Thursday, 26 February 2015

Our bodies, ourselves, our selves

Photographer: Michael Clement for BMA models. Model: myself 

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

Photographer: Michael Clement. Model: myself

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

Sunday, 15 February 2015

A crush on Beethoven

Mirror. Photographer: Oliver Morris

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

Model: me. Photographer: Michael Clement for BMA Models

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

Beethoven's statue, Bonn

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

Friday, 6 February 2015

Is age only a number? JD Williams new campaign

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

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

JD Williams #PerfectlyImperfect 2014 campaign

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