Circles of Women

Our recent women’s event was in a beautiful space at the Bargehouse (part of Oxo buildings, Southbank), well heated and well attended – with 5 models, and about 10 artists. Poses from 1 – 15 minutes, some with movement. We began dynamic and expansive, and perfected the art of very slowly opening up from an enclosed pose (3 and 5 minutes). In 3 minutes, they had moved so slowly, that when time was up, I found they had hardly opened at all! So I decided on a second round, longer to allow them to complete the movement.

All artwork from the women's session at the Bargehouse, 4/11/15
All artwork from the women’s session at the Bargehouse, 4/11/15

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The artists sat in a circle, some drawing in sketch pads, others leaning a board on a chair in front, one or two with their own mini easels set up. Within this circle, the models had a sheeted and cushioned area in which they created their own circles from time to time as they posed.

In daylight before we began
In daylight before we began

We created 5 minute poses for each element – Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Beautiful ensembles with flames, blowing in the wind, waves, and the solidity of Earth.

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Hands reached up in a blaze of flames

There was a mix of experienced models including Ursula (a full time model and performance poet), and Claire (professional model, writer and feminist artist from the 80s, returning now with mastectomy), and Paula (relatively new). New models included an opera singer, who sang with Ursula in a sonorous pose; also another totally new model.

operatic notes on a page
operatic notes on a page

That was an impromtu inspiration as the singing model was clearly keen, and we have done that sort of thing before at A Human Orchestration a couple years back, so it felt enjoyable to revisit musical models. Really adds to their presence, and in this case, her voice was so powerful that the room shook. I’m not joking, and I wasn’t even next to her, touching her, so I can only imagine the vibrations in the inner circle. At least one artist was moved to tears, and several said they drew differently as touched by her tones.

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Artists familiar, as well as some from the drawing symposium (we were a part of the Southbank Festival of Creativity) made their marks.

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A real pleasure to return to my perhaps most passionate area of Spirited Bodies – the sacred women’s space! Though I don’t make much of any spiritual angle, keeping the session within life art/performance narrative, there is an extra element of care and consideration that is about feeling safe, to be all that we are. We are aware, as women together, some of us nude, that we could have body hang-ups, and maybe sometimes we do. But in that space, we are supporting each other to move past that, and enjoy the bodies we are in. We create solidarity, without judgement for ourselves or each other, embracing difference. And that is all that is needed, together with listening to each other, to make a very special warm, shared healing experience.

bending in the wind
bending in the wind

We don’t have to have been especially hung-up to benefit immensely; we all gain from the shared liberation, and witnessing each other being and blossoming. Creating a helpful, proactive, responsive community as well, as we connect more, building friendships. In the end, it is the love between us that grows our collective power, beauty, resonance and connection.

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There is space within poses for individuals to practise their own spirituality possibly. Over years of modelling, I believe I have learnt how to very quickly access a meditative state, it is second nature. I smile automatically when discomfort prevails, as doing this alters my mind state to strengthen me, minimising pain. What is more tricky is the muscles reminding me subsequently, that it was not such an easy pose I had fooled myself so well of!

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I also talk some of the time, during the session to point out how poses do or don’t work, to guide the models as well as instructing artists, in a different sort of life class! I played a bit of music too, but at the start, I instinctively wanted to let the silence take hold, bringing peace to all of us who had braced ourselves through the city to get there that evening.

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I love circles of women. Last night I danced to the full moon with sisters in a church in Vauxhall. I vary in how much I am feeling it each month, but yesterday was very serene. The DJ, Sarah Davies, gave a little talk on body language which felt very pertinent, it spoke to me. How we hold ourselves affects the way we feel, and vice versa. So we can use this to make ourselves feel stronger, even when we are not necessarily there yet emotionally, or mentally. Create bold, confident shapes with our bodies to empower ourselves.

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I have noticed over the years, that I had to let go of jobs where the artists were too proscriptive about poses, as if I am not in control of them, it can more likely damage my well-being emotionally (as well as physically).

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I love how the full moon women’s dance is run by a bunch of women, tending to be about 10 – 12 years my senior I reckon. They and many of the dancers, are yoga, dance, alternative healing practitioners and artists, so a lot of strong energy in the space, and quite a few run their own women’s spaces. The chairs are cleared from the space and I set to hoovering crumbs, leaves and dust off the massive carpet. It takes a goodly amount of time, especially as I am enjoying being inspired by my moves with the vacuum cleaner! About two thirds of the way through the task, the sound system has been erected, and music begins to fill the church. Housework gets me into my first dance.

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A pair of artists unravel and place items on an altar, immediately in front of the church’s own, which is behind decorated gates. After I have stocked up the toilets with paper, and put the moon pictures up, Sara hands me her palo santo to be burnt, and wafted about to cleanse or smudge the space.

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Low-lit by highly hung chandeliers, the whole church resonates to the ska, hiphop, dance, world, ambient and darkly gothic music. We are moving through waves, rhythms of our feminine expression, of lyrical, flowing, chaotic, staccato and still bodies. I get a lot from this group. I take my friends there, and gradually get to know some of the women I meet there. It is a source of shared knowledge and deeper friendships.

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For me, the instructions through the mic from the DJ about how to move (just suggestions), and what we may be feeling, are often jarring with my own inner journey. I am well habituated to getting into my groove. I discovered at 18 I think, on the dance floor at Slimelight among other venues, how to reach ecstacy through dance, and I wasn’t always on drugs believe it or not! It was a passion, and I knew movement (beyond the everyday) would always be part of my life. I trained in physical theatre at Rose Bruford drama school, in South East London in the early noughties. I wasn’t a great student, but I did appreciate the variety and intensity of some of the outlandish practitioners we immersed ourselves in.

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Still, I do appreciate how having an MC helps to bind the group at times, as well as nurturing some of those who may be newer to dance or being part of such a group. It’s lovely to be in a group that is run by women, repurposing the church of a monthly evening, a church which in fact lends itself to a number of new age groups. At one particular phase of the evening, all the women start howling into the air, for a long long time. So happy to hear their voices, and to be taking up space as Sarah wanted.

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Another women’s space I would like to bring your attention to, is run by Calu Lema, as part of her Naked Movement project. She describes her philosophy, background and intentions very well, and – Details of her next women’s (naked) space, are here.

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I have naturally often thought, how good it would be if the full moon dance was also naked! I wasn’t thinking that yesterday though. The heating was blasting, and we were moving fast some of the time, but it is a big space, so didn’t feel cosy for nudity. Not that that’s really an option here… even in Summer. I also appreciate how it would be highly unlikely that you would get that many women at a naked dance, sadly at the moment. It is very cool to be with so many women dancing though.

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My own next women’s event is on Sunday 13th December, at Tanner Street, close to Tower Bridge, from 11am – 1pm. For trying life modelling and/or drawing, with some gentle exercises to get comfortable with posing, as well as explore how the poses we choose may enhance ourselves and others. Nudity is optional. Naked, we may open up more to each other, face more of ourselves beneath the layers, and appreciate our natural beauty and body shapes. But it’s not for everyone. Artists are usually clothed, and sometimes, after a few years or so of coming to Spirited Bodies, artists pluck up the courage to bare all themselves!

a sea of bodies
a sea of bodies

 

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.

Introducing LaDawn to the Spirited Bodies team

I wish I could remember with greater clarity that moment when I thought life modelling would be a good experience for me.  But the fact is I don’t.

I do remember being adrift.  I had been suffering from severe depression and my days were a jumble of hoping I had enough energy to get out of bed and then pure anxiety coursed through my blood stream all day as I tried to keep myself from returning to the comfort of the duvet.  My life was nothing like it used to be.  I was nothing like I used to be.

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For the previous 25 years, I had worked in IT.  I was a senior manager in a FTSE 50 company.  I was a mother to two children, a son who is now 12, and a daughter, now 9.  I was the wife of a man who ran his own IT consulting company.  I juggled the demands of a working wife and mother with the precision of a military operation.  I had weekly menus for our meals planned out for the next 3 months and their corresponding grocery lists just waiting for the calendar reminder to alert me to the exact time the order needed to be placed online.  I raced from office to school to home and back again.  Our social life was a whirl of engagements.  I loved hosting dinner parties.

One day it all went horribly wrong.  The doctor diagnosed me with depression and put me on anti-depressant tablets.  I was catatonic.  My husband took the children and me on holiday hoping that would help but instead of the lively, chatty, laughing wife that would normally accompany him on our road trips, he was left with a wife who spoke only to announce she needed the services.

It only got worse when we got home.  Finally, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and after 2 separate stays totalling nearly 4 months, I finally had the right cocktails of medication that meant I could be trusted to be left on my own.  But I was far from “cured”.  I couldn’t plan meals and I certainly couldn’t cook.  The multi-tasking required of my brain was a step beyond what my impaired cognitive abilities allowed me to process without having a major anxiety attack.  I found just leaving the house an insurmountable challenge.

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In the eternal quest to fill my days with something, anything that was meaningful I found myself reading an article written by an artist friend of mine about a life drawing event she had attended.  The models were provided by an organisation called Spirited Bodies.  The organisation was founded on the principle that life modelling had the power to redefine the definition of what society saw as beautiful.

Having been curvy since puberty and having gained several stones as I had babies and grew older, my inactivity during my depression had resulted in even more pounds being piled on.  I always found my ability to make friends relied most heavily on my sunshiney personality.  But my confidence, the place where the sunshine gained its potency, was lost; not just misplaced but dead and buried under a mountain of fear and shame and disgust and futility.  My self-esteem had evaporated as I laid in my bed and tried to come up with another plausible way to kill myself while not destroying my children’s lives.

Spirited Bodies indicated that life modelling could be a way to improve not only the image you had of your body but also your own confidence and build your self-esteem.

This made sense to me.  I mean, look at all the beautiful art of nudes hanging on all those walls of the best museums in the world.  Those women were gorgeous.  One day that might be me.  That would be cool.

This all made perfect sense to me.  Not so much for my husband.

He was quite possibly the angriest I have ever seen him when I returned home from my introductory meeting with Spirited Bodies at a pub on Lavender Hill in London.  Quite rightly, he was angry because I hadn’t told him much about it.  I hadn’t even told him where I was going or who these people were.  He was worried for my safety.  On the other hand, it’s not like I took my clothes off or anything.  Yet.  Instead I explained that I had learned about the role of nudity in art:  painting, drawing, sculpture.  I explained how you had to choose your poses carefully because you need to be able to maintain that pose for what could be a long time.

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I patiently explained to the man who had been caring for me virtually night and day that this was important to me.  He said I had never done anything like this before.  And I said, “Precisely.”  I wanted to step so far outside my comfort zone that I wouldn’t have a point of reference for my anxiety or fear or depression to take hold of me.  “But you are going to be naked” was his only reply.

I went to the second workshop and my anxiety levels were a little bit higher since there was a fairly good chance that I would need to get my kit off.  I’d brought my dressing gown just in case I was feeling super brave.

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Lucy, of Spirited Bodies, explained that we would be drawing each other.  No one was obliged to take off their clothes.  They could choose to be drawn clothed.  We were asked to take some paper and our pick of various drawing utensils.  Now this put the fear of god in me.  I can’t draw stick figures.  As I fidgeted around in my seat trying to look uber cool and comfortable holding my pencils and charcoal, Esther, of Spirited Bodies, stood in the middle of our circle and dropped her sarong and simply said “Draw.”

I looked at my blank sheet of paper.  I looked at the form standing in front of me.  I looked at my pencils.  I looked back up at Esther’s elbow, then her toe, then her neck, then her knee.  I looked back at my blank piece of paper.  As I put pencil and charcoal to paper, I struggled to transfer what I saw in front of me to the paper in a way that anyone would recognise as a human form.  I got lost in the moment and before I knew it 5 minutes was up, Esther had picked up her sarong and tied it around her neck and we were being asked how our drawings looked.

In those moments I realised that Esther had become little more than a bowl a fruit, a beautiful bowl of fruit, but a bowl of fruit nonetheless.  As more people volunteered to model I then realised that the beauty of life modelling is that everyone completely forgets that there is a naked person in the room.  The new model is consumed with thoughts of holding the pose, maintaining utter stillness, and the itch on her nose.  The artists in the room are consumed with capturing the curve of the spine, the droop of a breast, the length of the femur and those hands and feet.  Oh, the dreaded hands and feet.

One observation I’ve made is that not a single one of us looks even remotely the same when we don’t have our clothes on.  I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between a bowl full of apples, but put a bunch of naked bodies in front of me and I can guarantee that every man’s knee looks remarkably dissimilar to another man’s knee.  One woman’s nipple looks very different from another’s.  Everyone has something rather odd about their elbows.  Shoulders are amazing.

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I took my turn that day.  For a surprisingly brief 10 minutes I joined 2 other models, both males, and we pretended to be caught in the heat of a battle over a parking spot.  As one does, wearing nothing at all.  The funny thing was, it never crossed my mind, that I was nude.  I was more worried about holding the pose, not moving, respecting the other models, and making sure the artists had something interesting to capture.

On the day of the Spirited Bodies event at the Battersea Arts Centre, I was more excited than nervous, although in that moment before we took to the stage I thought I might vomit.  I took solace in the fact that I was surrounded by dozens of people, young old, small, large, fit and unfit, of every colour, with disabilities of the bodies, with tattoos, with scars, with breasts, without breasts, shaved, unshaved, tall, short, with hair long and short and colours representing every shade of the rainbow.

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There was an audible gasp from the artists as we entered the room.  We assumed our positions like professionals.  You would have thought we had been doing this all our life.  Models interacted with each other on the various levels of the stage and created beauty.  Created art.

During our breaks and at the end of the day, the models were given an opportunity to walk around and view the works that had been created.  It was also at this point that we got to interact with the artists.

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It was at this point that the real value of life modelling comes into its own.  Artists were effusive with their praise, generous with their compliments and it was easy to dismiss them as just being polite.  But then you looked at the art.  You may recognise your bum or your breasts or your back.  And there you were:  in a beautiful, stunning, breath-taking piece of art.  The partnership between artists and model had combusted and created this incredible piece of art.

My opinion of myself, my body, my whole being changed in an instance.  I could feel the endorphins coursing through my veins.  I was bubbling over with confidence, enthusiasm, passion, and joy.  Pure unadulterated joy.

The very next day I registered with RAM, the Registry of Artists Models.  Within a week, I had a few inquiries.  I had business cards printed.  Every time I posed, I handed out my business card to everyone in the class.  Soon I had more inquiries.

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Now I regularly model for various classes, universities, and groups all over the south.  Most of my work is in London but I do travel as far as Hook in Hampshire usually once every 6 weeks for a lovely group of older artists who create some of those most creative and remarkable work I’ve seen.

Sometimes I get cold.  Most are very accommodating about turning up the heating.  Sometimes the job is 2 hours of short poses (< 5 minutes each) which is exhausting and painful the next day when you are as unfit as I am.  Sometimes the job is a couple of really short poses (<1 minute) followed by 3 hours of one very long pose for 3 weeks in a row.  Must make sure that is a comfortable pose!

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I have met so many interesting people outside my normal social demographic. Life modelling has made me aware of my body and certainly more aware of the people around me.  I have gained confidence I never had and my self-esteem has fully recovered.  I can honestly say that life modelling has changed my life.

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Sylvie’s Project; Naked Unbreakable!

It was really exciting to be back for another Spirited Bodies event. So many things happened since the last one… I couldn’t believe it…

I felt a bit stressed after a busy day and I arrived a bit late so I didn’t have the time to talk with my fellow models. Once my dressing gown was off I felt at ease and very comfortable. I challenged myself with some tricky poses and I was able to think of what could be interesting to the artists.

I went to a Life Drawing Class with London Drawing which was really interesting as an artist and as a model… I think it helped me to explore my limits!

Back in February, at my first naked event for Spirited Bodies, I was still under the shock of the pain I was going through, emotionally and physically and I nearly didn’t make it and I am so glad I did because it opened a new door for me… meeting like minded people, creating beautiful connections and friendships changed something in me.

For the last month I kept going through it: one weekend I am in so much pain I hurt myself and the next I am standing somewhere naked, meeting beautiful people… and something beautiful came out of it!

On my blog, I came across the “Project Unbreakable”: a young American Woman takes pictures of victims of abuse who are holding a sign on which is written a quote by their abuser. I asked Esther if it was possible for me to have my picture taken during the event so I could then send them to this project. Esther’s been so supportive and as it turned out a photographer was also modelling that evening. He was happy to take the pictures and also found a wonderful way to get the other models involved in supporting me.

I was sexually abuse by my entire family: my Mum, my big brother, my Uncle, my granddad…

Last year I decided to break all contact with them and although I knew it will be emotional I didn’t expect having 3 nervous breakdowns in 9 months… I nearly didn’t survive any of it…

I decided to join Spirited Bodies to give myself and my body a beautiful experience… to remind myself of how beautiful I am…

Well, last Wednesday, I had the most powerful experience ever when I found myself sitting down, holding the sign:”No one will ever love you-My Mum” and surrounded by my fellow models reaching out to me, supporting me. I said: “Maybe I should send this to my Mum!!”

In this moment I knew I’ve won in my heart and in my life, loved and supported by so many wonderful people and so many wonderful friends.

So contrary to what my Mum used to tell me: I am loved and I am loving… everyday.

I’d like to say a big “Thank you” to my lovely Esther for your friendship and for your support, and also to Lucy, Charlie and all my fellow models from the February event and the last.

Big Love and Light,

Sylvie Rouhani- 25th of March 2012

Sylvie has 2 blogs: http://healingtogether.tumblr.com/  which is for and about survivors – male & female – of sexual abuse, &  http://happylittlebuddha.tumblr.com/  her more personal space

Project Unbreakable, & Walking the Walk

Today I visited Sylvie who modelled at our recent event. She has described how participating has lined up with her own journey of transformation (https://spiritedbodies.com/2012/02/12/little-pieces-of-me-by-sylvie-rouhani/) with regard to healing from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. She recently started her own blog for her art and poetry, and felt inspired when through the world of blogging she came across ‘Project Unbreakable’. Started by Grace Brown in the US, it is for survivors of sexual abuse to come out perhaps, by means of being photographed with a sign stating a quote of their abuser.

Sylvie’s powerful idea is to take part in the next Spirited Bodies – on 21st March at Telegraph Hill Festival – and make such a sign for herself for the occasion. When nude she will pose with the sign at least for a photograph to send to Grace to join the thousands that Grace receives. We don’t know if anyone has done this nude before, but it seems to make a lot of sense, since such difficult experiences can affect the way we feel about our bodies in a huge way. It may be quite subtle, yet highly destructive, making someone ashamed of themselves somehow. To confront this issue any which way how is surely empowering for any soul. In some pictures the person is not identifiable, the face not visible, but it is the act which demonstrates strength, and solidarity since many others are participating.

I am getting a sense that our upcoming event is about healing the heart. I felt upset when following the joy of the last event, an issue about photographs possibly spoilt some people’s experience. I never want that to happen again; it goes against the whole ethos of Spirited Bodies. In future if there is photography I will communicate much more clearly with every model about that in advance, and take pains to stage any photos taken so that no one is upset.

There was a flip-side to the mishap, in that some models who had not been so keen on being seen in a photo, once they saw the results, did change their minds remarkably, especially in the light of the unexpected levels of joy they experienced when participating. The photograph was a happy memory. But for any who trusted us less afterwards, I am sorry. Overall it was a valuable lesson.

One of Alex B's images from 'The Drawing Theatre', Spirited Bodies

Living and learning must be key. And fate gave me a suitable nod shortly after the photograph debacle. Having been body painted by my friend Caroline Young for the Paradise Jam in Broxbourne on 16th February, with one particular glitter tattoo on my back, I then had occasion to model nude on a catwalk in London Fashion Week for a hat designer on the 21st. The tattoo still intact, press photographers snapped my bottom avidly which was highlighted by the glitter. It, minus the hat, made it to page 3 of the Metro the next day much to my and Caroline’s delight!

Robyn Coles, the designer, fared better with her other models for her campaign, who served her purpose better from the front. A pregnant glamour model glowed sensationally, and Alex B strutted regally, amongst our number.

Backstage at the show I did not feel a big sense of belonging. I was not uncomfortable about my body, in fact the opposite. We had been told ‘basic make-up’, and I wore none. I think it is that I struggle to get excited about fashion and that showed. I did enjoy the catwalking however, which was to the tune of Lana Del Rey‘s ‘Born to Die’. Reckon body painting is more my thing!

I enjoyed posing with Caroline Young's body paint - photo by Alex Eve

Back in Drama School, at Rose Bruford 8 years ago I made a piece of theatre about facing demons of the past. I asked an old friend to take part as his story was powerful and had moved me. He portrayed in some theatrical form his tale of childhood sexual abuse. He said it was cathartic to stand up and perform this painful part of his past. To come out and say it, and actually be real on stage, in front of strangers. The audience were young and they laughed at first, but in the end we felt victorious for doing the performance project our way. In a way that felt most meaningful.

He said recently that he has gotten much reward over the years from connecting with other survivors who have had similar experiences. Once they have reached a certain stage in processing the damage, there is something about them which resonates clearly as they lack a more usual layer of bullshit apparent in so many people. They appreciate the value of things, life, better perhaps. And processing one’s struggle with others is part of what stops the damage from being heavily internalised. The easiest way, he points out, for the abuse cycle to continue and be passed on by one who has been abused becoming an abuser him/herself, is to not truly connect with others about the matter.

What I find becoming apparent is, 20 odd years ago there seemed to be a minority of victims, but now a growing awareness suggests  more likely a majority. So by joining up with Project Unbreakable for example, there is a strength in numbers. A knowledge of being far from alone. A power to let potential and actual aggressors know that they may be outflanked.

The next Spirited Bodies will welcome survivors and those who want to support them. Life modelling in a group can be healing in various capacities, and I will focus on this aspect of the event to drive it forwards.