Monday, 24 October 2016

Models and real women


Modelling for Metropolitan magazine 
There has been much talk about the November issue of Vogue, now out since October 3rd, as it is a 'model-free zone', in other words, the clothes rather than being featured by professional models are featured by other professional women, in the public eye. In the words of Alexandra Shulman, chief editor of Vogue UK  “In this country, there is still a stigma attached to clearly enjoying how you look and experimenting with it if you are a woman in the public eye and not in the fashion or entertainment business".
Like several others have commented, I too take the 'model-free zone' claim with a grain of salt as all the various ads still feature professional models -and there is page upon page of them. The 'real women' issue is actually nothing new, except in its naming, as Vogue has always been about featuring famous women, in contemporary times increasingly women  at the top of their career as opposed to women married to powerful men, always professionally styled for a photoshoot. Apart from the countless actresses (there being, today,  a very fine line between model and actress in that many brands rely on actresses to represent them) that have appeared in the pages of Vogue and on covers, there are also people like, say, Victoria Beckham, who was in fact on the cover of the October 2016 issue of Vogue. She is now a successful designer, earlier she was famous for being a Spice Girl  and then the wife of David Beckham, the quintessential WAG. She was never a professional model, in the sense of being exclusively a model,  not as far as I know, but this did not stop her from being sought after as a model.
There is much confusion over modelling.  Many catwalk models for example are far too young to be officially professional, as they are still in school (at least one would hope so). Many professional models have other jobs too,  as there is not that much money to be made out of modelling, which remains fiercely competitive, unless you are one of the very few top models.  Many 'real people' are in fact models, model agencies have divisions of them, some agencies specialise in 'real people' and now there are online  networks with  casting calls for 'real people' eg Total Talent, Casting Networks, Starnow and so on.

Modelling for Pylot magazine, september 2016

Most newspapers, either tabloid or broadsheet,  carry a fashion and beauty section where they feature  celebrities or , very frequently,  'real women'. The latter are often referred to as  'non-models' - a term that probably only started as  a shorthand for non-runway model and was then given an entirely new meaning . They  are sourced the usual way, through casting calls or through a quick look at the 'real people' section of agencies to get the right looking ones to a casting.
Hadley Freeman, from The Guardian, has written her opinion piece on the 'real women' issue of Vogue. I love Hadley Freeman's column, it is always very stimulating and entertaining - I particularly enjoyed her piece on why Brexit is bad for fashion.  In her response to Vogue  she certainly raises a number of excellent points but altogether she seems to miss a most important fact: that models do come in all shapes, sizes and ages and that there are many types of modelling.  So she lashes out at a stereotype of a model which has in fact been superseded by current developments.
Who is a model and who is not one? Let's say that models are professionals who can work in front of the camera and hopefully make a living out of it. They are definitely real women and/or real men - funny that the question is always about real women and never about real men. Models tend to be defined as aspirational, however the idea of a very thin, very young, unusually tall model as being aspirational has now been  dramatically challenged.
It follows that non-models are those people, women and men, who may occasionally model but for whom by and large modelling is not their exclusive career. The boundary is very porous here, however, as many models have to make ends meet and may take up other jobs, just like actors do when 'resting'.  But let's leave it at that, for now.
The point I am making is that the sooner we stop thinking in terms of 'real women' and 'non-real women' aka 'models'  the better. It all sounds a bit surreal, if you ask me. We need to reframe this narrative.

Photographer: Christopher Luk

 For example, tabloids (or 'real life' weeklies) often carry features addressed at their female readership, who either want to know as much as possible about the latest celeb or would like to see 'women like themselves' (whatever that is, it is open to interpretation) strutting their stuff. They are articles meant to be confidence boosting, yet there is always a nuance of sensationalism.  The paper for which Ms Hadley writes is a broadsheet and  pays a pittance or does not pay at all for the various opinion, points of view, experiences or real life features which it also carries, in the 'lifestyle' section,  and which are contributed by freelancers or readers. The assumption is that being featured in such a paper is a tremendous honour. Tabloids on the other hand understand that money is a commodity, hence they do pay. The rule however is that if one is selected to appear in one of their features one should always say to have a 'real' job,  so that the feature is 'real'.

Modelling for Alisa Ernst
The tabloid papers always arrange a photoshoot with a professional photographer in connection with such features. It is easier for the paper, in that professional images are needed and the paper does not get into copyright wrangles. Of the women I met on such occasions (I have had opportunities to witness a couple of such shoots) I could always tell those who were pretending not to be models  and having a 'real' job, from those who had genuinely never done a shoot before. The models pretending to be non- models  knew what to do and were the ones most concerned about getting on with it and finishing bang on time. Everyone, from photographer to make up artist and stylist, knew the truth about them to the point of exchanging gossip, but the fiction of being 'real women', in other words women who do not model, was maintained.
When there are commercials that feature 'average looking people', who do you think those people are? They are models (another word for it is 'talent').  What defines them is their specific look, as close as possible to the character they are meant to portray and their ability to be in front of the camera. And no, they are not necessarily actors, for those are non-speaking roles and actors by definition speak lines (to be a member of Spotlight, for example, you must have had at least four professional credits in featured speaking roles otherwise you are not regarded as an actor).
So please let's stop believing these stereotypes about models and 'real women'. Modelling  is not about beauty standards - not exclusively, anyway. Modelling is first and foremost a job, done by real women and real men.
And somewhat off topic, my favourite model of the moment is Eric Underwood, Royal Ballet Principal and also 'talent' with Premier Management, featured on the cover of Vogue Italia with Kate Moss (which definitely makes him a model).  He will be dancing Rasputin in the Anastasia ballet at ROH. Must get my ticket at once!



Saturday, 22 October 2016

Time for a challenge: sleektechnique and sleeksweat

Flik Swan and Victoria Marr

I like a good challenge, be it intellectual or physical.  Challenges help you to refocus and break bad habits. Obviously you need to consider the challenge very carefully and be sure that it is right for you, assessing the nature of the challenge and your own limitations. Once you know it is feasible all you need to do is stick to it and the best way to do so is to tell as many people as possible that you are doing a challenge. It works for me, and once I take on something I have to take it to completion, and not 'losing face' becomes a further incentive.
The last time I seriously challenged myself was when I was a Bikram yoga 'devotee', around 2009, and did the thirty day challenge, one 90 mins class a day - I still have the tshirt I was given when I got to the end!
The downside of that challenge was the fact I had to plan my day so that I would be at the studio by the appointed time. Easier said than done. I did it in summer during a long holiday because I needed a lot of time, travelling around London is very time consuming.
But the actual challenge was wonderful, it did wonders for my well being.
Now I have the opportunity to take on another challenge and I have already begun.
I have been doing, for my fitness,  Sleektechnique since the spring of 2014 and loved it from day one. It is ballet based, it combines cardio with stretches and a great ballet barre routine. The most wonderful thing is that it can be done at home, or anywhere else, using streaming workouts and participating in real time classes through Vidyo.  All you need is an internet connection and a device, laptop, iPad, phone.
Though I continue to go to dance classes when I can  Sleek is part of my daily routine and since classes are max 45 minutes each and there is a choice of morning and evening classes  I often do two classes a day.

The enCore workout
 Sleek founders Victoria Marr and Flik Swan  have worked together with Sweaty Betty and have devised a new streaming workout called enCore, which is available from the Sweaty Betty website. After teaching it live at Sweaty Betty they issued a challenge starting from this week for anyone to do one enCore routine coupled with a barre workout three times a week for six weeks and post about it on Twitter, Facebook or  Instagram using hashtags #sleektechnique and #sleekandsweaty and picture of themselves striking a Sleek pose.
I was told about the challenge last week during one of the live classes, by one of the trainers. It really is a challenge aimed  at newcomers, people who have never 'sleeked' before (we have a verb for it!). But I felt I also had to do it, the moment I heard the word challenge I could not stop thinking about it. However cutting down my daily routine did not seem the right thing to do. So I have adapted the challenge to suit my needs. I am still doing my regular live classes (minimum one a day, depending on my time commitments, sometimes I even squeeze in three) and my regular streaming workouts when my body needs them - I often throw in a Stretch and Flex quick workout because my body clearly demands it. But I have added the enCore workout and one of the barre routines three times a week.
Week one is nearly over for me, I have already done two days, Sunday will round up the week.
Why do this challenge? It is purely for the joy of taking on something for a while and really give it my best. Winter is coming, the time of the year when you may begin to feel sluggish. Knowing I have to do my workout helps me to focus, be alert and I learn about my body and its needs. I pay attention to my hydration a lot more, for example, and have learnt to tell good pain from bad pain. The most wonderful thing is that I am in absolute control and I can stop any time if I find it is taking too much out of me. No one is forcing me. But so far I am enjoying it.
The enCore work out is tough but then it is meant to be all about strengthening your core.
I am not doing this to lose weight, I am fine with my current weight but  I aim for tone and long muscles. I also find that when I am in this challenge mode I eat all the right things and naturally discard unhealthy food. I also become more efficient in the way I go about my tasks. I am writing more for example, working on my book based on my research on fashion  in Indonesia and sitting at my computer all day long is not good, I need to move.
The real challenge for me will be to keep this up when I travel at the end of the month, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it. Meanwhile if anyone is inspired by the idea of a sleek challenge, do join us for some happy sleeking!
Off topic, below is one of my latest images taken by Christopher Luk from Hong Kong while he was in London for Fashion Week. More on my Instagram.


(I nearly titled this post 'Challenging Times' in an attempt to be playful then I immediately changed my mind, feeling it might be seen a tad inappropriate. We do indeed live in extremely challenging times, the world around us seems to be swept by a wave of violence and disrespect for our fellow human beings).

Thursday, 13 October 2016

A history of the world in 100 objects


I don't lecture very often these days. I quit my job as a lecturer a few years ago and found myself doing more work as a model, I just slipped into it. But being an academic is for life, it is a mind set, you don't forget what you know and can always brush up on a topic and update it.
So when I was asked by the curators  of the British Museum, who knew me in my previous incarnation as art and performance historian, whether I wanted to give a gallery talk in connection with their new exhibition on the shadow theatre of Southeast Asia, at first I dithered, then I said yes, why not? It was only a gallery talk, after all, not a research seminar. I did not wish to give a guided tour of the exhibition, that would have been redundant. I chose to talk about the interconnection between shadow theatre and the visual arts. I focused mostly on Indonesia as this was my stomping ground when I was a researcher, my specialty used to be the arts of classical Java. I went back to Indonesia last year, incidentally, donning again my academic hat and doing research on Indonesian fashion, for which I was awarded a fellowship.
Inevitably in my talk I ended up discussing fashion. Some Indonesian designers, like Ghea Panggabean, have created whole collections inspired by the shadow puppets, known in Indonesia as wayang and the gallery talk seemed the right context  to mention it.


I enjoyed giving that talk. I was worried at first but once I began everything was fine. I had a very keen group with me and I almost went overtime. Almost.
In preparation for the talk I went to see the exhibition twice and discovered  some newer books that helped me in the task. One of them was  A history of the world in 100 objects by Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum. There is in the book an entry on the character Bimo, one of the puppets used in the shadow theatre and I referred to it, even brought the book along to show it to my audience.
The book
The 100 objects
Finding this book was one of the best things that has happened to me in a long time. I love it. It is what you should keep by your bedside and dip into whenever you fancy. Accessible yet scholarly,   the descriptions of the objects are accurate and engaging, and clear even though there are few visuals (I was told once that the best art historians are those who do not need images to capture your attention) and with each entry there are also stories and anecdotes that bring to life the object descriptions. The book is based entirely on the British Museum's collections and it covers the history of mankind because in their totality that's what the collections of the museum do.
This morning I read about Shiva and Parvati from Orissa. I know that sculptural composition very well, I have been to see it many times. It's a shame it cannot be viewed at the moment as the South and Southeast Asian galleries are being renovated and will open again to the public only in November 2017, a year from now.
It is an image showing the divine couple in a moment of affection, charged with eroticism. For Hindus god is both male and female and, as MacGregor says, one of the central  insights of Hinduism  is that "God may best be conceived not as a single isolated spirit but as a joyous loving couple and that physical love is not evidence of fallen humanity but an essential part of the divine".

Holding a luxury accessory. Photo: Rankin for Hunger 11. Hand model: me
I will continue to read the book and find out more about the objects. It also means I will probably stop by the Museum very soon once again to go and view these wonderful objects from up close and do my own tour of the history of mankind following MacGregor's selection.
Meanwhile I am proud to announce that my hand can be seen in Hunger 11 holding a luxury accessory in the photo taken by Rankin, who is also interviewed in the piece "Outside In" pp. 468

A history of the world in 100 objects


I don't lecture very often these days. I quit my job as a lecturer a few years ago and found myself doing more work as a model, I just slipped into it. But being an academic is for life, it is a mind set, you don't forget what you know and can always brush up on a topic and update it.
So when I was asked by the curators  of the British Museum, who knew me in my previous incarnation as art and performance historian, whether I wanted to give a gallery talk in connection with their new exhibition on the shadow theatre of Southeast Asia, at first I dithered, then I said yes, why not? It was only a gallery talk, after all, not a research seminar. I did not wish to give a guided tour of the exhibition, that would have been redundant. I chose to talk about the interconnection between shadow theatre and the visual arts. I focused mostly on Indonesia as this was my stomping ground when I was a researcher, my specialty used to be the arts of classical Java. I went back to Indonesia last year, incidentally, donning again my academic hat and doing research on Indonesian fashion, for which I was awarded a fellowship.
Inevitably in my talk I ended up discussing fashion. Some Indonesian designers, like Ghea Panggabean, have created whole collections inspired by the shadow puppets, known in Indonesia as wayang and the gallery talk seemed the right context  to mention it.


I enjoyed giving that talk. I was worried at first but once I began everything was fine. I had a very keen group with me and I almost went overtime. Almost.
In preparation for the talk I went to see the exhibition twice and discovered  some newer books that helped me in the task. One of them was  A history of the world in 100 objects by Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum. There is in the book an entry on the character Bimo, one of the puppets used in the shadow theatre and I referred to it, even brought the book along to show it to my audience.
The book
The 100 objects
Finding this book was one of the best things that has happened to me in a long time. I love it. It is what you should keep by your bedside and dip into whenever you fancy. Accessible yet scholarly,   the descriptions of the objects are accurate and engaging, and clear even though there are few visuals (I was told once that the best art historians are those who do not need images to capture your attention) and with each entry there are also stories and anecdotes that bring to life the object descriptions. The book is based entirely on the British Museum's collections and it covers the history of mankind because in their totality that's what the collections of the museum do.
This morning I read about Shiva and Parvati from Orissa. I know that sculptural composition very well, I have been to see it many times. It's a shame it cannot be viewed at the moment as the South and Southeast Asian galleries are being renovated and will open again to the public only in November 2017, a year from now.
It is an image showing the divine couple in a moment of affection, charged with eroticism. For Hindus god is both male and female and, as MacGregor says, one of the central  insights of Hinduism  is that "God may best be conceived not as a single isolated spirit but as a joyous loving couple and that physical love is not evidence of fallen humanity but an essential part of the divine".

Holding a luxury accessory. Photo: Rankin for Hunger 11. Hand model: me
I will continue to read the book and find out more about the objects. It also means I will probably stop by the Museum very soon once again to go and view these wonderful objects from up close and do my own tour of the history of mankind following MacGregor's selection.
Meanwhile I am proud to announce that my hand can be seen in Hunger 11 holding a luxury accessory in the photo taken by Rankin, who is also interviewed in the piece "Outside In" pp. 468

Sunday, 9 October 2016

A mixed bag: Age of No Retirement, Velvet, Pablo Bronstein and Turner Prize


It's been hectic over the last couple of weeks. First there was The Age of No Retirement festival and on its last day, October 1st, I took part in one of the conversation labs led by Caryn Franklin MBE and Professor of Diversity at Kingston University. With a number of highly committed speakers and a public that showed equal commitment to the idea of disrupting current narratives around age and ageing it was indeed a memorable day. More about it here, in a piece I wrote for HuffPostUk.
Then I worked on revamping my website which was a little outdated, it's looking much  better now. I am getting more adept at creating websites, it cannot be a bad skill to have! Always striving to improve...
And now the GREAT news. Last night I finally found a way of watching Velvet the Spanish telenovela to which I have become hopelessly addicted after discovering it on Netflix. Season 4 is only just being shown on Spanish TV and will not be available on Netflix until next year but  I can watch it every week here and it is a genuine site, one where you do not have to give your details and one which is not virus bearing. Of course I have to watch it in Spanish, but I can understand it. Mind you,  I have become pretty addicted to The Collection too, now shown on Amazon Instant Videos. The first couple of episodes was not so good but now the clothes have taken centre stage, which is what interests me. And they are gorgeous.  I will discuss The Collection in a forthcoming post.




Finally, after reading Alyson Walsh's post about giving your brain a  rest, I went first to a salsa class (I am into Ballroom and Latin at the moment),  as I don't believe in body and mind being separate, so I always have to do something physical in order to relax, then off to Tate Britain. It was the last day of the Pablo Bronstein's dance installation in the Duveen gallery and am so glad I caught it. It was quite breathtaking. And since I was at it I even went to have a peek at the Turner Prize nominees. I will go back, I need more time to take it all in. It is at times like this I am really happy to be a member of the Tate, I know I can go whenever I want at no extra charge. I found the works very interesting. One by Michael Dean was reminiscent of Ai Weiwei's Sunflower seeds  except that it was smaller and rather than seeds  there were coins. It consisted of £ 20,436 in pennies, the amount that the goverment states is the minimum two adults and two children need to survive on for a year. Wishful thinking! But the work was striking.

Michael Dean's installation 

I have a friend who is very unmoved by modern/ contemporary art. I keep on telling him it is not about beauty,  it is about challenging the viewers and their preconceptions. But some people  will keep on asking the question 'is it art' expecting some reassurance on 'eternal and classical values'. 
Did the 20th century never happen? It would seem so...
Micheal Dean's work was very moving, I totally got it. Let's hope the judges will get it too. 

A mixed bag: Age of No Retirement, Velvet, Pablo Bronstein and Turner Prize


It's been hectic over the last couple of weeks. First there was The Age of No Retirement festival and on its last day, October 1st, I took part in one of the conversation labs led by Caryn Franklin MBE and Professor of Diversity at Kingston University. With a number of highly committed speakers and a public that showed equal commitment to the idea of disrupting current narratives around age and ageing it was indeed a memorable day. More about it here, in a piece I wrote for HuffPostUk.
Then I worked on revamping my website which was a little outdated, it's looking much  better now. I am getting more adept at creating websites, it cannot be a bad skill to have! Always striving to improve...
And now the GREAT news. Last night I finally found a way of watching Velvet the Spanish telenovela to which I have become hopelessly addicted after discovering it on Netflix. Season 4 is only just being shown on Spanish TV and will not be available on Netflix until next year but  I can watch it every week here and it is a genuine site, one where you do not have to give your details and one which is not virus bearing. Of course I have to watch it in Spanish, but I can understand it. Mind you,  I have become pretty addicted to The Collection too, now shown on Amazon Instant Videos. The first couple of episodes was not so good but now the clothes have taken centre stage, which is what interests me. And they are gorgeous.  I will discuss The Collection in a forthcoming post.




Finally, after reading Alyson Walsh's post about giving your brain a  rest, I went first to a salsa class (I am into Ballroom and Latin at the moment),  as I don't believe in body and mind being separate, so I always have to do something physical in order to relax, then off to Tate Britain. It was the last day of the Pablo Bronstein's dance installation in the Duveen gallery and am so glad I caught it. It was quite breathtaking. And since I was at it I even went to have a peek at the Turner Prize nominees. I will go back, I need more time to take it all in. It is at times like this I am really happy to be a member of the Tate, I know I can go whenever I want at no extra charge. I found the works very interesting. One by Michael Dean was reminiscent of Ai Weiwei's Sunflower seeds  except that it was smaller and rather than seeds  there were coins. It consisted of £ 20,436 in pennies, the amount that the goverment states is the minimum two adults and two children need to survive on for a year. Wishful thinking! But the work was striking.

Michael Dean's installation 

I have a friend who is very unmoved by modern/ contemporary art. I keep on telling him it is not about beauty,  it is about challenging the viewers and their preconceptions. But some people  will keep on asking the question 'is it art' expecting some reassurance on 'eternal and classical values'. 
Did the 20th century never happen? It would seem so...
Micheal Dean's work was very moving, I totally got it. Let's hope the judges will get it too.