The Brave, the Confident & the Organic Whole

Making this 4th most adventurous Spirited Bodies to date, sometimes feels so awesome I want to cry!

Not for the 1st time I think I could do with a manager, as my organisational skills are far from cutting it. I would probably rebel against the manager though, as Lucy may testify. Gradually she is figuring out how to spoonfeed me just enough so I don’t spit the whole lot out.

Lucy creates order, lists, comprehensive plans and information in tabular form. She also doubles up as the next best thing to a shit hot lawyer who is also my mate. She’s not a lawyer, but she bamboozles anyone who presents an obstacle with so many lists of facts they hadn’t possibly imagined a life model might come up with; she is much more than a secret weapon.

I realised after the 2nd event when I found myself busy falling in love, that we were complementary partners, a natural team. As soon as I became indisposed, she picked up the baton and ran with it (having been unavailable until exactly that moment).

Spirited Bodies is not something I could do alone. For a start how can I seriously expect people to believe life modelling will be good for them just because it works for me? I am so skinny that the French ladies sculpting me in a standing pose have to add layers on to my legs just so that the clay doesn’t fall over. Fat seems to be one of the biggest body issues people have, apart from ageing of course, but I have trouble acquiring a single ounce, such is my metabolism, genes and cycling addiction. People laugh at my suggestion saying it’s easy for you. But Lucy… she has what I lack, and to excess, so that between us we cover a beautiful spectrum of female form.

Coming forward to participate this time I noticed a surge of interest from continental types, perhaps more ready to embrace an episode in the nude. As well as this what stands out is a difference between male and female interest. Not entirely but certainly markedly there is a distinction between those looking to gain confidence, and those wishing to share and celebrate it with others. There is confidence in male and female quarters, but percentage wise, the men outnumber in that respect. I think that’s because it’s overall more acceptable or normal to address body issues as a woman. As a man it is more ok to be ok with one’s body.

It’s all fine for us. What matters is the joy of finding these lovely people and having an opportunity to bring them together. The nervous will stand alongside the confident, and they may be levelled. Indeed with some of the high standard of body love coming our way, some of our shyer models may be wowed and thrilled at positive attention they will no doubt receive 🙂

Zeroing In

Our recent events left us with much to celebrate, and think about. The ‘Naked Date’ was successful, went really smoothly, though admittedly for myself was eclipsed by putting on my first life drawing play, ‘Girl in Suitcase’. Lucy found all the models and many wanted to go into life modelling so there was less of a transformative angle, although still some, which I suppose made it slightly less moving, but far more relaxing. It felt more like we are an agency by which people may enter life modelling, so if it were to continue that way, I feel we would have to charge. Previously more women involved were overcoming body confidence issues so there was another satisfaction and a sense of giving back something of what we have gained not just in terms of know-how and encouragement, but also something that has helped us become who we are. The trickier task however of organising that sort of event, also requires funding, if not from the women themselves, then sponsorship, which while desirable, competes with my playwrighting/performing ambitions.

SB3 Naked Date

The play came together in a short space of time and managed to accommodate several cast changes. I drew heavily on scripts I’d written a couple of years ago, one of which about Mum struggling with MS, is a bit close to the bone. I had thought I’d prefer performing in Edinburgh to relative strangers, yet it was the home audience of family – including my parents – and friends that helped my personal piece to resonate. Technically Jaki, Aaron and I mastered the show more in Scotland, but I didn’t have the same adrenaline there. True, when we were streamed live on the Saturday evening some of those tingles came back, but I know a good live audience is of course what this play needs.

That’s not to say the Edinburgh audiences weren’t appreciative; they just weren’t large enough to really settle into. It felt like there was more room in the space for me to notice anything lacking, which while also being a state of mind, is nevertheless a factor when involving audience participation. The idea being that all the audience draws, so if only a few are present, it can be trickier to rally them on if they are unprepared for a good half hour of drawing. That didn’t stop me from accosting any unengaged hands during the show, but I guess if you’re new to it, it would be easier to relax with some charcoal if you felt surrounded by others in a similar boat. Still it meant I could spot the novices more easily haha!

The London venue, Mascara Bar, invited us back immediately and lots of people were very positive about it there. I’m not sure if I’d re-perform the play as it is, as I would very much like to write more of a fresh script, and have plenty new ideas.

One very valuable comment from an audience member at Mascara, was to include Jaki the actress playing my Mum in the modelling, and encourage the audience to draw her too. This made absolute sense with the meaning of the play and the fact that the character is paralysed, and was duly incorporated in Edinburgh.

Not having been told to draw Jaki didn’t stop my Dad from sketching a small army of her wheelchair-bound character! Indeed Jaki kept her facial expressions for the character Sara the entire time on stage so this was more character modelling than life.

Breaking the Muslim Tradition & Celebrating Transformation

Anita was brought up in Malaysia as a Sunni Muslim, where women have some freedom of choice about whether to cover their heads and faces.

As a young person her parents brought her to London and throughout her 20s she chose a conventional path; marriage, university, career in a bank and the birth of her daughter. At 30 she felt the need to reassess her circumstance; she knew she wasn’t happy and wanted to address who she really is to find her true happiness. Divorce and a desire to celebrate her body with tattoos and piercings followed, as well as taking a step towards one of her dreams – she joined an amatuer theatre company. When she took on the role of director there a couple of years ago, she chose the play ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’. Anita felt strongly about pushing boundaries and didn’t skimp on the nudity, indeed she took on the part of the courtesan who appears naked, herself.

She met her partner Steve at the drama group, and a mutual friend Julian invited them both to take part in Spirited Bodies. They each individually decided to try it, and feel glad that their interest in this activity is naturally matched in the other. It will be something to share.

Steve has been through quite a physical and indeed internal transformation in the last few years. He used to be a large man but lost a quarter of his body weight in a fairly short time, though this he explains is a minor matter compared to the real shift that took place within him. He had become very tired of being an underdog who lacked confidence in the extreme, and decided to do something about it. He wanted to come out of the shadows, and once he held this vision of certainty and strength in his mind, the rest followed easily. Anita thinks taking part in Spirited Bodies will allow him to acknowledge this powerful transformation in his life and share it with her. For herself, Anita wants to embrace expressions of independence and liberation. Her next ambition following Spirited Bodies, is to perform burlesque.

I ask how it is to be a Muslim woman with a Western lifestyle and what it’s like going home to Malaysia, seeing her female family and friends. She says she likes to have a chance to talk to them on their own, because then she gets hints of their independent aspirations, which are starting to show themselves more in the younger generation. Anita doesn’t think they may truly assert their womanhood in all its fullness whilst in Malaysia as the dominant culture is deeply embedded and restricting. She is grateful to live in England and bring up her daughter here. Anita still considers herself a Muslim, and appreciates that women gain a great deal from covering themselves and communing in single sex groups. It is the choice afforded her by living here that gives her the best insight, however. She is in the enviable position of experiencing the best of both worlds! While she cannot be truly open with her own Mother about her lifestyle now, she endeavours to foster a relationship with her daughter that nourishes truth and speaking freely.

The Naked Date

A multi-life modelling event on Friday 5th August is open to men and women who would like to try it. This is being opened to men as well, as being comfortable with our bodies is something we may ideally share regardless of gender. If you are interested, please contact me, and if you think friends may be, then please post this message to them.

I don’t know how this will emerge until I find out who is interested – and the event will be tailored according to interest. So that if a couple wants to pose together, that’s fine, or a group of friends; and women may model in a separate space to men if preferred.

I prepare all new models in advance, and about 100 artists may be present to draw/paint. The actual session lasts 2 hours from 6pm in Central London, with a break in the middle. There are shorter poses to warm up from 5 minutes in duration, building up to half an hour, and models are encouraged to find the most comfortable and appropriate poses for themselves.

This is an opportunity to overcome body confidence issues, celebrate nudity, meditate in an artistic environment and be painted from life.

If you would like to participate but do not want to be entirely nude, that is fine.

Larger than Life

I started modelling because I needed a job that wouldn’t make demands on my brain – and I foolishly thought that modelling wouldn’t. I was ill, and no longer able to do the PR job I had done before, I had problems with memory, words, speech at times – so a silent job had great appeal.

My first point of contact was a friend who’d done some modelling the year before as part of a review of her life – she’d joined RAM, the Register of Artists Models, and recommended it to me, so that is what I did. She was full of very practical advice, like take a robe that covers a lot of you… She also said they would love me, because I have flesh.

My first modelling experience was a good foretaste of what was to come – a grotty studio crammed with people who didn’t talk to each other, a minimum of moderating from the tutor who’d change his mind about poses but made no actual recommendations himself, easels that collapsed all the time, a tiny screen behind which to change.

I was modelling alongside a slim, pretty, young, red haired student who was trying out modelling as a way of earning some money while she studied. i thought that she would inspire the best drawings, yet during the break, as I wandered round and looked at the images, I found one man who’d done a huge A3 drawing of the red haired girl sitting on a chair – then up in the corner, about the size of a playing card, he’d drawn a back view of me sitting on the floor – the drawing of me had life, energy, it made my arse look like a smile – the drawing of the girl was mechanical, inert, lacking in individuality – this made me realise that you can’t legislate for what the artists will produce.

The most important source of work is word of mouth, through other models, tutors and individual artists. I do a fair bit of straight forward marketing of myself to recognised art schools.

I don’t do photography – I hate the idea that someone else has got naked photos of me – so I am only looking for life sculpting, drawing and painting work, the least lucrative area of work for artists’ models.

Being a larger artist’s model means you have a USP as a big woman. There are famous artists who have done remarkable paintings of large women; Lucian Freud, Jenny Saville, Henry Moore etc. The bad point is that you are not a commercial norm – artists who make a living from selling their work are much more likely to be painting dancers or other suitably slim women than someone like me.

There are some ridiculous negatives as well, such as the screen providing a tiny changing area that would challenge a tiny pixie to change in it without knocking over the screen, and tutors rarely understand the difference between a slim circus performer doing a pose and someone who is big doing the same. Effectively you are doing weight training when you pose as a fat person. If they want a pose where I am raised up on my arms, then 20 minutes really is my maximum. I just wish people wanted poses with legs in the air, because I’d be good at that after years of riding. My belly gets in the way if I want to sit up with my arms wrapped round my knees.

My breasts are a big advantage, so I have to try to pose without covering them up.

Advantages to being larger – I am always surprised when I hear my thin model mates talking passionately about cushions, mattresses etc & saying they hate working at X because there are no pillows. Me, so long as I’ve got my sheet or fleece blanket, I am quite happy posing on the floor or a table or a hard chair – in fact, I prefer it. I hate standing on a cushioned surface, makes me feel very precarious.

Finance Doing my tax return always reminds me just how hard it is to make a real living from modelling alone. The hourly rate might look higher than minimum wage, but it’s a classic iceberg job – the bit you are paid for, the visible bit – the posing, uses up the least time – you spend much more time travelling from job to job, doing the admin, marketing yourself & networking.

That said, I’ve loved the world I’ve found through modelling; the people, the artists, and everyone coming to a class. I like the opportunity for meditating the job gives me, and I like the meditative effect it has on the people drawing. The structure of the class gives me a discipline for meditation, which has very direct benefits on my health.

While I like working with classes, i think now I’d like to model more for individual artists. I think I’ll target some whose work I like.

I really enjoy sitting for portraits; I am a dab hand with a turban and have a selection of amazing hats and jewellery, so I want to promote myself as an interesting portrait model this year. I like dressing up like a daft thing – I do a good wedding guest, gypsy queen, classic English country gentlewoman (lotsa pearls), or middle aged Goth. The last fancy dress party I went to I went as a jellyfish, so dressing up appeals. I might also explore the opportunity to do some modelling as a couple, if I can find a man to work with who doesn’t look a tad ludicrous alongside my bulk. I think doing some Rodinesque modelling would give me a laugh as well as being more lucrative.

An active market for life art would ensure its survival – and work for models.

I want people to buy a painting because they like it, not because they think it will increase in value or because it shows what good taste they have. David Miliband’s 13 dancing naked women are a great example. After the painting was slammed in the Daily Telegraph by Stephen Bayley as a ‘regrettable purchase’ and ‘middle-brow junk’, Miliband himself went on record in the Mail saying ‘We bought it because it put a smile on our faces. And yes, we could afford it… I know I like our naked dancing women more every time people like Stephen Bayley attack it.’

Read more:

Bayley’s ‘awful painting’ article;