Sunday, 27 March 2016

Two posts in one: token interpretations and cynicism for profit

Photographer: Bob Adams, 2009 Model: me
For some time now consumers have shown some impatience with the current beauty standards endorsed by the fashion and beauty industry, denouncing them as being unrealistic and based  on aesthetic predilections reflecting specific cultural preferences. They have demanded greater inclusion in the way they are represented in both fashion and advertising. So far so good.
As a result of such critiques there has been a response from those industries, reassuring consumers that such questions concerning who their products are aimed at are being taken very seriously, with an impact on marketing strategies. 
Gradually, companies have come to a point where they almost seem to vie with each other to demonstrate how enlightened and aware of the ‘diversity issue’ they truly are in their marketing campaigns.  The resulting number of initiatives promoting ‘diversity’ is considerable.  
But ...
I cannot help feeling that it is all still somewhat tokenistic and ultimately aimed at increasing profits at the expense of the 'diverse' consumers (no pun intended). It is as if ‘diversity’ were itself a fashion, thus every fashion house and every clothes manufacturing company is nodding its metaphorical head, saying  “yes, our clothes are meant for diverse customers. We are inclusive. Do go out and buy, you shall find what you seek”.
Photographer: Suzy Conway, 2011
This greater acceptance of ‘diversity’ in fashion seems to be accompanied by a burning desire to pigeon hole, slot everyone into a neat box and category and make as much money as possible out of it. 
Disabled? Don’t worry: we have fashion for disabled people. Muslim? But of course, we have hijab fashion for Muslims. Fuller figure? Ta-da, we have plus-size fashion. Under 20? Teen fashion. Over 50 and above? Oh yes, we have ‘timeless’ fashion, for the ‘timeless’ consumer.
The point is  that diversity and inclusion in fashion, as in other cultural arenas, are a lot more than  a collection of neat boxes into which consumers can be slotted.  What about  concern for the way clothes are made, by whom and for whom? Respecting diversity goes hand in hand  with a non-exploitative fashion aimed at people who are not willing to be pigeon-holed and whose diversity is accepted as the norm, rather than as a deviation from the norm. Clothes aimed at individuals, rather than age groups, or specific groupings and categories.

Photographer: Ashley Cameron , 2010
These categories are transient. I am able bodied today, I may have a terrible accident tomorrow and find myself in a wheelchair, but I will still want to be able to wear what suits me as an individual, not what suits me as a disabled person. Moreover, I don’t want to buy something that is made of material that pollutes our planet or is made by women and children who are paid a pittance.
There is a disparity that underpins all this ‘fashionable’ interpretation of diversity and which is not at all inclusive: there are many women and men bypassed by fashion. They are those who make the clothes, for a fashion industry which addresses itself to someone who, like me, probably (but not exclusively, as there is a global growing middle class) lives in a developed country and has some consumable income.
Diversity and inclusion in fashion, in other words, go hand in hand with an acceptance and respect of diversity and inclusion in all areas of life, with a significant bearing on economic and social issues.

All of the above brings me to an issue that has been troubling me for some time. It really is a separate post but I have decided to write two posts in one - it's Easter and tomorrow it's a Bank Holiday (that's my excuse).
I happened to watch - a year later, I admit it - a documentary shown on Channel 4 entitled Plus sized wars. I found it quite shocking that for the sake of profit, obesity should be encouraged by brands.  You may have an extremely pretty face and a sense of style but if you are 5'4 and a size 24 that means there is something wrong with you, you carry such excess weight that it will definitely affect your health and the quality of your life. Yes, you will say, but I too want to be able to wear nice clothes. And in come the brands offering you clothes in your very large size and claiming 'you too can be stylish, obesity is OK'.  Something is terribly wrong with this logic, underpinned by the notion that profits will receive a boost.
Photographer: Darren Porter, 2010
I have met several women who are beautiful and larger than average. Some of these women chose to shed some weight when they realised that it was affecting their mobility and health. 
It is dismaying  that the average British woman is only 5'3 inches tall and weighs 11 stones (71.2 kg). Something has gone haywire: being very overweight is AS wrong AS being severely underweight. 
We eat badly, far too much junk food is consumed and in huge quantities too. People do not exercise  enough or if they do, they exercise badly.
The myth that you can be 'fat and fit' has been shattered. There is plenty of medical reports confirming that obesity is bad for you and an obese person is at risk, if not immediately, certainly later in life.
I don't advocate extreme thinness nor do I support morbid obesity. Is moderation really an old fashioned notion?

I am celebrating ten years of modelling, so this post has a range of photos taken over the past ten years. I shall post more. Happy Easter!

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Selfies, selfies, selfies

Model: me  Photographer: Evelyn Yang. Styling: Emma Bowman

I was on a train the other day en route to some friends living in "darkest Oxfordshire" as they refer to the lovely village  they have moved to after living in London for decades.  The journey was not very long but knowing how haphazard British trains can be time wise I thought this gave me a good excuse  to stock up on magazines to read. If we get stuck, I thought, I will have some entertainment.
I confess, I love women's magazines, they truly are my weakness. I have always read them with immense interest, from cover to cover, taking it all in. I love the glossies like Vogue and Harper's and Bazaar but also love the ones full of juicy gossip, and I adore dear, good old (and old fashioned) Cosmo, once so terribly naughty, now so terribly silly.
When I was a teenager whatever I read in the Magazines was Gospel. Once I came across a news item about Twiggy's boyfriend manager  putting her on a lettuce diet for a week so that she would lose the two or three pounds she had allowed herself to gain - shock horror, how could Twiggy gain weight? Was she human? I was fifteen or sixteen at the time.  I remember showing that to my mum and declaring  I too wanted to live off lettuce for a week to lose weight. She had other ideas and from then on monitored my food intake very regularly. Eventually she scared me off not eating by telling me that my growth would be stunted. I did not like the sound of that, so I agreed to eat. But I digress.
Now I still relish reading the magazines (note the shift from capital M to lower case).  They are my guilty pleasure - but I know better than taking it all in uncritically.

Model: me. Photographer: Evelyn Yang. Styling: Emma Bowman
And so it was that I came across an article about 'selfie esteem'. In Cosmo April 2016, 'only £1'. Basically it boils down to this: women are spending an inordinate amount of time and putting on an inordinate amount of make up to take selfies that are 'selfie worthy'  to display  on Instagram or Facebook. Is it good ? Is it bad?  REALLY?

Selfie with fellow model Nicola Griffin 
Hold on. I take selfies all the time. When I model, to have a record of the shoot behind the scenes - and am not so good at doing that, half the time I forget. When (one of) my agency asks me to send a 'polaroid' (I love that old fashioned term, who takes polaroids these days?) for a client that has requested me for a modelling job - no make up is mandatory. Sometimes I take a selfie on the spur of the moment. I never spend ANY time making myself up for it.
So honestly, I do not understand this trend for selfie make up. But apparently it is BIG.
Maybe this is why I have only a few followers on my Instagram account...

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Intermittent fasting: a healthy practice?

I have always been a very healthy person but recently I have been having digestion problems and felt incredibly sluggish and bloated. I am checking out whether it could be connected with the  thyroid .
But while waiting for blood test results I also started looking around for a solution, maybe a change in diet is what is needed? And thus it is that I came across a range of diets lumped together under the label 'intermittent fasting'.
We all know what fasting is: going without food and water, or only water, or only juice for a certain number of hours, usually ranging from 24 to more. It is a very ancient practice and it is often done for religious reasons or to detox.
An occasional fast is very good for your body. I know that because  I have fasted for two and a half days on water only. I felt reinvigorated afterwards even though I confess it was not easy.
Intermittent fasting works on the principle that it takes a minimum of 12 hours for the body to begin to burn glycogen - and some people thanks to their continuous snacking never manage it. It also explodes the myth that breakfast is good for you - I knew that already because I rarely have breakfast as soon as I rise.

You can practise intermittent fasting in different ways.  The pattern  that most appeals to me (and which I realised I had been practising on and off throughout my life) is the 16/8 one: you leave a gap of minimum 12 to 16 hours between your last meal and the next and then you eat normally during a window of eight hours. While fasting you can have water and even coffee or tea - I like ginger and lemon tea. During the eight hours you eat but you do not gorge on countless cakes and pizzas and junk food, just have one normal big meal, making sure to eat proteins.
It is manageable and it helps you to rethink your relationship with  food. It also helps you to eliminate all excesses and at the same time it does not interfere with your social life, as you can change when you have the eight hour window. You also do not have to 'fast' everyday. And you can continue to exercise and do all the regular things you do, you are only delaying your next meal, not starving yourself!
I have not done it for long enough to be able to report any significant weight loss - not my aim anyway - but already it has given me a sense of relief in managing my digestion.
Like for everything else, there are those who swear by it and those who find it impossible. Then there are those who complain of weight gain because probably during the eight hour window they eat everything in sight.
I suggest you research it and then try it to see if it suits you. Just google 'intermittent fasting'. There is also a FB page. If you decide to give it a go, let me know how it goes.

(photos from a fashion shoot at Stratton Hotel, Swaffham, with model Nick Collis)

Monday, 14 March 2016

Inspiration and body envy

A photo of bodybuilder Ernestine Shepherd at the age of 74 - she is now 77 - shown next to a contemporary of hers, who is obviously not an athlete, has been shared on FB and it has caused many negative comments, far too many for my liking.  I am honestly bewildered. I find it quite unbelievable that people should lash out this way.
I am guilty of sharing the photo and so far no one has left a negative comment on my page. Ms Shepherd is an athlete. That puts her in a very different category - she competes and looks after her body in a very particular way, in order to be able to compete.
The reason why I find her inspirational - rather than aspirational - is that we are constantly bombarded with images of old people shown as frail and in need of help - indeed far too many are like that, they may be very ill and illness always takes its toll. But it is also true that a great many of them are not so helpless.

Seeing someone like Ernestine makes you realise that if you want to - it is a choice - if you put yourselves through the paces, you can devote yourself to a competitive sport, regardless of your age. Of course it is easier if you are young, but age will not necessarily hold you back. All you need is determination and the patience to go through a gruelling routine.
Not for everyone, I readily concede. Not everyone is an athlete and not everyone wishes to be. Not everyone wishes to be a body builder - I don't.  But it is good to know that if you want to, you can do it, no matter how old you are - Ernestine Shepherd began at the age of 50. To me this is a fundamentally positive message.
I like seeing such photos because they motivate me. When I read about Ernestine Shepherd, I feel motivated to persevere with my own work out routine. It will pay off, when I get to a very old age, a real old age (if I do!).
It is so easy to give up - choosing to train regularly is quite hard. And no, it is not vanity. I have read so many comments written under that photo, talking about vain people that focus on their body and think of nothing else. That is so judgmental! I think much of this backlash  is rooted in  a very misplaced envy.

From a recent article in Woman & Home, April 2016 issue 

I don't want Ernestine's body or life. I am happy with mine. I know I can improve my flexibility and strength and am working on it, I don't want to give up, because "after 50 your upper arms lose tone so you have no choice but hide them and you just have to tolerate a stiff back." I am not happy with such defeatist attitudes. Seeing Ernestine Shepherd helps me to stay on track and feel good about my own body, its ability to regenerate itself, and my workouts.
(I follow Sleektechnique and no, I have not been paid to endorse them!)

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Who wants grey hair?

Behind the scenes at Hunger magazine

I was really looking forward to the BBC Newsnight newsitem  about grey hair with Cambridge Professor of Classics Mary Beard on Wednesday 2nd and also to the BBC Radio 4 Glad to be Grey aired on Friday 4th march.  I love Mary Beard, and admire her erudition and wit. But I did not like the TV programme at all - and no ,the fleeting appearance by Caryn Franklin sporting her beautiful white streak  did not help.

Not even once the possibility that grey hair could be glamorous  was prospected except perhaps when Franklin talked about her own daughter wanting a distinctive streak, nor (and most importantly) that it could be regarded as just a colour . It was the kind of programme that made grey look absolutely hideous and made you want to reach for the nearest bottle and colour your grey hair at once. Grey is ageing, grey spells out decrepitude, you have to accept  that being old is what it is, we all look haggard in old age. Oh my, what a negative message. Talk about homogenising views of getting older!  Of course there was a fleeting image of - who else? - Dame Helen Mirren who epitomises ageless glamour according to TV and magazines and whose  hair looked more blonde  than grey - or was it my TV monitor? Mind you, I recently changed it for a Samsung, so it is not a bad one.
I was stunned that Kirsty Wark was asked to wear that most horrible, badly fitted, cheap, grey hair wig and walk around trying to be grey for a day. Honestly!
Better research would have made the programme infinitely more instructive and more interesting. We don't want to be lectured on the matter of grey hair, Professor Beard is more at home and more wonderfully entertaining when discussing Pompeii. And even though her comments were intelligent and to the point, there was too much emphasis, throughout the programme,  on being accepting of an inevitable decline and , implicitly,  giving a further boost to the credence that colouring your hair 'takes ten years off you'.

Photographer: Michael Clement Model: me

The BBC Radio4 programme was better, but as the makers of the programme said, radio is not the best medium  to discuss grey hair, since you do not see anything. It was most interesting to hear that men dye their hair too but will not talk about it. (I once briefly dated an Oxford  professor who used to colour his hair a hideous brown. I used to find it absolutely hilarious, as he would hide the dye bottles.) And of course it did help to hear that hair salons make a lot of money out of colouring hair and if women decided to stop it would be financially disastrous. So that's what it is.

To counter all this  the lovely Denise O'Neill on Sky did a great job, with her five minutes interview. She looked fab and she talked sensibly about what it means to have grey hair.
Honestly, I thought that we had had enough discussions about going grey but we are back to square one. I am very much a live and let live person. No one should be pressured to do one thing or the other. You want to colour? Fine. But don't go round saying that not colouring is wrong. It is a choice.
We need more products for grey hair. There is the White Hot range, which I modelled for when it first came out, but that's not enough, it is not  available on the high street .

Photographer: Dan Ward for White Hot

 Back in 2001 L'Oreal had a range of semipermanent silver hair dyes to enhance grey hair. It was called Grey Chic. I did use it back then, it helped me to enhance my silver colour as I was transitioning. It was a real pleasure to walk into any Boots and find it. I remember trying all of them. For once grey hair seemed to have been validated as a glamorous colour.

If you search high and low you will find products for grey hair but it's a kind of back door thing, all hush hush, for people in the know. Grey Chic had the kudos attached to a product that is marketed on the high street and globally. A giant like L'Oreal said that the colour grey was chic and elegant.
What happened to that very positive message?
I have unearthed some images for Grey Chic. Just imagine! This was being seen worldwide and on mainstream television and it sold worldwide (or maybe it did not SELL, hence it was discontinued)
Now all we have on mainstream TV is an ugly, badly cut , synthetic, grey haired wig.