The Power of saying ‘No’

Spirited Bodies presents the next Stories of Women event, featuring co-founder Morimda, a professional life model of over 20 years experience. This will be held on Tuesday September 25th, 7pm – 9pm at The Feminist Library.

Morimda

 

From being an extremely shy person, it was through life modelling that Morimda emerged – found out who she was and was able to express that to other people.

by Julia Thompson

Morimda did not do well in school, so her parents tried to arrange a marriage for her when she was 16. This was when she first realised the power of saying ‘No’!

She was extremely shy, and living in Paris found herself in relationships but was unable to come out of her shell, and deep down she knew that the only way to properly emerge as herself, was to be alone, a single woman in order to find her own voice. She wanted to come to England and learn English, and pursuing this dream gave her the strength to say ‘No’ for the second time, to an episode of unfulfilling relationships in France.

In London working as a window dresser, she wanted to be a mannequin! That was when she hit upon the idea of becoming a life model. The futility of continually being sacked, basically because she was shy, pushed her to actively take on becoming a full time life model. Her 3rd ‘No’ was when she refused to keep looking for a more mainstream job.

by Ray Marwyck

She discovered how liberating it was to be nude, to own her body, and learnt through this profession the subtleties of her own boundaries more clearly. For the first time in her life, she stopped feeling ugly and like a failure for not fitting with conventions. Her confidence developed as she learnt how to manage herself as a business.

Modelling helped Morimda to cure her depression, as it allowed her to be herself, to accept herself, and in this way encouraged her innate inner joy to shine through again. Through the life model network she was introduced to Buddhism and chanting which is a strong focus in her life to this day.

She is very keen to empower other women about their bodies, nudity and sensuality, as she truly feels that modelling has given her so much in these regards. It helped her to be aware of the significance of posture, and how each of us have different shapes and forms to play with. She was inspired to come up with the idea for Spirited Bodies, whilst posing at the Mall Galleries in 2010 before sharing it with Esther & Lucy.

Life modelling and drawing are a really good way to address body image issues, as well as gaining confidence and broadening our experience by stepping out of our comfort zones.

At this Stories of Women event there is also the chance to try life modelling yourself, or you may come to draw and/or listen or join in the conversation. During the second half there is a discussion about the body politics of life modelling and related matters. There is guidance for new models – no experience necessary, and some drawing materials are provided – again no experience necessary.

For more information about this event and to buy tickets online, see here.

Tampering with Nature, & the Making of Ritual

I knew that Leytonstone wasn’t so much about the people I don’t know. My focus is definitely concentrated on the artistic and therapeutic direction, while my marketting skills are falling behind. On that front I really miss Lucy, but I wish her all the ground-breaking success she deserves in overcoming the skeptics and the nay-sayers on her quest to become a teacher – with a life modelling past. I mean it’s not like she can erase her name from press quotes relating to Spirited Bodies, so better to be upfront. I have a lot of faith in her. She is a great teacher and showed me much on the path to growing this project. The English education system is missing out enormously if it discriminates against those who have been or are life models. If it won’t accept her on those grounds, it is because it is not worthy of or ready for her. A pox on those naked fearing bureaucrats. If they knew Lucy they’d rewrite that protocol. It is time that any anti-naked religion took a hike. Early Christians knew that nudity meant being closer to God, free of society’s masks. This lingering, prevailing Victorian attitude needs to be dropped in a country, well a city at any rate that is more multi-cultural and integrated perhaps than any other on the planet. Let’s adopt some more timeless values. We are human animals for Goodness sake! Living in fear of man’s savage behaviour denies our higher feminine principles.

Back to Thursday evening. It was largely about my friends. I have the privilege of interviewing them, after all some have taken part in numerous Spirited Bodies events, and being friends I might catch them at more opportune moments. Other participants I didn’t know so well before, but now I do. Maybe we are friends now after sharing so much, but regardless I am grateful for the personal intimacy shared and aired. This ritual is growing as I learn incrementally how to work it.

These people have landed in all kinds of uncommonly normal circumstances. Overdue on their credit card payment, reacting unfavorably to high blood pressure medication, stuck in a job with the NHS administration that gives just 30 minutes for a lunch break, unable to chew their food properly, broken stomach, sexually abusive family, didn’t face their biggest fears till their 40s/50s/60s, tall but can’t walk without a stoop, have always had just enough so never been pushed to challenge themselves more, know there is something massively missing in their lives but no clue how to remedy.

If you are stuck in a rut, there seems no way out, just a long waiting game. A series of expected hospital appointments, courses of medication, rounds of relatives paying their respects. A gradually diminishing diet, bank account, and circle of friends. A partner oscillating between losing interest and reaffirming her raison d’etre. Just a few things are constant, you really get to know what they are. Maybe there is never really a partner, just a Mother, reluctant, unavailable and always in absentia. She can’t moan about you because she can’t even remember your name.

But if you have a chance you may describe the rut, listen to your voice, and watch others listen as they try to draw you. Do they get it? Do you gain something by hearing your voice amplified in a hall with others listening? Does it make the words sound more real, or like you are watching it on Jeremy Kyle? You hear the silence, sometimes a laugh when your audible sincerity hits a mark of recognition. Perhaps you sound daft, insecure or indulgent; but if you didn’t you wouldn’t sound like anything at all, and from awkwardness, at least you emerge with a voice.

There is responsibility; are these people vulnerable? Being exploited by me for dramatic material? One model reveals an undiagnosed personality disorder on tape. He has a nervous stutter, and describes a most unfortunate, horrific life, but is in the later portion of it. He is candid and unbothered by the consequences of openness – what does he have to lose? Not a lot I think. And he may gain more people understanding his shy, reserved character. Not just looking past him, perhaps imagining him as a creep – so quiet and nude, more than a little awkward. His voice has been heard, not overly edited to be politically correct. It is borderline but perhaps we need that, and to hear about mental health as it really is instead of carefully packaged to avoid lawsuits.

He stands alone, but he is supported by the others who are more comfy characters on their respective journeys. They are either artist or model, gaining experience or utterly professional as Ursula is. We hear their insights – on colleagues discovering their life modelling life, on the horrifying prospect of trying life modelling themselves, on the idea that men cannot help but look at women as objects; we hear advice from one who has overcome her fears to become a respected professional life model involved in theatrical events.

At some point I long to return to having a big event of the scale we have had with London Drawing in the past. I just need to be utterly sure of how that could manifest. Now that I have rebuilt the event with a therapeutic model, combining that with a stronger view of artists’ interests may come next. My shaman friend who attended on Thursday was inspired to write as well as draw during the session. She started describing to me a vision of how this could grow into a big healing and art event, with different types of artists, poets and alternative therapists joining in. That is a very beautiful idea.

Something else which enhanced our Leytonstone gig, was a playlist of music tracks to accompany each interview. After all, the zone of life drawing is a meditation, and too many words could get in the way of that.

Some pictures from the event; poses were between 1 and 20 minutes long

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Many thanks to all who made this event possible. The other thing I realised about how to run Spirited Bodies is, no one should make a profit from it, it is a labour of love. All proceeds are going to an orphanage in South India called Goodwill Homes (it turned out not to be the right time for the charity in Guatemala we originally had in mind). This is because the models are posing for free, and this needs to be for a higher purpose. I gain plenty in other ways from making it happen.

Life Art & Therapy in Highbury

I had been busy working on my play – Girl in Suitcase – in recent weeks, and left editing new interviews a bit last minute. I wanted to hear how they would flow with the material from March which was being reused, so naturally I gave each model’s interview a listen. Getting to Mum’s on Thursday afternoon left me with a heavy impression. The power in her voice is so disarming, to appreciate life so readily when one’s experience has been shockingly limited. I was reminded of the caged bird. My heart moved, and when I arrived for work in the evening, they knew something was up. Luckily they’d requested a Tank Girl look, so I was wearing stompy boots (and stockings) without anything else. They took a while to prepare their easels but some hiphop was playing and I just had to dance in my performance space. My way to release, to express, to flow back into a safer, happy place from where I can observe my emotions without being too caught up. The boots helped to ground me, as well as swing me around.

I just about managed to organise the interviews in time, but I was nervous. Every little thing – replenishing art materials, briefing models, instructions for how to maintain the pristine haven of a venue, biscuits, suitcases full of kit to charge across town by bus… and why had so few artists booked places? Would there be more models than artists? Turned out I had sent out a faulty link to the online booking  in my invitations and on the flier! Well it is the first time I have sold tickets that way, and now I know.

People showed up regardless. The right people. Not too many, but enough, definitely enough.

The planning for this event happened just before I was set to look after Mum a few days back in May. I planned the Girl in Suitcase performance then too. I needed a focus to make my days as a carer ok. Sounds terrible when some people like Dad do that all the time, but nevertheless, so it is. So there was a little urgency in the planning, which is great for making things happen, though bound to be a few hiccups.

One of the main models I had planned this event with, had dropped out last minute, due to a very important court case she was involved in out of town. Couldn’t be helped, but I guess it threw me a bit, seeing as she’d been a driving force previously. But hey, she helped get the ball rolling, and, I am so pleased with the outcome. For sure there are improvements to be made; interviews which need more editing mainly, and the possibility of some models doing a longer pose, while others move more often. What worked really nicely was Niomi’s (the absent model) idea of having a post-event debriefing session for all who cared to stay. There had been considerable discussions a while back about how we would ensure that the right people stayed, but in the end, it just happened organically. By that time, with the intensity of all the interviews fresh in the air, the people who can and want to stay on know who they are.

I tried to make sure everyone who wanted to, contributed to the discussion, and it was rewarding for me to discover how much people enjoyed hearing the interviews. As they played I had felt painfully aware of background noise, and parts of interviews which made the model in question (and me too) squirm inwardly as s/he heard her/himself. It was remarked that it was refreshing that it was not overly edited. Made it more authentic, genuine, to hear that I’d caught them at teatime, and this must have been my only opportunity to interview them, so I had just pressed record whilst kettles were boiling, cutlery chinking, or people shouting across a hall in the background. Not all the noises could be edited out, if the words were very important.

There was a difference in the way some interviews were received at Southbank Centre in March, and then at Skylight Centre now. In March at WOW the room was packed to bursting, and women at the festival had spent much of the weekend building the feminist momentum listening to talks, taking part in discussions about the female slave trade, getting more women in top positions, and getting rights for women in the middle east. By the time they got to us at the end of Sunday, they were ripe for each and every woman’s voice at our women only event.

I only invited one male model to Highbury as I was playing it very safe. I knew others would come to draw anyway and they would have a chance later in the session to pose, but I wanted to be extra picky at this stage, for this event. I won’t explain who he is or why I chose him here, as that might compromise his privacy, as with other models. But he stood out in a few ways, and I knew he wouldn’t come otherwise. My main objective might be to offer the Spirited Bodies experience to people who would otherwise not find it, and who may gain the most, as well as contributing most meaningfully to the ensuing dialogue and others’ experience.

One artist mentioned that he was amazed to hear how the interviewees expressed such hatred towards their own bodies, and that it made him realise there were likely a lot of people going round with those negative thoughts in their heads. Tragic. It was news to him (he’d been brought by a friend) that the model might be experiencing therapy whilst modelling. He wondered if all models gained in this way. I explained that for most regular models, after a while one is relatively free of body hang-ups, but that modelling may continue to offer valuable insights due to its meditative energy sharing nature, even for the seasoned model, and that’s part of what can keep its appeal. Another artist who tried the posing stated that modelling raised his energy in a trance-like way, took him to a higher place. I totally agree.

I am aware of a block I might have towards applying for funding. I guess that (funding) has never been a reason for doing the project, as my drive is born more directly of passion, a need to create and to share. I mean, funding might be great, but I would not wait for it. When I need to make Spirited Bodies or a piece of theatre happen, I just do it. I loathe the idea of fitting my plans into boxes for others to judge if my intentions and methods fit with their criteria. On the other hand, at some point I may cross that threshold as I know this is worthy of funding. It just has to happen before I get the itch to be doing the event, because then I have no time for forms.

On Friday evening there were 8 interviews, including one from an artist. There was going to be music too, but due to a technical hitch early on we only got the sound started a bit later, so no extra time available. At least 5 of the artists tried the posing. Mum received a round of applause after her interview! Revealing her identity is a little controversial as she is shy about people she knows knowing that she modelled nude. But I have this feeling it’s like worrying that someone from work will see you at a fetish club. If they are there too, surely you’re in it together? Moreover Mum’s voice is too powerful and my connection to her too strong for me to present this less personally. A middle-aged woman with advanced MS who is paralysed from the neck down poses and tells you about how in her dreams she is in her 20s and can walk, but in waking life she requires anti-depressants in order to feel ok about everything. She would hate it if the people on her street knew about the modelling (but some of them do as she’s proud enough to have some of the pictures from her previous sessions up in the kitchen). Her voice is slow, and would be quiet without volume control. Normally it’s lucky if one person can hear her, let alone an audience. She tells it like it is, and she almost has nothing to lose. Women in the audience who may be too worried about the size of their behind to pose, or think they have a big nose, rethink their concerns when they hear what Mum has to contend with. It puts everything into perspective to have an elder (63, but in a condition more like a 90 year old) like that. She hadn’t thought she could be a role model, but it dawns on her during the interview. By the end we are all extremely grateful to be able to move independently, to pick up a piece of charcoal or remove our own clothes unassisted. Life takes on new meaning.

model Liliana

 

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All pictures taken from the event. There were many more good ones I missed, but hadn’t got that far in my planning. All the same, brilliant memories.

Stormy Nights of Transformation

In 1987 I was 10. About this time of year there was a very memorable storm, you may recall, not dissimilar to the one on outside tonight (in London, UK). Trees collapsed, cars were smashed, gardens were destroyed, and I felt a fascination with this touch of wildness in our city and indeed beyond.

I wrote a story inspired by that night, for creative writing was my favourite outlet for self expression. In the fiction I was preparing for a Halloween fancy dress competition, which seemed fairly significant at the time, not least because my arch nemesis would be competing with me, and to me at any rate it might as well just have been me and her in the contest. I knew she was hotly tipped as the favourite; being richer and possessing finer garments standing her in perhaps better stead. I was unperturbed, and created for myself a unique costume fashioned from bin-liners, and rolled a black cardboard cone hat, adding some details by sticking on old scraps of material. Nothing fancy but the best I could muster. I reckoned further points may be scored for originality and style, the way an outfit was worn as much as the clothes themselves.

I laid my costume out before I went to bed, the night before the big day. That was the night of the manic storm, and nothing was the same after. In the morning I discovered that our back garden had been blown several blocks away and a tree fallen on Dad’s car. What more despite being apparently safe inside, my carefully crafted costume had been shredded, crumpled and broken beyond repair. I was distraught and could not conceive how this might have happened. The rest of my room was ok; it was most alarming. I thought I could no longer enter the competition and felt utterly disappointed, with a sense of void as to how this came about. Sighing and tearful I left the room to tell my Mum who was busy getting my brother ready for the day and making breakfast. There was no hope for this day I had so looked forward to.

But on returning to the bedroom I saw an unfamiliar object in my midst, positioned where I might have missed it before, high up on the cupboard. A shiney white cardboard box sat quietly and expectantly, with considerable promise. Tentatively I approached, reached for it and took it in my hands, examined it and removed the lid. What was this! A brand new beautiful black velvet and lace ensemble, complete with sparkly hat and shiney pointy shoes! I was flabbergasted, gobsmacked and temporarily frozen in disbelief. Everything was going to be all right after all. But how? Never mind that, the important thing was, did it fit? What do you think? It was the best fit since my Grandmother had stopped making handmade clothes for us because she was tracking down her first husband on the other side of the world. From the starry hat, lacey gloves, velvet frock and cape to the snug ankle boots, I was perfectly decked out. There was even a wand, but I was not sure about that and thought it might get in the way; I was a witch not a fairy, so I tucked it into my left boot. Over the moon, I set to shadowing my eyes and heightening my lips. My parents were contending with immense loss – you could just about spy the remnants of the shed and eucalyptus tree a few gardens away. The insurance line was jammed, in fact I don’t think the phone worked at all. I easily persuaded them I’d be fine on the bus.

I was still nervous even though I was better dressed in the new cloak than possibly I ever had been. I think the unexplained element of arriving in this attire put me a little on edge – not only was I not used to it, but also, part of me questionned my right to be in it. What if it was a mistake, or worse a trick? But who could hatch such a plot? I was flummoxed. Broken into by my arch-rival Gwendoline’s steely intent to trip me up and foil my desire (since our last run-in at the fairground when from high up on the wheel I poured some noxious concoction on her head)? We had been very good friends once, but she resisted strongly when I suggested we open up our friendship to others in the neighbourhood. While she might have motivation the practicalities did not support this. She could not have the keys to my home, and all the windows were tightly closed in this time of storm. The beautiful outfit could be a sign of her original devotion to me, but there would have to be a catch… Maybe more weirdly, I had been visited by fairies in the night, performing magic? Either way I barely dared entertain these thoughts further which had been lurking in my adrenaline fuelled glances on the top deck of the 43 bus. I arrived at the town hall, sounding my heels on the steps and escorted myself into the tall brick building to register my participation. What would the others be wearing? What would Gwendoline be conjuring? Could it be as incredible as my dress? As a final touch, on the way out of my house I had grabbed a broom which was scattered in what was left of the front garden to complete the look. I walked into the hall and found a place to watch others from, leaning on the broomstick nonchalantly.

The speeches and parades went by in a bit of a blur as I found it tricky to focus on the formalities. I could make out Gwendoline on the other side of the room, though really she ceased to be as important now I had arrived. It seemed that everything was out of my hands now anyway; the unusual events of the night and morning had taken care of that, and this awareness started to settle. My Mum and brother arrived shortly before the adjudication was made, and I was grateful to not be alone. This place was a little way from home so I didn’t know many others there particularly well. I just knew that Gwen would take part as we had talked about it and planned it before the split transpired. I think when the mayor or whoever he was announced my winning, I was no more stunned than I had already become accustomed to. I glowed nonetheless, overwhelmed with pride and joy to have succeeded in my special quest. Why did I want to be the best? Probably because I was tired of Gwendoline behaving like she was superior all the time. I wanted to shut her up. And winning is fun. I’m not sure if there was money, a prize or a crown, but not long after being acknowledged as the winner, I got on my broomstick, quite conscious that miracles or magic were entirely possible, and flew off before everybody’s incredulous eyes, and out through a high window!

A few months later in early February I sat an entrance exam to a girls grammar school. For the English section I basically rewrote this story as one of the titles was ‘The Stormy Night’, and that was what got me into the school I spent the next five years in as my maths was fairly basic.

It gives me great pleasure to remember the story (and the story of the story), unfortunately I do not have the original with me, though it’s possible that it is housed in my parents’ attic.

Apart from this reminisence I wanted to tell you that Spirited Bodies is going to have a break soon. We will cease events and workshops for some months as the routine has taken hold and its grip is lethal. We were meant to be less predictable, for therein lies the most potent magic. What ought to be extraordinarily remarkable occasions, were in danger of being overlooked, become commonplace in my spectrum. I don’t mean the extravaganza just gone, but the monthly sessions where in fact more new people come to celebrate some milestone, than at the recent biggie. Each of those moments deserves more attention, and the time to regard each potential participant; who will benefit most, and will the group bring out the best in each other?

Managing men has been an ongoing matter. So many want to take part, but who has the most honourable intentions? You cannot tell from a simple questionnaire, or even necessarily meeting. But the most nervous women involved and sometimes our team who are less immersed than I am pick up on energies once the nude proceedings are in action. Artists too remark of male models not in it for a purpose befitting us. Meanwhile I am so preoccupied with replicating ‘The Raft of the Medusa’, and everybody’s comfort that much that is important eludes me. And while I do all the admin and run the show, I cannot be all things to all people.

So clearly we need time to change. We have a good strong team, and we will work more as such in the coming months, refashioning the Spirited Bodies experience. Newer team members especially Thelma felt strongly that we must return to our core, what the original mission was. This was about the models’ transformation, and it was about women modelling for the first time to experience a remarkable transition towards confidence. We reconnected with the founder, Morimda to hear in her words what inspired her, and as well she took the time to join in a little.

Meanwhile I want some time away from the overwhelming admin; I want to travel a bit and get back to writing and performance. I have felt like I was doing the project more for others and no longer so much for myself as it used to be. I need to give back to me. But I know Spirited Bodies will keep calling me back too, and at the right time, something magical will emerge again. Happy Halloween fellow spirits!

If you would like to join in an all female event coming up very soon before we take our break, click here for more details on how to get involved and do not hesitate to get in touch. Making the decision to refocus our mission has freed me up to feel appropriately enthused about our final events! There are 2 more sessions at Holborn (see Workshops & Events) as well as the aforementioned new opportunity for women. In addition a small exhibition of some of the Spirited Bodies art work will be on display in the Sh! shop in Hoxton throughout November. Please note this shop is a women’s shop and men may only go in accompanied by a woman, except on Tuesday evenings between 6 and 8pm which are ‘Gents Tuesdays’. As we come to the end of this season we celebrate Spirited Bodies’ 3rd anniversary.

IMAG1324Magic shoes from a recent costumed session Thelma & I did in Tadworth!

Thelma & I being ladies who lunch
Thelma & I being ladies who lunch

Find Your Divine Feminine with Spirited Bodies at Sh!

Ever wondered what it’s like to model for artists? Spirited Bodies offer a unique way to reconnect with your body, discovering appreciation within and without, by striking poses for artists. Led by professional female life models, the quiet space afforded by art modelling is unveiled and opened up to newcomers.

Founded in October 2010, Spirited Bodies like Sh! has always been a female run organisation, and in the beginning only invited women to try life modelling. Now men have an opportunity too as many events are mixed, but it is important to keep creating women-only environments to explore our relationship with our bodies, and each other through art.

At events groups of people model together nude, many for the first time, guided by Spirited Bodies. There is training available at workshops, and women only sessions always nurture a particularly supportive space.

On Thursday October 3rd women are invited to meet and chat with Spirited Bodies team members in the Hoxton Sh! store, from 6 – 8pm downstairs. Morimda, Thelma & Esther will be there to answer your questions and talk about the etiquette of being nude for art in a clothed environment, what it’s like to stay still for half an hour plus, and why the liberation of baring all and posing can offer a new level of sensuality. Everything you wanted to know about life modelling but were afraid to ask!

Esther & Thelma talking in the shop space
Esther & Thelma talking in the shop space

On Thursday November 7th, the Spirited Bodies team will be back – this time to hold a workshop for women only, in modelling, though not fully nude. As the shop licence will not allow nudity, women are invited to pose wearing clothes they feel sexy in. This could be a corset and stockings, a negligee, bikini or sari; whatever turns you on as long as nipples and bits are covered. Women are also invited to come and draw or paint the models in the workshop – whether experienced artists or relative beginners, all are welcome to pick up some charcoal and lose oneself in the moment of capturing the female form. Drawing materials are provided; of course you may bring your own if you prefer.

In the basement at Sh!
In the basement at Sh!

People come to model with Spirited Bodies for a great number of reasons, from rediscovering and celebrating their body post illness/divorce to overcoming eating disorders or wanting to be part of the process of creating art. They also come from all backgrounds, have been aged 17 – 82, are all sizes, colours and shapes. Spirited Bodies can help you find poses that bring out the best in you, whilst taking into consideration any physical limitations/disability.

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Both sessions at Sh! fall on Happy Hour so an ideal time to make the most of that, perhaps buy an outfit to pose in! Also both occasions are in the basement of the store which we regret is not accessible for wheelchair. If you are unable to get downstairs but want to join in on October 3rd, let us or the store know and we can arrange to be upstairs; for November 7th however we cannot change floor. Spirited Bodies do have other events and workshops however which are accessible so please get in touch if that applies.

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The women-only life modelling workshop on Thursday November 7th is from 6:30 – 8:30pm, with poses from 1 – 20 minutes led by Esther and the team, with guidance on posing throughout. Tickets cost £20 and may be booked here.

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Esther posing with props
Esther posing with props
Thelma being playful
Thelma being playful
Morimda
Morimda
A feminine space for women only
A feminine space for women only

As well as these special evenings at Sh! Spirited Bodies artwork will be decorating

the walls of the Hoxton store throughout the month of November. If you have drawn

or painted at a Spirited Bodies event and produced artwork there that you are proud

of, get in touch to submit it.