Friday, 18 April 2014

Women telling other women how to age

In this issue I am an ageing punk, with  Alexa Taylor. Photographer: Karolina Amberville

We are witnessing some very interesting developments. The market has become aware of the presence of the grey pound (or grey dollar, euro...substitute the currency) and there is a frenzy of events for and about older women. This is in addition to blogs that tell us what to wear, magazine spreads where stylists feel a little more adventurous and drape older bodies with more vibrant colours, columns in newspapers and magazines meant to reassure us that ageing is not bad, and a plethora of self help books that will advise on how to age. I am particularly impressed with this burgeoning self help category, the 'how to age' which tends to be written by women for other women. Apparently, we have to be told how to do it properly.
It's very much on trend. I picked up one of such books recently and read it in under ten minutes. Seven chapters, for which I had to pay a fiver, that told me the following:

1. ageing is a natural process - really? I never knew, you must be kidding me, how can that be?
2.  ageing is irreversible -OMG, you mean, I really cannot go back in time and be a teen forever?How's that?
3. ageing is a state of mind, you are the age you feel - ok, so if ageing is a natural process how come it is a state of mind? Also, there is the small matter that the mind is in the body, the two are not separate, so you may feel what you wish, but your body is still the age it is. I have never seen a disembodied mind, have you?
4. don't bother with botox, creams and potions, your skin will continue to age. I have never been interested in botox so yes, I agree with the author here. But I am not averse to using a moisturiser. It will not erase my wrinkles, but it will give moisture to my skin, something my skin really needs, just as my body needs water regularly. Try to go without water- you will end up dehydrated.
5. don't bother to exercise to keep your body young, it will continue to grow old. Nooo, really? and I thought that by building up muscles I would look like a twenty something. Actually doing weights keeps you healthy and strong. I don't want to fear going down the stairs, in case I fall and break some bone. I want to be able to fall and get up. Is that too ambitious?

Photographer: Apar Singh

And so on and so forth. What I am trying to say is that this book did not tell me anything I did not know already and in addition, its author made some dubious statements. Take,for example, the advice on exercise. It is obvious that exercise does not make you young or younger, it just makes you fitter, it is something that your body needs, no matter what age, and it gives a feel good factor.
I love swimming and I love dance and recently, for the fun of it, went back to ballet class, which I had not done in a long time. I am painfully aware I am not as fast as I was when I did it in younger years, my pirouettes are rubbish, my balance needs serious improving, I am no longer sylph like, and even though I keep reminding myself that Margot Fonteyn still danced Aurora in her forties, so maybe there is some hope, I also know she was absolutely exceptional and very sylph like and elegant.
But my posture benefits from it, I become aware of my alignment. I may never strengthen my ankles enough to be able to wear point shoes and walk away from the bar, but this does not mean I should give up practising. Ballet is a fun thing to do, even at ninety. As a hobby, of course. Professional dancing is a different matter altogether.
We all know that ageing is part of living and that it is not an easy process, do we really need someone to profit from whatever insecurity we may feel to tell us what we already know?

Photographer: Apar Singh

Photos unless otherwise stated modelled by Alex B.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Queen Anne of Denmark , Somersert House and Fashion Week

Me as Queen Anne. Photographer: David Ho for Art Macabre

Somerset House is a very grand neoclassical building originally built in Tudor times, located in the Strand, next to King’s College, with parts of the House used by the College during term time - lucky King's students, being tutored in such beautiful surroundings! Managed by the Somerset House Trust, it is currently the home of the Courtauld Art Gallery and the Courtauld Institute of Art, both of international renown, with an impressive collection of Impressionist masterpieces.
Twice a year Somerset House hosts a major event which attracts international press and media coverage and the attendance of several celebrities: London Fashion Week.
During the two bi-annual Fashion Weeks, Somerset House turns into a stage for extravagant catwalk shows, business meetings and cocktail parties where some of the most stunning creations by established British designers, as also by upcoming talent, can be seen.  It is a celebration of the female body as wearer of clothes, which is what fashion is about (or should be) - I know there are also shows with male models, but fashion is, by and large, still inflected in the feminine.

A drawing made at the art Macabre event. Photo: David Ho

This is a serendipitously fitting development in the history of Somerset House.  Back in the 17th century, Somerset House was known as Denmark House and was the residence of the Danish born Queen Anne of Denmark, the Queen Consort of King James VI. 
Queen Anne was known for the lavish masques, performances  with dance and music, that she hosted at Denmark House, in which she performed herself, sometimes in costumes that would cause some talk, as when she wore too short a tunic, for example. On another occasion the Venice Ambassador wrote that she was naked 'to the pit of her stomach' and even more scandalously, she took the role of Queen of Sheba, also semi-naked,  in the Masque of Blackness, in which she and her ladies-in-waiting had blackened faces as to look like African women. No, political correctness obviously did not exist in the 17th century.
Photographer: David Ho for Art Macabre

I had the opportunity of playing the role of Queen Anne at a life modelling event at Somerset House put on by Art Macabre. I was mostly nude, as one is for life modelling, but I wore an elaborate collar and my hair was coiffed in the style of Queen Anne - I have loads of hair, so it was not too difficult to raise it high without extensions. 
As I read a little about Queen Anne, whom historians have not written about kindly, regarding her as a very frivolous woman - how wrong, as she was a patron of the arts and responsible for putting on performances by women at a time when women were not allowed to be on stage - I could not help thinking that if she were to come back today and witness one of the Fashion Week shows she'd probably be more than delighted. Who knows, she might want to model herself, as she loved being on stage! 
I don't know whether the fact that Somerset House had staged some of the best known Jacobean masques had any bearing on it becoming the home to Fashion Week - probably not -  but somehow I could not help connecting the two. 
Maybe at the next Fashion Week we will see the revival of a masque? or a revival of 17th century dress? 

I have written a post for the HuffPost following a series of articles and TV programmes about older life models. You can access it here