Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Sleeking in Croatia

Dubrovnik: aerial view. Google images

That's right. Sleeking is a neologism and it refers to what we do when we practice Sleek technique. A group of us is off to Croatia, Dubrovnik area, for a retreat: lots of sleeking and delicious healthy food, plenty of sunshine and a relaxed time in a wonderful historic region. Fans of the Game of Thrones have seen images of Dubrovnik many times!
Really looking forward to it, especially the sunshine, now that the usual cold and rainy weather is back in England with a vengeance.
I am taking my camera so I hope to get lots of beautiful pictures.

Meanwhile if you missed Hair Series 2 last night - you can see it on BBC iPlayer, here are some pictures from the freestyle competition where I was Phil's model and was turned into Miss Havesham, The Jilted Bride (all you Dickens' fans will recognise her at once). I am so pleased Phil managed to secure third place and thus is carrying on to the next round. It's getting very competitive now, but that's what it's all about.

Phil, me and Alain Pichon
I loved the very long plait, Phil  added extensions to make my hair fall to my ankles. I have kept some of that hair but have not used it yet, my own keeps me busy enough.
I am taking a break from blogging till I come back next week.
Bye for now!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Being ladylike: Englishness, class and elegance

Nicole Kidman in The Portrait of a Lady. Source: Film Costumes 

I watched with great interest and relish the programme aired on BBC4 last night How to be a Lady: an elegant history - I am not sure everyone can view this on iPlayer, it depends on whether you can access BBC from wherever you are.
It was presented by Rachel Johnson who also writes for that rather old fashioned English magazine called The Lady, one which  people buy because of its classifieds, when they are looking for a nanny or  an au pair (or when they are searching for such a position).
Johnson is witty and rather stylish and elegant, in a non-conventional way. It seems her husband thinks she is not very ladylike, I beg to differ.
I was intrigued by the various definitions of elegance and class and being ladylike that were proffered  throughout the programme and how these were connected with 'being an English lady', with a Victorian stamp. Ah, Englishness.
All rather dubious, I would say. Apparently some people make good business out of this 'English ladyhood' and teach young girls from well to do families in the Middle East how to be elegant and classy the English way - how to be a lady -  charging an inordinate amount of money for the privilege.

Photographer: Mol Smith. Model: me

I am not sure the English can really claim to be inherently or specially elegant, not really, nor are 'ladies' and ladylike behaviour necessarily English.  The French would readily contest that and not without justification. The English can claim to be, well, English, extremely burdened by a rather antiquated, everlasting and quaint class system, with all its niceties and complexities.
But the woman interviewed by Johnson who stated that she, as an upper class English woman, oozed class and sold it to the Arabs, who have no class, but lots of money, struck me as making a gaffe which would definitely not turn her into that paragon of elegance she believed herself to be.
There is some truth in the observation, put forward now and again throughout the programme,  that people, especially the young, nowadays have no concern whatsoever for manners and far too many people do not seem to know how to be a dinner guest.  In fairness it has to be said they are not taught and rudeness is catching. When I was in Florence recently it was remarked how discourteous I was when asking for directions in a gallery without beginning my question with  'Buongiorno'. People don't say so in London, at best they will say 'hi' and I seem to have picked up a bad habit, that turned me into a rather rude customer.

Being ladylike 1950s style. Model: me

When I last went to Paris I made sure everything I said was prefaced with 'Bonjour', better be safe than sorry.  It meant people listened to me without putting on a very bored look.
I loved the end of the programme, when feminist writer Bidisha comments on reclaiming the term 'lady', as a way of bringing a kind of formality and elegance back into a culture (our current popular culture) which is really quite vulgar. A reinvention of the lady beyond the narrowness of earlier definitions and certainly beyond the crassness of it being a money making device, as asserted by the earlier interviewee. A reclamation of ladyhood not weighed down by class and privilege, with the lady being empowered and strong, "a brilliant, strong, sisterly woman".
I was so enthused by this, I got in touch with Bidisha to ask her more about her contribution to the documentary and this is what she wrote back:
"I wanted to add that  a lady could also be a sort of femme fatale/ film noir conception: a woman who's always got a witty comeback, has great dignity and self-possession, is fearless and morally elegant and carries a little and effective (metaphorical) gun in her purse." Yes! This is the lady and the ladylike behaviour of the 21st century. Thanks Bidisha for this wonderful comment!
Johnson is not wholly convinced by the entire business of "going backwards to gloves and tiaras" to reclaim ladyhood and thinks that the fact we are living in more austere times, with greater competitiveness may be the reason why the added polish bestowed by training in good manners and behaviour could be an asset in the job market. She concludes by saying that it is definitely  a matter of training, and that  "if a middle class girl from Berkshire can become a princess, anyone can become a lady".
I can't possibly disagree, especially if the lady one would aspire to be is, as Bidisha says, an elegant femme fatale, witty, self-possessed, dignified and with that little gun on the ready.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The problem with Candy Law: infantilising women

Candy Law. Google images

The problem with Candy Law is not Candy Law herself, let me be very clear about this. She is a beautiful woman, a former model and beauty queen from Hong Kong,  despite the non-Chinese sounding name. Candy Law has released a new photo book with glamorous images of herself, perhaps a little retouched,  and this has turned out to be very,very popular, with over 3,000 copies sold on the day it was released.
No. The problem is the way this is being reported. Candy Law is fifty but she has been dubbed 'the fifty year old who looks sixteen'. I find it disturbing, and not at all  complimentary. She does not look sixteen simply because she is not. She looks of an undefinable age, thanks to 'work' (of course she has had it), artful photoshopping and natural good looks. And why would she want to look sixteen? Why would we want to believe she is sixteen or like a sixteen year old?
I noticed that when Elle MacPherson was admired for her trim body a couple of weeks ago no one tried to infantilise her, claiming she looked sixteen. I do not even think Elle MacPherson would have allowed it. After all, in her interview with The Telegraph she said, very clearly, that women want to look good, not young. Totally agree.

Elle MacPherson in 2005

But when it comes to Asian women, this kind of infantilisation is rampant. It is not just the western media that does it, in many Asian cultures the beauty ideal for women remains that of a teen girl, as pale as possible, as thin as possible - athletic bodies are not really appreciated. Arms in particular should be very slender.
In Japan the fashion of adult women dressing like little girls has been very popular and there is something quite jarring about it. It is part of the kawaii aesthetics of being childlike and demure.
Yet there is, in Asia,  a growing population of older men and women.
How can being sixteen continue to be offered as an ideal, in the circumstances?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Trigger warnings and censorship

Eugene Delacroix. The Death of Sardanapalus. Google images. 
(Should this come with a 'trigger warning'? )

I don't get this 'trigger warning' thing. The Columbia University students who claim they should be protected from learning about the rapes of Greek mythology - excuse me, university students, not kindergarten children, hopefully all over 18 - strikes me as absolutely ridiculous. 'Trigger warning'  is  a close relative of  censorship. I do not support a nanny state. I do not believe someone knows better than me what I should know about. I am an adult.
I certainly do not relish accounts of horrific rapes and beheadings. Greek mythology and Biblical stories aside, when they do happen in real life, repulsed though I may be,  I do want to know about them and I want to know that there are some people capable of such horrors and that they should be punished.
I am also very concerned that one of the latest endorsements of 'trigger warning' was in connection with a horrendous story  of a vulnerable adult woman, from Winchester,  raped by a thug - how else would you describe him ?- who used a shampoo bottle for his assault. The bottle  was then lodged in her insides causing her  tremendous pain. Eventually she died because of the internal injuries. This whole incident and the way it was reported provided the advocates of 'trigger warning' with an opportunity to clamour that it should have been more thoughtfully discussed, giving ample warnings of its gruesomeness and  omitting some details.
I do not remember any such clamouring on the occasion of the bus gang rape of the young woman in Delhi in 2012 whose intestines were pulled out by her rapists. She too died following the internal injuries caused by  this horrific assault. This incident sparked worldwide protests but the details about the case were discussed at great length. Yet no one  protested that a 'trigger warning' should have been put in place. I cannot help feeling this was because the young woman was not Caucasian. Why this discrepancy? Is there a difference between 'white ' pain and 'non-white' pain?
I also believe that 'trigger warning' would actually protect the crime perpetrators. I am an adult and I want to know what they have done. I do not want to be wrapped up in cotton wool. The moment you start putting warnings all over the place it is the beginning of censorship. No, thank you. A headline is enough  warning. You need not read the article if you do not wish to know. But do not ask for information to be omitted. Because this is what 'trigger warning' would end up being, with 'sensitive' content being withdrawn. And who will be deciding on what constitutes 'sensitive' content?
In conclusion no, I do not support any kind of 'trigger warning'. I can make up my own mind, thank you.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Wearing a bikini after the age of fifty

Image: Flynet

The Body aka Elle Macpherson is in the news for wearing a bikini at the age of 51. Well, what else would  you expect Macpherson to wear while holidaying on a yacht? I am surprised she is not naked. Oh, but she is 51, she should not wear a bikini. Really? Should'nt she? Elle Macpherson is over 6 foot tall and has some of the longest legs in the modelling business (legs do not get shorter as you age, not normally). She launched her own bikini and lingerie line a few years ago. As a former supermodel and  now a business woman working in fashion she would be a fool to neglect her body and not appear fit enough to wear her own designs. Even at the age of 51.
Bond girl Monica Bellucci, aged 50, wears a bikini and she too looks amazing.

 Monica Bellucci reblogged from here

And what is it with this 'bikini age' anyway?
I am personally not a great fan of bikinis. I prefer one piece swimming suits or nothing at all because I really love swimming and bikinis are not ideal for that. They are fine however for sunbathing and walking on the shore, which is great for your legs , especially the ankles.

Photographer: Adam Robertson. Model: me. Designer: Lux Tenebrae

Last week I was (yet again) asked to contribute to a radio programme, BBC Tees Mike Parry show, and the question I was asked was whether there was an age when women should stop wearing a bikini. Certainly not.
We can wear whatever we like and whatever we feel comfortable in at any age, that's the bottom line. If I want to wear a bikini I will wear it,  who says I cannot, just because I am over fifty? I am very comfortable with my body.
The French in this respect have a very healthy attitude. French women do not have any problem about being themselves and wearing, most gracefully, whatever they want.  The French motto seems to be 'everything in moderation'. I have adopted it, it is a good standard to apply in most situations.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

BB, passion and fur

Bardot at a press conference for Le Mepris 1963. Reblogged from Fabien J. Roussel's Pinterest

It has been widely reported that  Madame Brigitte Bardot has written a letter to Monsieur Karl Lagerfeld's pet cat, whom he adores, to protest over the use of animal fur in the Fendi new collection, which he owns.
Madame Bardot is absolutely right in her condemnation. I have worn fur but I do not own any, I find it somewhat repulsive. I am personally not a great animal lover and I do not own any pet, nor do I want to,  but this does not mean I endorse cruelty to animals, absolutely not. If you were childless, would you endorse cruelty to children? That's what I mean.
La Bardot or BB is an enigma to me. The sexiest woman of the 20th century, she was - still is - very classy, in a  uniquely French way. She became a farmer and showed her disdain for age masking routines - no botox or cosmetic surgery for Madame Bardot, she happily wears her lines with great dignity and panache and she does not give a f... about dieting, not at 80 plus. Many people would say that she has aged badly, thanks to all the smoking and drinking she indulged in. I do not concur. She has aged with passion. We all age, but not many of us are able to age with passion.

Bardot at 80. Photo: Le Parisien, AFP/Eric Feferberg

Passion is very much part of Madame Bardot's life - not only is she passionate about protecting animals, she is also passionately in love with a neo-nazi, Monsieur Le Pen, whose anti- immigration views she supports. There is more than a touch of Vieille France in her, no doubt, and I imagine she wears Rochas as a perfume, as that is very Vieille France.
Being in love with the wrong man is something that unfortunately happens to the best of women - I too have been down that path. Nevertheless, though I do not share Madame Bardot's Le Pen -induced fascism, I do admire her for living her life so passionately, an emotion  and a state of mind one  never associates with older people, who are supposed to be totally devoid of it and so utterly boring. But boring Madame Bardot cannot and will never be.

Bardot , image  reblogged from smokeonsunsetblvd

Watch La Bardot in her early movies and swoon. A fine actress she was too, and had a way of holding herself which belied the years of classical dance training. Watch her in Le Mepris by Jean- Luc Godard: she is the embodiment of sensuality. She just is. I believe Venus chose to be born amongst us mortals as BB. She was never beautiful in a classical way. But she was striking and very, very sexy. Second to none and très chic.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Being a 'sleeker'

Photo of me by Mark Chilvers for The Guardian. 

I am absolutely thrilled that the conversation I had with fashion editor Morwenna Ferrier of The Guardian online has now been published as an article - I am truly grateful to Grey Model Agency, which I recently joined, for putting me in touch with Morwenna and to Morwenna for reshaping my 'ramblings'.
Magazine articles have to be of a certain number of words, so inevitably a few things are edited out of contributions and the prose tightened as the style has to conform to that of the publication. Editors do have a most difficult job, I am always amazed at how, after their intervention, copy is transformed into something readable.
One of the things I wanted to talk about a little more in the piece was the fitness programme I follow because it has been extremely effective, with the result that  people are forever asking me about what I do to keep in shape.  My brief for the article was to discuss modelling, so I was only able to mention the programme in passing.  However, to quote a fellow 'co-sleeker'  "the girls too deserve the accolade for being so fabulous".  Absolutely. Who are the girls? One moment please, let me begin again.

Victoria and Flik of Sleek Technique

Since April 2014 I have been a 'sleeker'. Sleek is a fitness programme based on ballet and involving barre, cardio and mat-work. It is the brainchild of Victoria Marr, former principal dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet, and Flik Swan who also trained, like Victoria, at the Royal Ballet School and then became a successful dancer in the West End - she was recently Lily James' dance double in the film Cinderella by Kenneth Branagh. The Sleek programme consists of  live classes which one can attend through videoconferencing and streaming workouts. You can read all about Sleek on the Sleek website and hear  how Sleek came about through this YouTube video.
I absolutely love it. Before 'sleeking' I used to go to dance and yoga classes and also to the gym. Now I sleek everyday at home - I have invested in a barre and though I still go to the odd dance class, simply because I love dancing (only two days ago I tried Voguing), sleek is the perfect fitness programme, and it has enabled me to save much time. The videoconferencing works very well and the teachers are able to see the participants and give corrections individually.

Yoga in the park. Photographer: Terry Lee-Shield. Model: me

When I used to go to the gym, I worked with a personal trainer once a week and followed a set gym routine in between sessions with the trainer, as well as making time for yoga and pilates. It was fine,  but it meant that I always had to budget time in my schedule for the gym and take that into account when planning my day. With Sleek I can join a live online class in the morning and/or in the evening at home or do a streaming workout in my own time and it is all over within 30 to 45 minutes (depending on the class), after which I can immediately shower and get ready without having to negotiate bus and tube times. Sleek is a complete workout in itself and there is no need to supplement it with pilates and/or yoga. It can be complemented by other classes/techniques, but it is optional as  it is totally effective on its own.
Take dance classes, for example. They are fantastic but they are not enough for fitness, because the emphasis in a dance class is on learning the dance technique. As an older woman who also models I need to pay attention to my body and stretch it and flex it without forcing it into anything, to avoid injuries.
Since I started sleeking my core has strengthened, my balance has improved  and to me that is very important.

Photographer: Pete Muller. Model: me

I would follow a fitness programme regardless of modelling. I used to work out even in my pre-modelling days and no doubt I will do so post-modelling too, when I decide to change career once again - I go with the flow.
Whenever I try to explain why I pay attention to fitness not everyone gets it. It's nothing to do with looks, it is to do with how I feel in my body. The body needs to be exercised, just as it needs to be nourished and kept clean. Most of all the  exercise has to be regular. I am sure everyone can spare thirty minutes everyday for this?

Sunday, 5 July 2015

More on decluttering: the KonMari method

with my "daughter". Photographer: Peter Kindersley. Corbis shoot

I began my decluttering project a few weeks ago, following a bout of cleaning - I wrote about it in an earlier post. I got frustrated with the fact I could never find anything and began with my kitchen's cupboards, chucking away things that were no longer needed - broken teapots, saucepans I never use and which looked quite battered etc. This means that I will soon be doing some shopping!
After doing all this tidying on my own a bit at random, I realised I needed a method and  began reading about  decluttering. This way I discovered the book by Marie Kondo  The life changing magic of tidying up and her system, which she calls the KonMari method, after her nickname. Marie Kondo's book is now a best seller and it has been reviewed and discussed aplenty.
I have really enjoyed reading it, it gives tidying a completely new dimension. Putting one's house in order, as Kondo calls it,  becomes a mirror, a reflection, of examining one's thoughts and feelings. Getting rid of unwanted stuff makes you more aware of what else should go from your life,  relationships you have outgrown, habits that no longer suit you  but primarily the fear of not being able to do without something (or someone). In that sense it is liberating.

Photographer: Martin Robinson. Model: me

I cannot and do not wish to follow the KonMari method to the letter, I do not always agree with her,  but the principles of it are very sound, very Zen, thus I am applying my own version of the method, making it my own. The two main criteria applied by Marie Kondo are:
 1) one should keep only what gives one pleasure and chuck everything else out (recycle, throw into the dustbin, give away etc) and
 2)  it should be done all in one go rather than little by little. The 'all in one go' for me has some elasticity - I have set myself a deadline and aim to complete my tidying within a relatively short time but there are days when I need to have a break  and I cannot do it.  It's not that I live in a mansion, but my books and papers are most difficult to sort. Even by applying the KonMari method by which books should be removed from shelves and held one by one in one's hands while asking oneself whether the book, read or unread, gives one pleasure, in my case I have to be sure that when doing it I do not have to rush out soon after for a shoot or a casting because many of my books are dusty due to my, er, lack of cleaning the book shelves. So handling them means I need to go for a shower after I complete the selection as I am covered in dust from top to bottom.

Photographer: Michael Culhane

And also, as someone who used to be engaged in academic research for many years, I have a bit of an archivist mindset, valuing books for their historical content and being acutely aware of the importance of rare publications in particular fields. I have for example a collection of xeroxes from books only available in specialist libraries. I know I no longer read them, certainly not for pleasure, but deciding whether to part with them needs some soul searching.
And with papers one has to be careful.  The other day I got carried away and threw a file containing my original divorce certificate only to go and rescue it half an hour later realising that to get a duplicate would be a pain. It did not give me any pleasure to hold it in my hands, just as holding my passport made me feel for some reason a bit irritable but, hey, these papers have to be kept.

I would live here! Florence, one of my favourite cities. Own photo taken on recent trip

What I like about this "putting one's house in order"  is precisely that inner dialogue and introspection it engenders. The thrill of finding things I had forgotten about, the thrill of finding old photos and then the constant questioning - do I still want it? does it give me pleasure to keep it? why do I cherish it ? And every time having to confront the irrational fear that by throwing away the tools that gave me knowledge - books and papers - I would lose that knowledge. Or the discomfort of  throwing away photos and letters from people I deeply loved,  that love still being part of me, as if  the physical manifestation of it as contained in the letter or photo were the magical tool that keeps it alive. But we all know it is not, so the mementos can go.
I came across journals I wrote at times of great distress. I glanced at them and threw them away gladly, I don't want to be reminded of that unpleasantness. It  was probably a mistake, because I love writing stories and those journals could have given me material for one,  I know that many writers keep journals to help them with their writing.
But I followed KonMari. Holding those notebooks made me shudder, so they had to go.
Today I plan to tackle my sewing kit(s) - I have a sewing machine and I occasionally use it. I bought some cute little plastic containers and can't wait to rearrange my threads and needles.
Then I shall stop tidying and head with a friend to the British Museum, where there is an amazing exhibition about Indigenous Australia, which I really want to catch.
Tidying up can be emotionally taxing.