I am also pursuing a proper diagnosis through conventional medicine to find out whether I have low bone density and the beginning of osteoporosis, thus am undergoing scans. There is a history of osteoporosis in my family and having seen my mother being painfully crippled by it I am determined to fight it off.

Me in public speaking mode. Photo: City Academy

As I look around it really dawns on me that we are generally so unaware of our bodies. We focus so much on the way we look but we never learn to really pay attention to the way we feel in our body, the way we hold ourselves. As I am doing my course of Rolfing I am also having great conversations with my Rolfer. We tend to talk about the body of course  and in my last session we touched on  the relationship with gravity. Gravity affects us all and interestingly we have two ways of going about it: we either fight it, as I have been doing, in the sense that I always want to pull myself up and stretch as much as possible, sometimes being rather forceful in the way I handle my body -  I am talking more about a feeling, a sensation, than real actions - or we feel oppressed by it, which leads to allowing the body to curve as if carrying a massive weight - and we do carry that massive weight because gravity puts a lot of pressure on us. But there is another way of relating to gravity and that is becoming aware that gravity actually supports us. This change  in attitude can do wonders in the way  we stand, the relationship we have with our feet on the ground. For me it is something that at the moment engages much of my thinking and my actions. I also notice when I look at people in the street how ageing bodies have this tendency to shrink, the upper back develops kyphosis and that is most often, though not always,  the result of poor posture and unawareness.
There is so much that is being written about ageing and so much focus on what to do to conform to that ideal of agelessness that is being touted as what we ought to aspire to.  Though there are many articles that exhort us to exercise and pay attention to nutrition in order to be youthful there is absolutely nothing that  discusses our relationship with our own body and body awareness. This is such a glaring gap. I care little about how my body can look better if I wear x and y. I care a lot about the way I stand, I sit, I walk and I bend.  I care about being aware of my body.
As I age, to me this is the most important thing about my body and my person.

Monday, 22 September 2014

The quest for the perfect gym spa

Outtakes from a shoot with Vanessa Mills
A friend of mine always used to joke that in a former life I must have been a Spartan because of my love for gyms and spas. Not sure the Spartans had much to do with the latter, spas were more of a Roman thing, later taken over by the Arabs and Turks through their hammam,  but basically, yes,  it is true that I spend a great deal of time in gyms and spas and am currently on the look out for the perfect combination of the two.
This undoubtedly should prompt some reflection on the commodification of  fitness  in our contemporary society and the proliferation of health centres, gyms and spas.  Though I acknowledge that fitness is a socio-cultural phenomenon and that I am totally caught up in the fitness discourse, believing that fitness and health are essential to the quality of my life and that they are both linked with life satisfaction and fulfilment, this post will not tackle such issues in a broad, general way. I am merely reflecting, here,  on my personal quest for the perfect gym and what kind of feelings and emotions it evokes.
Some brief background. After being a regular member of a well known gym chain, at a very local club with swimming pool, and a tiny sauna and steam room plus the usual gym equipment and a range of group classes, I got very bored with it and totally fed up with the fact that most of the time one lane in the swimming pool is blocked off for lessons. I was also not happy with the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of the changing rooms.
Then I discovered the gym+spa combination and that, I must admit,  is most appealing. So I am in the process of trying different spas which also have a gym and a proper pool.  My, there is so much to choose from. The most expensive ones are not necessarily the best - I was appalled when visiting a 5* hotel with a pretentious set up of just one room with equipment, unmanned, a relaxation pool, a relaxation room and that was it, for £95 a month plus treatments, very expensive,  to be paid for separately. Treatments will always have to be paid for separately, that's not the point. But facilities should be good, considering the fees.

Como Shambhala spa in Bali. Google images
I have appointments at several establishments to check them out. What am I after? A thermal experience - I love the whole set up of scented steam rooms, saunas, plunge pools, relaxation room - plus a gym, some group classes such as yoga and pilates, a swimming pool with at least three lanes. There is nothing like immersing yourself in a meditation while sitting in a steam room or a scented sauna.  What else can you do when sitting still in a heated environment? Everything slows down, even your thoughts. I also love the feel of cold water in a plunge pool and the struggle I go through before immersing myself in it - oh it does take a lot of will power. I love the wetness of a steam room and the casual conversations one strikes with other people sitting there.
If I could, I'd go to a hammam every day. Good for the skin, it seems.
Perhaps I will, once I sort out membership details.  But with the dance classes, the gym, the swimming pool, the hammam - can twenty four hours be enough? And what will I do for relaxation? Apart from having to squeeze some work in...

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The state of being iconic

Photographer: Vanessa Mills. Model: myself  Designer: Sparklewren

A recent conversation with a friend forced me to rethink the widespread use of the word 'iconic'. Once upon a time 'iconic' was a term mostly used by art historians and with reference to images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or saints, as found  in Orthodox churches. Or to Byzantine art.
Then came the use of the word in the sense of cultural icons, with reference to very famous faces and characters such as, in no particular order and by no means limited to these names,  Che Guevara, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison and brands, such as Coca Cola.
We are now inundated with icons and iconic objects. Victoria Beckhams' designs are iconic and she is regarded as an icon of style and  brands, apart from the already mentioned Coca Cola, are also iconic.  Views from the veranda of a luxury hotel are iconic, Californian red elmwood is iconic, basically everything including iPhone/iPad apps, is iconic. Of course I know that those little images on Apple computers are called 'icons' and have been called so for a very long time, but this post is not about those. Apple by the way, as a brand, is also iconic.
Some people complain of an  'overuse' of the word iconic. Is there really an overuse?
So it is that while sipping our iconic cappuccinos, my friend and I began to consider what cultural icons, or better still, the state of being iconic, or iconicity,  is  about.
Let's refer first to the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines icon as "a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration". From there iconicity would then refer to the state of being this representative symbol or  symbol of veneration.  This is a broad definition that allows us to throw in some interesting variants. So if we think of cultural icons we can agree that they are not only representative symbols, they often personify them. So far, so good.
But the dictionary does not tell us about the process of becoming or establishing something as a cultural icon.  And this is quite important and perhaps knowing about it can allow us to understand the discontent of those who believe that we are iconizing everything (yes, the word exists, it is American English).

Photographer: Vanessa Mills. Model: myself. Designer: Sparklewren

The crux of the matter, as my friend was quick to point, is that if iconicity in cultural terms is to do with the non-discursive and non-verbal element of cultural and social life, it is also the case that it is linked with consumerism. It is to do with branding and marketing strategies, thus a hotel view becomes iconic through the branding of the tourist industry.
Iconicity creates consensus, in markets, culture or politics, as Woddward and Elliott write in Iconic Power: materiality and meaning in social life.
Well, these are some initial thoughts, would love to continue to explore the issue but not in just one post. Comments always welcome.

Monday, 1 September 2014

A very brief post

Photographer: Marcello Pozzetti. Model: me. On the cover of Her Edit

I have been rather busy, in every possible way!
I have some excellent news (well, for me that is): I am on the cover of Her Edit issue 7, which is about age and I have also an article in there, about being 'an older ' model.
I also did a fabulous editorial shoot with Vanessa Mills wearing Sparklewren designs and am really pleased with the results, which will be submitted to a magazine.
I am also about to embark on a Rolfing course as a Rolfee, I have found someone and I have great hopes. I feel I need to be completely realigned, I have postural problems. Rolfing is a technique created by Ida Rolf, you can read more here, not chiropratic nor massage but it involves manipulation of the fascia.

From the shoot with Vanessa Mills

This post is extremely brief, but I promise to write a more substantial one soon enough. It will be about Professor Dawkins whose rhetoric I truly care little about. As a friend of mine says, Dawkins used to be amusing but not anymore. All in good time.

Have a great week!

Monday, 25 August 2014

When he is not that much into you: chasing emotionally unavailable men

Photograher: Natalia Lipchanskaya. Model: me
This post is a sequel to my previous one and to be honest I am not even sure why I am writing about all this, it is quite outside my usual range of topics. But when I started this blog I decided it would be  an opportunity for me to write about what takes my fancy and somehow this has, and in a big way too. I am now trying to bring the different pieces together.
Yesterday, being Sunday, I woke up later than usual, and had breakfast in bed. As I was sipping my coffee I picked up Kennealy-Morrison's tome which came the other day through the post and which I had only managed to skim through prior to writing my earlier post. I had no idea I would end up spending the whole day reading it from cover to cover, watching some video reconstruction of the last day in Morrison's life, apparently dying not in his bath but in a nightclub's toilet, full of heroin, and reading alternative accounts to Kennealy's story, all the while feeling I was going through an emotional roller coaster.
Strange days: my life with and without Jim Morrison is a hardback, and it weighs quite a bit. I am not used to carrying real books around anymore, I have Kindle and iBooks but this one is only available in this format. I had it in the pretty basket I use as handbag for the past few days but never really had a proper chance to sit down and read it until yesterday morning.

Photographer: Elina Pasok
As soon as I dipped into it, I also began to feel very uncomfortable. The story is well written but Ms Kennealy is really at pains to tell us how she wanted Jim Morrison to be when he was with her, rather than how he actually was, and depicting the relationship she dreamt of having with him, rather than what they really had. You just can't stop feeling that she reimagines it all. Her account sounds so contrived, it really is quite unbelievable at times. For example, she goes on and on about Jim Morrison's sexual prowess, according to her they did it all the time, in and out of bed - very much at odds with various reports concerning his impotence, due to his alcohol and drug consumption. According to her he hardly ever drank when he was in her company, which sounds quite far-fetched, the man was addicted to the stuff, I have lived with an alcoholic and I know you just can't stop them from drinking. Maybe he drank behind a curtain and out of sight? She makes him say some very, very corny lines, and maybe he did say those things but tongue in cheek, as he often did in interviews (have you ever heard the one in which he is ravenous and keeps on asking for food and then launches into a 'What's wrong with being fat' which is quite funny). She is also quite obsessed with herself being 'a tall woman' but she says she was some three inches shorter than him. He was 5'11 so she must have been around 5'8 or 5'8.5 which is not short, but hardly very tall. I guess compared to Pam Courson she was tall and leggy and this is what she really means.
Then there is the story of the abortion and that is pretty harrowing because she did not have a quick termination, in the early stages of her pregnancy, she had it at twenty weeks, a saline abortion, so it was  absolutely horrendous. I cried over her account, it is impossible not to. She was twenty four years old at the time, on her own, Morrison, by then twenty six, did not want the baby - there were some twenty paternity suits brought against him, Morrison did sleep with many women - she was too scared to go ahead with the pregnancy. I will not consider here those rumours, voiced through other accounts, that she was not sure it was his, that's why she went ahead with the termination. They seem to be so cruel. I just think the whole thing was a nightmare and I do understand now why she keeps on referring to herself as the mother of Jim Morrison's unborn child because the abortion she had was an induced labour. She even had to sign a death certificate for the dead fetus, which was more or less the size of a lizard. A lizard baby, I guess,  but in saying this I don't want anyone to take it as a jibe, it really is not meant to be so.

Photographer: Nadia Lee Cohen 
Then there is the constant putting down of Pamela Courson, which after a while does get heavy handed - Kennealy comes across as insanely jealous of the affection Jim and Pam shared. Finally, there is the lashing out at Oliver Stone, who according to her misused the information she had given him. Stone makes out that the whole handfasting ceremony was something that Morrison did for kicks, for extra stimulation, even perhaps under the illusion of regaining sexual potency, and never regarded as anything but something he did whilst high. Kennealy truly believed in the sanctity of it. How she managed to persuade him to do it in the short time they were together is a mystery but there you are, he did go through with it. Kennealy's book came out after Stone's film, in which she even had a small role, and is meant to redress the balance. Many people seem to be unhappy about how Stone portrayed them, he took some licence with facts and events but Kennealy, played so brilliantly by Kathleen Quinlan (even Kennealy liked her though she can't help noticing that Quinlan was "several inches shorter than I", has the best lines in the film "Come on rock god f*** me, f***me good" so she should not complain. Overall I think Stone took her quite seriously and turned her into a Yoko Ono kind of figure, which is quite flattering. But Yoko Ono she is not.
Reading the book was a very emotional experience for me. I found myself curled up on my sofa, unable to put the book down and then when it was all over - when the music's over, I should say - I just wondered why I had wasted a whole day reading about a reimagined love affair with a rock star that has been dead so many years, of whom I am not even a proper fan. What is it to me? I could not find any common ground and was annoyed with myself. Only later I understood what it was. There is something about Kennealy that scares me and also touches me deeply and that is her inability to come to terms with the fact that Jim Morrison was not so much into her after some initial genuine interest yet she turned the whole thing into transcendental, immortal love, the stuff of epic romances and hangs on to this till today, several decades later. For all her claims to be independent and able to stand on her own two feet she barely manages to disguise that she was in hot pursuit of Jim Morrison, whom she must have inundated with calls and letters - pre-email days - and stalked around the country. This is something that sometimes happens to the best of women, it is a kind of addiction as bad as alcohol or smack or anything else and something that they will not admit to because admitting it is most mortifying. For Kennealy it was a very f***ed  up rock god, for other women it is a more ordinary, also f***ed up man whom they put on a pedestal and reimagine as a god, but the feelings are just the same. It is the chase for the man who is already attached and/or emotionally unavailable for a host of reasons. He may not necessarily be bad, that's why I dislike the term toxic men. It's just the wrong relationship at the wrong time with the wrong man.

Quinlan and Kilmer as Kennealy and Morrison. Courtesy: Cinematic Passions by Miranda Wilding
Had Kennealy been able to shake the ghost of Jim Morrison off her, her book could have been an amazing read about a decade that has now gone, but which meant so much, a book full of insights, witty and funny, as undoubtedly she sometimes is and can be. Unfortunately, she never did and instead 'wallowed in the mire' (Ok I do know a few Doors songs, soundtrack of my teenage years together with a few others. I was for example a great fan of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground).
 I would recommend this book to any woman  struggling to understand her need to get involved with unavailable men. As Lowe puts it "Dating an emotionally unavailable man is like climbing Everest with your flip flops". It seems to me that this is what Kennealy has attempted to do, had a near-fatal fall in the process and she is still bearing the consequences of that fall.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Love triangles

Photographer: Tony Attew. Model : me

Following my last post about the Lizard King I found myself in a Doors craze and  listened to their songs after a very longtime, as my musical tastes have greatly evolved since my teens - but yes, The Celebration of the Lizard with its haunting drums and its psychedelic lyrics is still my favourite. Just hearing it brought back so many memories! I was shopping in Sainsbury's last Sunday while listening to it through my earphones and for a moment, as Morrison intoned 'Run with me' I really did not know where I was.
Still in this Doors craze, I went online looking for some more information and stumbled on some vitriolic comments about Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. Patricia who? I remembered the film and the whole story about her and Morrison being married through a Celtic handfasting ceremony at her apartment in NYC, a ceremony that, if I recall correctly, she performed herself. That did it. I just had to read more about it and so I checked out her blog which has been dormant for two years now and of course I had to get hold of  her book, and read the various reviews/rebuttals - numerous!
Finally, the book arrived this morning. I have mixed feelings, even though I have only skimmed through it. I may have spent my money unwisely.
Photographer: Tony Attew
But hold on. She is definitely entitled to tell the story of her encounter with Jim Morrison, which apparently was a short lived affair. She calls herself his widow -  please, Ms Kennealy,  join the thousands of groupies and millions of female fans who also felt widowed when they learnt he had died, not to mention his long term girlfriend Pamela Courson who died three years after he did, also of heroin overdose, also supplied by de Breteuil. Pamela Courson inherited Jim Morrison's considerable fortune and after her death her family did, after going to court - so money figures prominently in this rather sordid story of drug abuse, death and will contestation. Ms Kennealy added Morrison to her name but there was no legally binding marriage, only a symbolic one, and one entered somewhat lightheartedly by him, at the time very stoned - at least this is how it comes across in Stone's film. Thus she did not get a penny.
I am not joining the considerable number of people who have engaged in Kennealy-Morrison bashing, and still do, after so many, many years. She comes across as an intelligent woman who desperately wants to be seen as different from other groupies, stressing that Jim Morrison loved her and perhaps he did, perhaps he did not. We were not there with her and Jim, so we can't say as the supporters of "Jim and Pam forever" do that he never felt anything for her. "Jim and Pam forever" is another fiction, anyway.  We are talking about people in the 1960s, in their twenties, who would happily have sex with each other with no sense of guilt or shame, often as a way to connect 'at a deeper level' and often after massive consumption of substances. He was a rock god, so his allure was a given. At least half of the  female population on the planet was in love with him, can you blame Patricia Kennealy for being bowled over?.
As for Jim Morrison: being in a long term (and volatile) intimate relationship with someone as a couple, does not mean that one cannot feel attracted to someone else, not just sexually, but at all levels. Whether you act on this or not is a matter of choice but I would say that for some people commitment does not rest on the idea of exclusivity and certainly in the world of rock and roll in the late 1960s the concept of exclusivity had very little currency. Nor can one say that a love affair of ten days/two weeks cannot be as true and intense as one that is carried over into a relationship of several years. To these people that believe love can be quantified and put on a scale whereby a union that lasts twenty years is evidence of greater love and thus superior to one that lasts twenty days, I ask the simple question: have you ever, really, fallen in love? I have never had a love affair with a rock star, but I know that some of the men I have deeply loved were not men I could have lived with, so we parted ways, often very early on in the relationship, but this does not mean there were no genuine feelings.
Lizard. Google images

Love triangles do exist and there is no need to regard them as shameful nor should we engage in blame finding. We live in a society that privileges monogamy and forces it as the norm. But relationships and the way people feel about each other cannot be pigeon holed that easily.
With this in mind, I can read Patricia Kennealy-Morrison's account of what being with Jim Morrison meant to her without being judgemental of her and her subsequent choices.
And to all those who maintain she ought to have moved on, I can only say this: you and I were not with the Lizard King ever so we don't know what it was like. It's an encounter that marked her for life, but it's not for any of us to pass judgement.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

I am the Lizard King, I can do anything

Photographer: Ben @Ugly/Rage Models. Model: me

I am grateful to Marianne Faithfull's desire for self-promotion as it has given me an opportunity to reassess my fascination with Jim Morrison, who was one of my teen idols, even though by the time I was a teenager he was very much dead and rock was changing into punk. Former rock chick Marianne Faithfull has an album coming out in September and to bring attention to this she could not come up with anything better than announcing that she knew who supplied the heroin overdose that apparently killed Jim Morrison - even though there has been much speculation around the issue of his death. According to Faithfull, it was her former boyfriend drug dealer Jean de Breteuil, who apparently did it.  On the basis of this 'revelation', coming forty three years after Morrison's death, with de Breteuil also conveniently dead, Faithfull has managed to get some renewed attention in the press.
I have never cared much for this woman as a musician/singer/writer, she does not do it for me at all, so perhaps I am a little biased here, starting from the position of utter indifference to her art.  As for her public persona, she has on occasion made inane comments, like the one about Kate Moss - when La Moss was going out with Pete Doherty - trying to copy her and be the new Marianne Faithfull, or that she really knew how L'Wren Scott must have felt, "it could have been me". No one can ever know what drives someone to commit suicide, thank you for your unnecessary insight, Miss Faithfull.

Photographer: Tony Attew. Model: me

But this post is not about Marianne Faithfull, it is about Jim Morrison aka The Lizard King, as he styled himself.

Jim Morrison. Google images

I know he has plenty of detractors, from people that call his poetry sophomoric - perhaps it was - and people who point out that really all he did was to fill himself with drugs and alcohol till he managed to break on through to the other side. By the time he died he was in a terrible shape, only twenty seven years old, the stuff he took had taken a toll on his body, he was bloated and overweight -  he, who had been a sex symbol for so many women, and, I am pretty sure, a lot of men too, the one man who was able to wear leather pants like no heterosexual male ever did or has since. 
What did a great disservice to Jim Morrison was Oliver Stone's film The Doors. Val Kilmer was amazing in it, he really was a very believable Jim, but the whole film is very much Stone's personal vision of who The Doors were and what they stood for.
Ray Manzarek said in an interview that Stone's' film is the anti-Doors, it "makes Jim out to be an alcoholic, drunk weirdo; a strange poet totally out of control and you never see the intellectual side of Jim Morrison. You never see the wit, the charm, the elegance. You never get a sense of the real poet. You see a crazed Jim Morrison." Manzarek knew Morrison very well , so he has a point.
But Stone's portrayal of Morrison  is not meant to be a true biography of him, it is not a documentary, it is a commentary on the second half of the 1960s which The Doors became an icon for and which Stone lived through.  The best part of the film is when Stone shows us a young Jim, living on Venice Beach in 1965, the alternative culture of the times, the nakedness, the desire for freedom and spontaneity, the fascination with Shamanism. Stone is a consummate film maker, who learnt from Scorsese, and has gone on to make excellent movies such as JFK, Natural Born Killers and more. I watched an interview with Stone in which he explains his biopic of Jim Morrison and it really helped me to put it in context. I also watched the film again on DVD late last night and whereas when I first saw it I did not like it, because it countered my very own ideas of who Jim Morrison was and what he meant to me, I was able to appreciate it.

Morrison will always be a bit of an enigma. He was an amazing performer - just listen to the various live performance albums that The Doors made and the quality of his showmanship simply hits your core. He really did give the whole of himself to performing, imagine what it must have been like to be there at one of those live events. Everyone wanted a piece of Jim Morrison, if people could have eaten him alive they would have (and metaphorically they did), there was something really visceral in those encounters between this man and the crowds.
Whenever I think of Jim Morrison I remember The Celebration of the Lizard by which I was totally obsessed when I was sixteen, I used to listen to it again and again. I guess I became fascinated with lizards and their potent alchemical symbolism following Jim's declaration he was the Lizard King!

Augrabie lizard. Google images

But when I think of The Doors, as opposed to only Jim Morrison, I always remember that  incredible film by Francis Ford Coppola which opens with The End (the link here is to footage on VIMEO), Apocalypse now (1979), whose very mention gives me goose pimples. I don't think there could have been a more appropriate choice for the anti-war film par excellence, about the horror that was Vietnam.
Finally, on a very personal note The End was the song I was playing way back on an old tape recorder, in the days when people played tapes and my then four year old, who was in the same room as me, clutching his favourite toy, suddenly said "Well he is naughty, he wants to kill his daddy but what does he want to do to his mummy?" It stopped me in my tracks, he had been listening to the lyrics. And that put me on the spot: how do you explain oedipal urges to your four year old?
I will leave you to ponder.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Guillem, Maliphant and Push

Guillem and Maliphant in Push, 2014. Photo:Johan Persson

This is not a review in the traditional sense. I am just noting down my thoughts and observations, after watching a great dance performance that deeply moved me. I saw Push on Friday, at the London Coliseum, with Russell Maliphant and Sylvie Guillem, choreographed by Maliphant. I had seen it  when it was premiered in 2005 at Sadler's Wells and at the time I was totally entranced by it. I was a little anxious about this performance, nine years later, with Maliphant now 53 years old and Guillem pushing 50. Will they be up to it, I kept thinking, remembering how physically demanding the piece had seemed to be.
 I need not have worried. They were both fantastic. It goes to show that perhaps dancers should not retire from performing as early as they usually do, still in their thirties. Of course Sylvie Guillem is not an average performer. She has a physicality that cannot be easily matched. As a ballerina she was made √©toile of the Paris Opera by Nureyev when she was only 19, an honour that was quite unprecedented. But it was not just her leg extension, her perfectly arched feet, her dazzling pirouettes that made her special - many young dancers have all that. It was her intelligent approach to dance and her expressivity that together with her physical abilities made her who she is. When she stopped dancing the classical repertoire at the end of the eighties she turned to contemporary dance, bringing to it her beautiful classical lines and a deep desire to learn and embody other ways of moving. She did however go back to classical ballet in 2011, when she performed Manon at the Scala - and it was as if she had never stopped.
Maliphant has a classical background, having trained at the Royal Ballet School but turned to contemporary dance early on in his career and soon became known as a gifted choreographer,working together with his partner lighting designer Michael Hulls to create beautifully lit pieces in which light and movement are fully integrated.

Maliphant and Guillem in Push: Photo: Johan Persson

I will not recount the story of how Guillem and Maliphant got together and how she persuaded him to perform with her. When they began working on Push he was in his early forties and had already decided that  he was done with performing. She was obviously very insistent and I am glad she was, because Push is a most beautiful piece and as a dancing couple they are perfectly matched.
It is a duet that is emotional, lyrical, sensuous and technically very demanding, incorporating movements that show their classical inspiration but also movements derived from all the forms which Maliphant has experimented with, including Tai Chi. The fact that both Guillem and Maliphant have so many years of experience as performers and, in Maliphant's case, as dance maker, brings  a beauty and a subtlety that really makes this performance last in your memory for days on. I did not want it to end and hated it when it did, I never found any part of it repetitive, as some reviewers have commented.  I found Push  multilayered and full of complexity. I  loved the technical device of blackouts, with the beginning dance phrase repeated, every time starting  with Guillem seated on Maliphant's shoulders, appearing at different corners of the stage.
With sophisticated lighting by Hull and a soulful score by Andy Cowton, Push is an amazing experience - the other three pieces are too but Push surpasses them all. Catch it while you can, Guillem has announced she will stop dancing next year, once she hits fifty and Maliphant may not be seen dancing again either. I would not want to regard Push as a swansong but it looks all set to be.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Some thoughts about the body

Me and designer Jules Hawkins in an outtake from the shoot for Lux Tenebrae. Photo: Adam Robertson

In our society, and particularly in our western culture, we do have conflicting attitudes to ageing, and  women are most affected. On one hand we are told we should aim to be ageless and look as young as possible by whatever means, often involving plastic surgery, on the other we are recognised as still being able to be productive workwise, so much so that the pensionable age for women has now been raised by several years.
We talk so much about body image and the way we look or should look, but despite the growth of the fitness industry we do not encourage, by and large, a way to engage with our bodies aiming to have  control over our corporeality, especially as we grow older. It is all to do with the way we look  rather than our being embodied.
 There are still misconceptions and much misinformation is touted about the inevitability of losing flexibility and various other body changes as we grow older. I stress the fact that 'inevitable decline' is imagined as a given. I do remember not too long ago an otherwise very good and competent dance teacher making the extraordinary claim that once women give birth they lose flexibility in their lower back, that's why professional female dancers should not have children. I was aghast. I think she was generalising about something that had affected her personally, but she had turned it into a rule maybe to feel better about it. I never found any evidence for such a claim.

The amazing Sylvie Guillem, now 49 and Russell Maliphant, 52, in Push. Photo: Johan Persson

Or worse, a claim by an acquaintance that after the age of fifty, coinciding with the menopause, it is natural for women to put on weight and there is "nothing you can do about it". She was a comfort eater, again finding a justification for her own personal relationship to food by decreeing it was something that simply occurred 'naturally' and to every woman.
I am not saying that the body does not change as we age. It obviously does. But many of the negativity associated with such changes - loss of this or loss of that - are also to do with the fact we do not take sufficient care of our bodies, we do not listen to them and we actually treat them as external objects.
Our bodies have to be exercised very regularly. We take it for granted that it is good practice to shower and brush our teeth, but we do not take it for granted that a sustained exercise programme is what our bodies need. Going to the gym once a week or going to a zumba class also once a week will not do much. We need to set aside at least twenty minutes a day for an exercise routine that involves cardio and stretching.
When my son went to Indonesia to do an advanced training in pencak silat, he joined the Panglipur school in Bandung, West Java. Pencak silat has now become better known outside Asia thanks to the films by Gareth Evans, The Raid and The Raid 2, featuring some spectacular pencak silat moves.

While my son was in Bandung I went to visit him and I was taken on a day trip in the hills to visit the famous Ibu Enni in Garut. She was about ninety at the time. I expected to meet a frail old lady and was absolutely stunned when she glided in gracefully, standing very straight and looking very tall, even though in actual fact she was quite petite. I thought for a moment I had misheard the introduction but no, she was Ibu, or mamih Enni as she was usually addressed as. After having some tea and refreshments she told the boys she wanted to see where they were at with their silat. The boys were my son, a nineteen year old at the time, standing at nearly 6'2 and quite well built, and three other Indonesian young men, also quite sturdy, who had been training since childhood. I was allowed to watch.We all went into the dojo and she started fighting one of the boys then another, then all of them together. I thought I was dreaming when I saw them being defeated by this woman who was able to lunge and jump as if it were the easiest, most natural thing in the world and who could definitely hit. I was absolutely speechless. She proceeded to teach them some moves they obviously had not mastered.

Ibu Enni is a legend in the pencak silat world, not everyone is like her, in fact she was most definitely unique - she passed away in 2011. What I am trying to say is that she was living proof that following an exercise routine  on a daily basis keeps you strong, alert and flexible. Most of all,  that what she practised was body awareness.

We need more body awareness and less body image anxiety in our contemporary world.

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!