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!

Monday, 21 July 2014

A correction

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

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

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Tokenism and being wrinkle free - a rant

Charlotte Rampling Face of NARS, 2014

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

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

Rampling 2012, Google images

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

End of rant.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

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

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

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

Article in Company

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

Thursday, 3 July 2014

On alignment

Photographer: Maya Alice Art. Model: me

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


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

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

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