Saturday, 28 May 2016

Working and making a living as a model

Photo: PatrickPhotosUK. Model: me

I recently had an opportunity to chat with Lucy Hooker, from BBC News, whose piece "How easy is it to make a living as a model" has just been published. It is a short but to the point article, very enlightening. I have witnessed quite a few changes in the industry since I became involved with it and it's time to talk about the unpleasant side of modelling, always depicted as glamorous, but in reality a difficult job that is not at all valued.
The piece by Lucy Hooker is focused on younger models, who are often the casualty of the industry. When I spoke with Lucy I made it clear that older models are in a relatively new and special category and they are rarely subjected to the same harassment that for example "Lauren" talks about - that constant pressure to lose weight or change look which many girls have to put up with.
However, come to think of it, way back a booker from an agency I am no longer with, insisted on me cutting my hair in an 'Anna Wintour' style bob or, she maintained, I would never get booked for commercial work. That was in 2008, my hair was to my mid back  and I had very little experience of the industry, being a newbie. I wanted to please and thus I complied.

With long hair in 2008, prior to the haircut. Photo: David Nuttall

That was the last time I cut my hair in any serious way. I realised that I had made a mistake soon after cutting it and  I actually lost, rather than gained, work, because with a bob I looked just like any other mature model, also sporting a bob.
These days I would not  have a haircut because someone is asking me to, though I know that many clients do think my hair is way too long and at some castings I have been asked pointblank 'how much hair can we trim?'
I am saying this because "Lauren" talks about being pressurised to change her looks and yes, even older models can, on occasion, be put under a similar pressure, though they can be more assertive than younger women and thus can refuse.

Soon after my haircut in 2008. Photo by Neil Huxtable

It is a very competitive job and the mature model sector is doubly competitive because there are fewer jobs and too many models, all invested with the task of representing "the glamorous, mature woman" (and what this glamorous, aspirational look should be is subject to interpretation). You may be very lucky to have a supportive agency and  bookers that really understand your potential and your capabilities and put you forward for interesting jobs - as indeed I am fortunate to have now - but at the end of the day agencies are businesses and if you do not make them enough money, bookers will push whoever is likely to bring them a profit.
You go to a casting and you spot someone similar to you in look  - it happens, even though at castings people are given a time slot, precisely to avoid awkward meetings with other models, often from your  same agency - and you know it is an either/or situation, it's either you or the other model. There are not that many jobs really, and yes you do end up being pitched against each other, it's the way it works.  Eighty seven year old model Daphne Selfe  (who started when there were hardly any mature models) says that when this occurs you just feel happy for your friends who get the job rather than you and must never fear, for something else will definitely turn up. It's a very Zen attitude. Not everyone is able to take it in their stride.
The issues concerning money are also applicable to the mature model sector. It is absolutely true that a lot of the work is unpaid and some people are even surprised you should be asking for money, apparently you should count yourself lucky if you have been picked for a prestigious job, you are asking to be what? Paid?
At a recent  shoot  the artistic director told me that they had spent most of the budget on props so the models would have to be working for nothing. And there are people who  ask you to 'test' when in fact they need images for their business!

A recent shoot for Florencia Martinez, photographer: Alexis Negrin
It is also very true that invoices are often settled very late and sometimes you have to keep on asking for your money, emailing account departments and that can feel utterly humiliating.
Not too long ago I had  a problem with a major  brand who for some reason forgot to include me in the batch of payments that went out a few months after the filming. To cut a long story short - and it was a long story, as this matter dragged on for months - I ended up contacting myself the production company,  in a most polite and conciliatory tone, and after several emails that went back and forth, and almost a year later,  they "reissued" the payment (but in fact the payment had not been made at all before then) to the agency who then issued it to me minus the usual commission.
Everyone can set themselves up as a model these days, with Instagram and Facebook pages. The social media thing is changing the industry, brands increasingly want  models with a following.  More followers= more customers. And modelling  agencies often undercut each other.
The news that FM London has been put into receivership is quite worrying as it means that many models will not see their money at all. It has happened before, with another agency that worked in the mature sector but was not as well known as FM. Its models 'migrated'  to other agencies and some of these models will tell you stories of payments that were never made and the sense of sheer frustration it generated, not to mention their considerable financial losses.
However, there is something models of all ages can do. There is Equity. Joining the  union can definitely help. Actors worked this out for themselves a long time ago, models seem to be very reluctant to join a union.
You can get more information here. There is also a Facebook page here.
Models have rights and should be able to discuss their problems freely. The union can help with a great many issues and in confidence if so required. It is not expensive to join and it is definitely money well spent.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Brides over fifty: the wedding gown issue

Photo by David J. Green. Dress by Tammam Model: me

The news that grey haired model Cindy Joseph got married at the age of sixty-two is a reminder not only that people do get married at any age but that a lot people tend to  marry  their long term partner well into their fifties and later -  a (male) friend of mine is just doing so next week and neither he nor his wife-to-be are spring chickens nor are they  new to each other, after twenty years together.
As you get older, marriage is rarely the outcome of a whirlwind romance - even Joseph and her partner waited for a good seven years before tying the knot. Sure, we have had the example of Jerry Hall and Rupert Murdoch, she pushing sixty, he well over eighty. They did not waste time after meeting and immediately decided to wed. It is rumoured that alongside their mutual attraction, financial considerations had come into play. No matter. She looked radiant on her wedding day.
What I am trying to say is that marriage after a certain age is a decision not taken lightly, weighing all the pros and cons. But even though it is a well thought out decision, there is absolutely no reason why the wedding day should be dull and no reason whatsoever not to wear bridal finery, if one is so inclined. It is after all a very special day.
Photo by Alexis Negrin, Styling by Florencia Martinez, model: me (not a bridal outfit)

The problem is that often women, maybe because it may be the second time round, will settle for something very low key, just an elegant dress that could double up as a cocktail dress. If I were to get married tomorrow, I would not want to look like Cinderella at the ball, that would not be to my taste. What is the alternative?Nothing suitable seems to be available and if it is,  the way it is put across is problematic, as I will explain.
I think this should be a wake up call for designers of bridal wear. My message to the designers is this: your best clients are actually going to be older women  and you should have a whole range of beautiful wedding gowns that can be worn by clients of all ages and show them on models of all ages.
Who says that white is inappropriate ? Joseph wore a lovely, simple, white gown and looked fabulous.
I have a modelled a couple of times some bridal wear, most notably for Tamman. But have found that I am more likely to be asked to model 'mother of the bride' ensembles than actual bridal wear. Somehow we still have this fiction of a virginal young bride  perpetuated within the entirety of the 'wedding industry'  - a subset of the fashion industry.

"Sincerity" dress for older brides. Google images
Even when the dress is targeted at older brides, it is actually modelled by a woman who might be in her early thirties at the most, as in the instance of the dress above or in that of another  gorgeous white dress to be found at Debenhams, also targetted at older brides. Why?
We have had older women modelling high fashion, even bikinis and looking very glam.
I would love to see  older models, well over forty, modelling bridal wear, rather than (sometimes) ghastly 'mother of the bride' or 'mother of the groom' dresses.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Women who do not diet?

Daily Mail feature
I was involved in the photoshoot and in the interview for the piece  'Secrets of the skinny women who NEVER diet' which appeared in the Daily Mail on Monday 16th May.  I would like to give an insight into the 'behind the scenes', as I do find the press and its workings most fascinating.
I am very grateful to Grey Model Agency for giving me the opportunity to be involved and of course to the lovely Kerry Potter, a most experienced professional, for the interview, and to Joanna Bridger, the editor,  as well as the whole team of photographer, MUA, stylist etc. I also would like to say I really enjoyed the lunch at the Daily Mail on the day of the shoot, the salad  was absolutely delicious!
To begin with you may have noticed that the Mail said upfront I was a model and mentioned the agency. This is quite unusual, as the Mail always prefers to give readers the impression they are using 'real women' for all such features even though several of them are actually models, often  to be found in the Lifestyle or Real People section of some model agency. Thus, for example Sanna, who appeared in another issue of the Mail also recently, in a piece about the ideal waist size, is a model who happens to have had a career as a professional dancer, so she was described as a dance teacher, leaving out the modelling bit.
The Mail likes lining up the women that appear in such features  though they are always photographed individually, gathering them in the line up in postproduction, which of course means using Photoshop. This is occasionally not very successful.
I was photographed wearing three different outfits, standing and sitting and finally the photo that was chosen was, I guess, the one that allowed the line up to be as realistic as possible. The colouring is also quite strong, but that depends on whether the photo is seen in the print version or the online one (I got the print as well, as a tear sheet).

Photographer: David PD Hyde, 2016
The interview was over the phone. Once the piece is submitted and approved and prior to going to press the Mail always tries to read back the piece to the interviewee to correct some details. There were a couple of things that had been misinterpreted and I asked for them to be altered. In hindsight I should have said more clearly that to be anorexic thin is bad rather than condemning extreme thinness altogether.  Being very thin is very natural for some women and they are not necessarily unhealthy because of their small size.
I would not call myself skinny at all, just slim, but was lumped with 'skinny' women. In fact as one reader rightly comments all the women in the article are normal size, none of the women portrayed in the piece is skinny.  I have a muscular body because I work out regularly and have done so for years. Now this is the thing that was omitted and I wish it had not. You cannot be in good shape without working out and I exercise (not just move, as some people would say).  I do  targeted exercises following a programme and I often put in one and a half hour of exercise everyday. When I have no time,  I only do thirty minutes. I rest on Sundays. Then I begin again. Missing my daily exercise is a big deal for me.
Even though I talked about this with the interviewer and mentioned the wonderful trainers I work with, the ladies at Sleek ,whom the interviewer knew, somehow this was not included. Also the thing about eating cake. I do not have a sweet tooth at all and rarely eat cake, only if I have to, and also only very occasionally I may have an ice cream, in summer for example or when I was in Florence last year, as the ice cream there is really nice.

Photographer: Adam Robertson Lingerie designs by Lux Tenebrae, 2014
It is interesting to think about the overall tone of the article and the video chosen to illustrate it (and once again there was some Gwyneth Paltrow bashing, but not in my interview). The video shows a young girl who indulges in overeating, taking part in one of those horrendous competitions where you have to stuff yourself.  She is naturally skinny and petite.
What's the message underpinning all this? That it would be amazing to be able to stuff oneself and never put on weight.  This is presented as an ideal, an aspiration which unfortunately is not within everyone's reach. Well, no.
That level of eating to me  is just gross, even unethical.
One could argue that actually we all follow a diet in the sense that we eat certain foods that we favour  over others. We do not all restrict our food intake drastically, but some of us do it naturally, just by watching portions, and making sure the quality of food we eat is high. It is no big deal, it is not a secret. If you are given three potatoes, eat only one!
I make my own bread - easy to do, with a bread maker. I sometimes use flour that is not high in its gluten content and I only ever use organic flour. Another thing I do is to leave a good 12 hours interval between my last and first meal, which means my breakfast is always very late, even though I may have tea or coffee in the morning.
Most of all I exercise REGULARLY. To me that is essential, just like showering or brushing one's teeth. It is not enough to walk and maybe dance to music around the house, though they may be very enjoyable activities I sometimes indulge in. You need to work those abs and gluts with targeted exercises. You need to keep the spine really flexible and so on and so forth. Sugar ruins your teeth, there is no need to have it.
It is impossible to keep in good shape, especially as an older , post-menopausal woman, without cutting down on sugar, soda and fast food and alcohol intake and without exercising. I used to be size 6 in my twenties, weighing about 52 kilos. I put on four kilos since then and went up a size but this change is normal and am not trying to be the same size  I was then. But I will not compromise on keeping fit and toned.
I certainly do not want to be skinny and eat all the available big Macs I can find,  I never did.  That video to me defeats the purpose of trying to show that moderation in food intake, something that all the women interviewed practise, is the key to good health and good shape.
I want a toned and healthy body for as long as I can and will invest time and effort to achieve it.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Goop and the Sex Pod

Photographer: Doh Lee. Model : me 

My blog post today is  all about sex!
The other day I read an article in The Guardian in which Gwyneth Paltrow was again given a good bashing. Ok, I have to confess here that I do not care much for Ms Paltrow and yes, I do find Goop products a little too expensive for my purse but come on, to label Goop  as 'joyless', and preaching about 'joyless' sex is a bit much. Goop is not meant to be a substitute for the Kama Sutra!
I don't think it is at all wrong to worry about the toxins that can invade your vagina - wanting a paraben free, water based lube is not an indication of wanting to kill pleasure, on the contrary. I personally do worry about the health of my body, vagina included,  and I do not think I am so unusual in wanting to keep things in check.
I do scrutinise beauty products for my face , so it goes without saying I want to be more in control of  products that target my vagina. Why would there be a hierarchy between face and vagina?
Goop has essays and articles which tell you a bit more about sex health, which otherwise you would not really pay much attention to. Sex is often talked about the wrong way and it's good that Goop can advise on sexual health issues.
Take the pill for example. I took it for a very short time in my twenties and then absolutely refused to go on taking it - I no longer need contraceptives now, but I did when I was younger.  I did not like what it did to my body.  After stopping it I did not end up having ten children, I only had one and he was very much wanted. But to keep myself in a state of continuous early pregnancy , which is what the pill basically does to your body, simply was not on.

Model: me Stylist: Alisa Ernst

So I really do not get all this Goop aka Gwyneth Paltrow bashing. Remember the dictum , if you can't say something  nice "don't say nothing at all".
As for the Sex Pod on 5Star,  I learnt about it from the Daily Mail of which I am not a loyal  reader, presented as a "shocking" programme. I  was intrigued because one of my favourite people, the very elegant and stylish, passion coach  Dr Vena Ramphal was involved.   She is also very, very smart and witty.
So I had a look at episode 1 and was very pleasantly surprised. It's a programme worth watching, funny, down to earth and very informative.
I suggest The Guardian should worry less about Goop and more about the realities of sex, as presented by The Sex Pod.  But wait. Perhaps it is not sufficiently middle class to do so.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Posing the body

Adland I
Photographer: David Stewart. Models: me and others, including Nicola Griffin, also from Grey 

I have been quite busy recently, travelling back and forth to Italy  but the 'Posing the body: Stillness, Movement and Representation' symposium was, for me, the highlight of last week.
I came across the event quite by chance and was immediately intrigued by its rationale,  an exploration of the art of posing, something that no one seems to be paying  much attention to, as the organisers Rebecca Arnold, Katherine Faulkner and Katerina Pantelides, Courtauld Institute, and EugĂ©nie Shinkle, University of Westminster, claim.
Yet, as they also rightly claim, "posing has been central to art, dance and sculpture for thousands of years". The current interest in fashion modelling has also brought posing to the fore, so there is a need to discuss it.
I have been involved with posing not only as a model (or even as a dancer of sort).  The study of posing and movement was an important part of my doctoral work, as I studied the representation of dance poses and dance movements in the iconography of Javanese temples of the classical period, with cross-reference to India. I focused precisely on issues of modes and also technologies of representation and their relationship with bodies and subjects, symbolic meaning and embodied action, as indeed this symposium aimed to discuss through a range of multi-disciplinary papers.
A session I very much looked forward to was the panel discussion with fashion model Jan de Villeneuve, acclaimed photographer Julian Marshall and Caroline Hamilton, dance and costume historian.

From one of the presentations at Posing the Body

The papers were indeed most interesting with sessions on posing, directing and moving; art, fashion and sculpture; movement and dance; bodies, gender and politics.
I learnt a lot, definitely, even though I had to miss a session as I had a previous commitment that I could not postpone, so I left at some point to return for the final session and the panel discussion. I enjoyed tremendously the paper by Felice McDowell, associate lecturer at London College of Fashion, who talked about posing from the point of view of the fashion models of the 1960s, whose autobiographical writings she has been  examining. I also enjoyed the paper presented by Peter K. Andersson from Lund University who discussed posing and  street photography in the 19th century. I loved the examples he showed, I felt a little uncomfortable though at the emphasis on spontaneity for indeed the technology of the time allowed very little spontaneity and the photographer would certainly be staging most shots. But I may be wrong, here, my involvement in photography is amateurial, though I use medium format analogue cameras, heavy to carry and set up. Imagine how cumbersome the old ones were!
That the photographer is still in charge is also a truth today , in fashion and commercial shoots. I know that because I live it. Actually I would say that today, it is increasingly the client that has the final say on what is going to be used, and this does have an impact on  both model and photographer as embodied subjects.  But the inclusion of practitioners such as Jan de Villeneuve and Julian Marshall was important in that it gave an opportunity to marry the critical enquiry to the realities of practice.
Adland II by David Stewart

Also fascinating were Caroline Hamilton's remarks on the fact that dance costumes have to be seen on the bodies of the performers, which may present problems in the context of a curatorial display. I guess this can be counterbalanced by having films and photographs accompanying the display. Indeed I find that all clothes, not just costumes, need to be seen on a body, hence the need for models at a fashion show.
Indonesian models before a show for brand Sejauh Mata Memandang 

I was a little saddened by the fact that the symposium had a strong Eurocentric thrust, in that it omitted other experiences of posing. It came up in one of the questions from the attendees, when someone questioned the photographic representation of  black moving bodies, but it was not elaborated upon. I would have also expected some historical grounding. The understanding and knowledge of poses has been part and parcel of the art historian's toolbox, through a study of iconography - indeed it was my interest in Panofskyan iconography and iconology that led me to further studies in the field. So the study of posing is not so new, perhaps, but what is definitely new is this growing interest in the cultural significance of posing. Indeed the advent of social media has turned everyone into an expert poser, as can be seen from the proliferation of  instagram accounts worldwide - when I was in Indonesia doing my research on fashion and women, last winter, I realised that almost everyone I met had an instagram account!
So I definitely welcome events such as this symposium and hope that these discussions will be taken further and be perhaps more inclusive.