Body Reflections

The power of life modelling to elevate us from our body image concerns is challenged by the pervasive tendency of mainstream beauty standards to permeate our life drawing bubble.

Before social media, life models largely existed in isolation, rarely knowing one another, merely passing each other during a break perhaps at an art school. Now our contemporary world is fixated with all things visual, and connecting us with each other too. Life drawing and modelling are in fashion again, and images of life drawings as well as photographs of models in pose, amongst other nude art shots proliferate.

Where life modelling was once the preserve of eccentrics, circus performers, sex workers, actors and other less ordinary freaks, it is now much more acceptable in society. While this is progress that may help towards gaining rights such as improving pay and working conditions, it also has a less desirable outcome, I think. The transference of mainstream concerns of the body, to this hitherto removed sphere. When it was taboo to undress for work, life models had to be immune to a certain amount of society’s judgement. Now these worlds are less separate, they are able to affect each other in new ways.

Some models have always been more conventionally attractive, with a look similar to a movie star, for example. The real beauty of the scene itself however is diversity, something we must never forget in the face of potential flooding of glamorised strains of life modelling. There is certainly a place for glamour, as another form of expression with a celebration of design and style, but if that niche dominates visually, there is a danger of a more unwholesome impact. We can’t help but compare ourselves with each other, and never more so visually. So many of us delight in displaying our prettiest selfies, making sure the light is flattering and make-up in place. We hold in our bellies and wear padded bras as we strive to be seen as attractive by others. We imagine we may be liked more if we can get our look “right”, and we are probably correct, at least in the superficial sense that a Facebook ‘like’ has.

A few years ago I observed more of the people drawing me considering trying the modelling, spurred on by my project. Lately I noticed a shift. The artists perceive that it is now more imperative for models to be immaculate, impeccable in appearance, and they sense they cannot compete.

This is not the whole story of course. Much diversity is being celebrated happily in our scene. I just want to push more of that, and personally I am keen to see fewer of the more affected, stylised images of life models. The scene lends itself well to being a site for celebrating a wide variety of beauty – including as it is not usually seen. That for me is the magic.

The merchants of body hatred – the diet, beauty, and cosmetic surgery   industries – are so extremely powerful globally, that they have even resulted in affecting government legislation in some countries, and the direction of scientific research. In Brazil, the state routinely pays for breast implant surgery for young women who profess to be anxious about their lack of mammarian prowess. This solution is considered cheaper than paying for the psychoanalysis that might be needed to truly address the problem. So a plaster is applied, but the underlying epidemic is left unresolved. People become less in touch with their actual bodies, and are reinforced by the government in their thinking that their bodies are a project to be cured, altered and perfected. They are not ok as they are. Body hatred is experienced as the natural status quo; yet somehow beyond Hollywood, South America and Essex(!) many of us do manage very well without such tampering.

Long may that remain, as a society where everyone is fixing their “imperfections” in the lunch break via the surgeon’s knife, is not one I want to be part of. Let’s be proud of what authenticity we have held on to, and celebrate our uniqueness.

As I write I have just arrived at lodgings in Inverness. Across from where I write, a large mirror shows all of me as I am nude now (warm day!) Before opening my notebook I delighted a while in posturing in front of my reflection, checking the chub of my belly. I know that sounds ridiculous to people who know me, as I am slim by anyone’s definition, but also I am premenstrually bloated. When you have a narrow physique, a little extra on your belly really makes a difference, may even be mistaken for pregnancy. But, I am trying to get out of the habit of constantly holding it in. Just let it be. I still can appreciate my form, the more so in front of this revealing mirror!

I check out backviews of my bits, which artists from particular angles would doubtless have seen countless times. I see what they have stared at! Or what men see who I have had sex with. I am awash with curiosity and fascination for my own form as it moves, from different points of view. A boob on top of a tummy above a massive thigh or buttock. Combinations that alone show only part of me, but the eye fills in the rest. I am proud of and grateful for my body which is pretty healthy. Today I feel childlike joy at returning to the beloved Highlands. The constant smile on my face reminds me that what is most beautiful about me is the joy I radiate, not the tummy I hold in.

At Lauderdale House, Clare’s class
In the Highlands: view from Inverness Castle of the River Ness


Two books I recently read inspired parts of this piece. ‘Bodies’ by Susie Orbach describes body hatred in today’s society, and specifically (in relation to this piece) the situation experienced in South America. ‘Animal’ by Sara Pascoe also discusses the problem, and mentions the high rate of cosmetic surgery operations in Essex.

Spirit of Women Changemakers

Spirited Bodies is really proud and honoured to be part of The Fawcett Society’s Spirit of Women Changemakers conferences in November, in London and Manchester. The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights. They want to see a society in which individuals can fulfil their potential regardless of their sex, and are bringing “individual community activists and organisers together with those who have driven change at the highest level to identify the most powerful ways to create change.”

I have been invited to create women’s workshops to complement the programme, by offering a practical session where delegates may try their hand at life drawing, perhaps even some life modelling. Spirited Bodies wants all women (and all people in fact) to feel comfortable in their bodies and fulfil the potential of their whole self. By working to eliminate body image and confidence issues, we want people to be free to embrace all of life, without being constrained by limiting beliefs often imposed by the media.

Similar to when we are at Women of the World Festival at Southbank Centre, these workshops will include demonstrations by prearranged models – some will be professional life models and others may be first-timers. To accompany their poses, recorded interviews of previous Spirited Bodies models will play, and in these voices may be heard the complex reasons that women come to try modelling with us, and what they gain from it.

Many find this a moving spectacle that reaches far into the interior of some models, going beyond familiar and traditional life drawing standards. The artist is halted in their sketching, arrested by unexpected revelations of peculiar intensity. They had a set out to draw a body – in itself, not simple – but are suddenly forced to confront a deeper reality. The model they are drawing is completely still… but had they considered that perhaps she is always so? She may not be a professional life model, though you might not realise it if you just walked in the room and found her in pose. At other times her paralysis is more evident as she is only without her wheelchair when reclining.

This is just one example of myriad stories behind the women who have posed at Spirited Bodies. The aim is to reach women who would otherwise not have the opportunity to model. They might be ill, very shy, anxious or somehow disabled, and this is a chance to experience their bodies as part of the creation of art, to be appreciated by drawing artists in a safe and guided environment where there is no pressure except their own desire to challenge themselves.

The atmosphere is totally supportive and respectful and every effort is made to accommodate different and unusual needs where appropriate and possible.

The London event is on Saturday 12th November and takes place at St Thomas’ Hospital.

The Manchester event is on Saturday 19th November and takes place at The Studio.

Our workshops will be from 2:30pm – 3:30pm.

If you identify as female and would like to take part in one of the events as a model, please email me at stating your reasons – there are limited places. This is not paid modelling, but nor would you need to pay to come to the event. Similarly if you are a female life drawing artist in or near Manchester who would like to come and draw at that event, please get in touch. It is great to have some experienced drawers present! It looks like we may not have space to accommodate the same in London unfortunately, however if that changes I shall put the word out. In any case, you can always buy a ticket to the conference and join us that way, as well as seeing lots of inspiring talks. I will be bringing drawing boards and materials.

During the morning at each conference there will be talks and panel discussions that address the subject of improving women’s lives in a range of ways. After lunch there will be practical workshops for attendees to experience some grassroots approaches to enhancing women’s lives. Spirited Bodies naturally fits in here, on the matter of body image, part of our health and well being. There is lots more information here, including how to buy tickets.

Key speakers include Dame Jenni Murray, Journalist, broadcaster and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour; Baroness Jane Campbell, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Disability Group; Stella Creasy, MP; Caroline Criado Perez, Journalist, broadcaster and campaigner; Gail HeathManchester Women’s Aid; and Becky Olaniyi, Sisters of Frida. I am humbled to be among their number, and very happy to return Spirited Bodies to a more political sphere.

ES 46

© Spirited Bodies 2016, photograph by at Loving Bodies event, April ’16

NB I am not intending to photograph the event at Spirit of Women Changemakers conference.

A few paintings and drawings from one of our recent women’s events, in July at Lewisham Art House – called ‘Sound & Movement with Life Drawing’

© Irene Lafferty
© Irene Lafferty
© Kathy Dutton
© Kathy Dutton




How to look good not naked ~ the challenge of clothed modelling, & our first exhibition!

An exciting week lies ahead; 2 workshops, and the first week of our exhibition up. I spent part of Friday and Saturday collecting the artwork with Thelma, and then fathoming how to hang it. I am pleased with the result and think we have decorated the Sh! shop very nicely. I am going to give you a peek here, as best I could manage, with the glare of lights in their basement where the pictures are.

Whilst sorting out where and how to hang each image, I was in the space where we will hold our women only session on Thursday (7th November). I got a feel for the possibilities there, chatted to the manageress, and thought about how best to encourage women to pose – with clothes on. We have never had this restriction before (while we have had clothing optional modelling, nudity has always been allowed with us!), but also we have never been in such a feminine space. The manageress said they have never had anything like our workshop in the shop. They offer a number of erotic classes and sessions, from ‘how best to perform fellatio’, to erotic poetry evenings; but we are adding a new dimension.

I checked out some of their underwear items which women might consider posing in, if they fancy treating themselves to something new, and tasty, as well as some of the goods on sale which could make fun props!

Edible bra made of candy beads was not very expensive
Edible bra made of candy beads was not very expensive
Not sure how well these items fit different sizes or adjust, seems to be one size
Not sure how well these items fit different sizes or adjust, seems to be one size
Bare minimum for a burlesque look
Bare minimum for a burlesque look


Frilly pants for £9 I think
Frilly pants for £9 I think
sequin tassles
sequin tassles
A bit more expensive, 'Pants to Poverty' fairtrade pants are £14 but at least they are ethical
A bit more expensive, ‘Pants to Poverty’ fairtrade pants are £14 but at least they are ethical
And now for some props
And now for some props

When we had our women’s meet and chat evening last month in this space, one of the women who dropped in had a whole lot of questions. In fact she had so much to say that hardly anyone else got a word in, and we realised we would have to manage situations like that better in future. Memorably, in the middle of the woman’s diatribe, Morimda got up and strutted over to the whips. She carefully picked an instrument and struck a dominant pose in the middle of the space, holding the whip with intent. Now she had everyone’s attention and there was quiet. Morimda explained how the model holds the space, and picks poses to engage with her audience of artists.

A lot of the scenarios we create in our workshops, a bit like in a drama class, are centred around notions of status. These props may add an amusing nuance, helping to make status relationships very clear.

Paddles, collars & blindfolds
Paddles, collars & blindfolds

Now for a virtual tour of the Spirited Bodies exhibition!

Seated figure drawing by Chris Francis
Seated figure drawing by Chris Francis
'The Queen of Sheba' by Kate Hardy - a 20 minute pose at our Women of the World women's event in March at Southbank Centre
‘The Queen of Sheba’ by Kate Hardy – a 20 minute pose at our Women of the World women’s event in March at Southbank Centre
A scene from last December's Mortlake event by Mike Flight
A scene from last December’s Mortlake event by Mike Flight
A standing nude in water colour by Chris Francis
A standing nude in water colour by Chris Francis
3 of Mike Flight's paintings are on the top shelf
3 of Mike Flight’s paintings are on the top shelf
more Mike above a pink mirror
more Mike above a pink mirror
One of Jane Barton's paintings, from Battersea Arts Centre in October 2012
One of Jane Barton’s paintings, from Battersea Arts Centre in October 2012
Simon Whittle's watercolour and pencil picture from our event at The Mall Galleries this August
Simon Whittle’s watercolour and pencil picture from our event at The Mall Galleries this August
Jane's other painting of female nudes has been a big favourite, also from BAC October '12
Jane’s other painting of female nudes has been a big favourite, also from BAC October ’12
One of Lily Lemaire's drawings and a couple of Mike's smaller pictures
One of Lily Lemaire’s drawings and a couple of Mike’s smaller pictures
Charles Patey's 'Stanza' from Mortlake last December, features life model Isobel, in charcoal
Charles Patey’s ‘Stanza’ from Mortlake last December, features life model Isobel, in charcoal
'Opposing Pair' by Chris Francis on the right, and a reclining female nude by Lily Lemaire on the left.
‘Opposing Pair’ by Chris Francis on the right, and a reclining female nude by Lily Lemaire on the left.

Lily is one of the artists who will be drawing the models on Thursday, and she will give a drawing to each model to keep, a lovely memento we think.

I asked the manageress of Sh! why there have not been any other women’s sex shops opening since this once in the early ’90s. She explained that it is not a commercial venture since this shop is women only for the most part – men must be accompanied by a woman or visit on Tuesday evenings. This excludes  by far the largest market for the sex industry, since men are used to spending on sex. Most women never by sex products for themselves as they have less disposable income and are used to spending more of their income on others, and thinking of their own needs less. While this shop addresses this imbalance, it is a political (feminist) choice rather than capitalising on a gap in the market. They are considering starting some classes for men in future which teach them about how to please women. I think there is a growing interest in this area if Orgasmic Meditation is anything to go on.

I am really pleased to have our first show here, and hope you can visit the shop to take a look; it is on for all of November. I will try to schedule a ‘Private View’ type evening, but it will be later in the month, as we have been a bit busy.

Looking forwards to Thursday and finding poses with all our models, however clothed they prefer to be; see here if you are interested in coming along – Women Only Life Modelling at Sh!

For some more clothed modelling inspiration;

when I posed last year for Tadworth Art Group
when I posed last year for Tadworth Art Group
seated on the floor
seated on the floor
posing at Citibank where nudity is not allowed
posing at Citibank where nudity is not allowed
drawing by Khadijah who will be drawing on Thursday at Sh! as well as adding her work to the exhibition!
drawing by Khadijah who will be drawing on Thursday at Sh! as well as adding her work to the exhibition!
Today I modelled at Toynbee Art Club and although I was nude, a fashion student imagined clothes on me
Today I modelled at Toynbee Art Club and although I was nude, a fashion student imagined clothes on me
another outfit I do not possess but would like
another outfit I do not possess but would like

LaDawn writes; The Taught Becomes the Teacher

It is one of the oldest traditions of mankind.   The ignorant are taught by the more experienced, the more learned.

A mother teaches her son to dance and a daughter how to be a wife and mother. A father teaches his daughter to change a flat tyre and a son to be a husband and father.  I learned to model by listening and learning from other models then I learned to teach modelling by watching others teach.

I observed the individuals’ natural instincts gently guiding and supporting men and women wishing to experience the adrenaline rush and confidence boost that life modelling can provide. I asked them to sit, stand, lay down.  I asked them to hide in a bomb shelter and launch a protest.  I watched their fear and insecurity melt away.

There is that first moment when you bare your naked body, exposing much more than your physical self.  You are convinced that everyone is staring at all your perceived imperfections.  But in life modelling, those “imperfections” are the interesting bits that attract and confound an artist.

 If, as at Spirited Bodies events, there are many more than just one model, the truth is fewer people than you imagine are in fact staring at you at all.  The other models are more wrapped up in themselves than you and the artists may be looking behind you, next to you, through you, or just at your elbow wondering if they are up to the challenge of foreshortening what has been presented to them.

Rarely does an artist look at you in your entirety, preferring to capture first your shape and then your composite parts, each of which are beautiful in their own exquisite uniqueness.  They are aiming at shapes, angles, corners, shading and the relationship between all of those shapes.  All those glorious shapes and their relationship to each other.

No two individuals ever look the same nude.  Clothes hide so much of our individuality.

No two artists ever see a model in the same way.  Their vision, paper, materials, colours, and position will create a different work of art every time they craft.

And then we learn.  We learn how differently others see us from how we see ourselves.  We learn there is joy in that learning. And in that learning there is magic.  Spirited Body magic.

This post is illustrated with pictures made by artists who attended the workshop at Holborn on Wednesday October 2nd, which the text also refers to.




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