The Trials and Tableaux of Tanner Street

I wanted to cancel a week before; there just wasn’t enough interest. From models or artists. It was a very painful feeling, tinged with failure, just when I had felt like things were getting back on track. I’d quit smoking a couple of days earlier, and emotions were rising to the surface, after a year or so’s burial. Most of my ambition stifled in a dense cloud, while I stumbled vaguely forward. A sleepless night of crying in my lover’s arms. But I picked up the reins the next day and did some more emails.

A few days before and still not enough women to model, let alone artists to make it seem worth finding the women. All I could rely on was faith, and perhaps a few reliable supporters and friends. Meetings with Alessandra, who was helping to prepare the women’s session, and Sarah who was again bringing her healing sounds, got me fired up again. Sarah and I practised an exercise on her living room floor, lying connected soles to souls. We made our own sounds in rhythm with ourselves and each other, and I felt my face energised, vibrant, while our soles tingled together. Alessandra showed me the gestures connected to different organs, according to Chinese medicine, the basis of her instruction, and I knew that I could make a movement pose work from one of those.

Still I was sleepless in anticipation, but Saturday I completed all necessary tasks for preparation. Stocking up on art materials, checking in with people helping, finalising the pose schedule and booking the taxi. My last email done, I was ready to open some wine when a piece of news arrived which gravely triggered me. I plunged into an abyss of self-doubt and debilitating darkness.

One of the hardest things I have found with Spirited Bodies, is that I give opportunities to people who actually have a lot higher status than I do, say in their careers and earning power. They’ve ‘got it all’, except body confidence, confidence in dating and relationships, or a groovy artist’s lifestyle! And that’s where I come in. I have those things, yet not with qualifications to command a high fee for imparting my wisdom. So I give it away; they transform their lives for a few hours and a few quid, but can I have a piece of their success? It hasn’t happened yet. That’s ok though, because one thing Spirited Bodies has given me, is some really good friends. And that is more valuable to me than travelling the world, having children, a house etc.

There is something I do covet however. Not fame exactly, but recognition (a little more than I currently have), and so the possibility to expand, to relax a little and work less as a life model on a weekly basis.

When the morning came, I was in a state I had not yet experienced prior to doing one of my events. I was raw for sure, on edge in a way reminiscent of myself quite some years ago. It wasn’t a happy place to revisit, but I did remember how utterly wrecked and desolate I had once been more often in my life. Thank goodness it felt almost unfamiliar now. And I had the tools, the know-how, just about, to pick myself up, dust myself off, and muster some impression of togetherness. Just enough.

Sabine picked me up at 8:45am and we loaded the car full of cushions, paper, gowns, sheets, foam… She was perky and I was grateful for girl time. It was a miserable day on all counts, but she shared jolly tales of parties with flatmates, screaming rock tunes with her singing teacher, and learning guitar. We arrived early and found breakfast in Rope Street, before our venue was opened, and we could start setting up.

My rougher edges started to smooth over once we’d done the basics, turning on heaters, buying refreshments for models and artists, unpacking the gear, and, women started to arrive ahead of time. Alessandra was nowhere in sight, but there were women, and that really was all that mattered, apart from a warm room, almost compromised by yet again, dodgy electrics. Sabine and I were on the case, swapping cables, rearranging the room so that posing happened nearer the heat, handing out robes and making sure enough people were naked for the start time. Women artists were ready to draw, and they needed muses.

3 Graces to begin
3 Graces to begin

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Alessandra joined us Italian time and took over the programme, in time for Sabine and I to once again, fix the electrics. Heating models in Winter in atmospheric buildings, always a challenge. Ursula was with us too now, and added oomph to the poses, which Aless was otherwise keeping strict Chinese style. Focused on the internal organs with meditation and specific sounds which models made together with each pose, this was a journey through the inner body. Instead of worrying about how big their bums looked, models tuned into their liver, spleen and lungs for several minutes each.

massaging the third eye, holding the kidneys
massaging the third eye, holding the hara, or centre

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Ursula by the window
Ursula by the window

 

By now, my fear had faded, and at least this part of the day was going well. I could rejoice in that, though there was no time to spare. Not long after 1pm, we had to wrap up, and transfer everything to the larger space, because, however many people showed up for the mixed session, we would have to accommodate Sarah’s gongs and other instruments. There was no way they were going in the small room we had fitted the women’s session into.

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Cliff was arriving with easels, and Steve with fuses as we had bust about four in the morning. Sarah was lifting singing bowls up the stairs with the help of her husband and daughter. I fetched a few easels in my dressing gown from the street. Artists were arriving, and I was aware of the sharp juxtaposition between the nutter I had been the night before, on the verge of some wayward collapse, longing to be sucked into the ground, and the switched on artiste now commandeering the Spirited Bodies ship with a brilliant smile!

Sometimes I was smiling, or just wired
Sometimes I was smiling, or just wired

2pm rocked on, and it was time to get some poses afoot. I called out for nakedness, and some of the usual suspects lurched towards the sheeted arena. A few new faces gladly glided forwards too. For the first 15 minutes we were doing dynamic poses inspired by the emotions of the Lungs – continuing from the morning’s lesson. Moving through sadness to joy, the models opened up in stages, from 1 minute of grief, then 2, 3, 4 and 5 minutes into exhilaration. Sarah crashed a cymbol, rang a few bells and blew on a flute.

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Secondly it was the Kidneys for 25 minutes. I instructed models to either cower in fear, or stand tall and strong with courage.

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It would have been Liver next, but that was going to involve a lot of gongs (anger), and we’d been asked to keep the noise down during that phase for an event downstairs. So I led a slow movement sequence to the rhythm of the Heart. Standing in formation, me at the front, they copied as I moved my arms extremely slowly (think tai chi slowed down a lot) from hands placed on the heart, to raised high in the air. And repeat, for 15 minutes, raising and lowering, while Sarah made her heartbeat drum noise. I knew I was going slow when Steve called out halfway through. We’d only opened up twice I think. I was conscious that while I regularly do slow movement poses for my work, am considered a specialist, the new models may be struggling with the pace. Nevertheless, they could probably work something out, and I’d suggested if it was a bit hard, to just rest their hands on their heart.

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Hands on Heart
Hands on Heart

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After that, it was teatime, and at this point there was no doubt about it. It was a success; I was a success. It was just a good feeling and such a massive relief. Mainly that people had showed up. I have confidence in my ability to perform and make sure people have a good time, I just need an audience or a class, or both. Marketing isn’t my strong point, and I am so bent on authenticity that social media eludes me quite a lot. It was time to collect dosh and Steve took some pictures of the pictures. Everyone else had tea and biscuits.

With a slight cast change, we returned to posing, now ready for half an hour of Liver. I told models they could change poses at will, but try to be moderate, afterall, we do want to get drawn. I was having a fight with Steve, our arms locked in an arch, under which I could look up at his face. He was pulling the most extraordinary fashion of expressions, and through my exhaustion and exhilaration, I found it hilarious! We’d come a long way in just over 2 months, and he was supporting me magnificently. Halfway through the pose, Sarah came crashing in from silence with gongs. My arms were aching trying to reach up to Steve’s even-bent-over posture so tall. I fell into him as if frustratedly attacking his towering frame. He kept me in place, leaning over and watching me.

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For the Spleen, we did 20 minutes of each of us posing as if sympathising with, or blaming the artists, so a direct confrontation or connection. I sat tentatively at the back, looking sweetly at the guy who was shaping us all out of a long piece of wire. We haven’t had that before, he normally makes large floor drawings on a big roll. His wire constructions were genius and I was fascinated. Also I had had enough of being angry in one 12 hour period.

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Sarah left her instruments to lead the next exercise. For the Triple Warmer, she had 2 pairs of models lying sole to sole as we had practised before. They were next to each other, and above them 2 other pairs, including me and Steve, formed arches, palms on palms. We were all sounding first ee sounds, and later ooh sounds, alternating, sometimes leaving spaces in order to feel the shifts in our bodies, between vibrations. The group of 8 models collectively created a human resonator. Sarah was the 8th model, and for the first time in her life, her second time in a life session (the first being Spirited Sound), she whipped off her dress after instructing us, to complete the nude composition. We hadn’t arranged this, I am not about putting pressure on newcomers, but it was a welcome surprise. I’d told her she could be dressed if she preferred. The mood had taken her not to be.

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About halfway through (we’d asked an artist to time us), those of us standing were feeling the ache in our arms, and were grateful when Sarah decided to drop her arms, as if it had been planned. By mutual consensus we all followed suit.

The final pose was freestyle, and there were now 6 of us posing. Within the 6, there were 2 couples who naturally after the long session’s posing, fell into each others’ arms for some amorous duos. Alessandra grabbed the remaining male model and said, “Look, it’s all about the couples, so we should join up!” Everyone’s a winner!

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We ended on a round of applause, and I couldn’t be happier with today’s result. It was totally unprecedented after my night of headfuckery. The hard work had paid off. We cleared up, models bonded, and artists laid their works on the floorboards. Artist Steve Carey hung his wire creations from coat hangers. I was still in my dressing gown, saying goodbye to people till just before our cab arrived. The teacups had been rinsed, drawing boards replaced downstairs, and every last piece of charcoal boxed and bagged. Off we trundled into Sunday evening traffic. Once home, the last few hours at home with Steve before he left again for Essex, were precious. Healing time, after a tumultuous night earlier. Now the love was strong again. I was sorry for having been so difficult, after all he had never known me before in such an anxious moment. It felt unfair to have unleashed myself rather unduly on him, especially when he has only been positive and loving towards me. The awkward emotions weren’t important now. Just the kindness and gratitude for all that we share. I may not be succeeding in every way that I would like to, yet, but there is time. We are still new together, and all the magic that we can create, has only just begun.

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Spirited Sound, Love and Life

I want to begin a while back, because this road has been a long journey. This year has been more challenging, but also finally a turning point – in my art, with Spirited Bodies, and in my love life. It all happens at once, yet in stages. I get challenged about why I am sharing the personal, in an art project which is supposedly more for the benefit of others, and I respond, because when I was a younger woman I missed an older female role model, who had the appropriate life experience. I struggled with that, until things gradually fell more into place. I wouldn’t have listened to anyone who purported to understand, and I’d know if they really did. Any more privileged woman who thought she knew best, definitely didn’t. Now of course, I may be the more privileged woman for many, but I am happy to share that it hasn’t always felt thus, and if in some way my message can reach distant others, that is what was in my heart all along.

In short since late May, this year has included several frustrated attempts at connections with venues and individuals with whom I seemingly failed to build a rapport. Trans activists (who were not actually trans themselves) with whom it was impossible to have a sensible discussion about trans issues and how they intersect with the needs of cis women rape survivors in some cases. Competitive women with similar projects to mine, who either viewed me with suspicion, or just thought they knew better. Community collectives who were not open enough to host Spirited Bodies! What could be more appropriate for a community…?

Earlier in the Summer I met Sarah Kent at Brockley Open Studios, in my neighbourhood. We got chatting in artist Gill Hickman’s studio, and something resonated. I attended Sarah’s soundbath and experienced the healing sounds on the floor of her living room. I felt at ease with her, as well as moved by the intense yet soothing vibes. She said expect changes in the next few days, and ideally make space for them.

What I hadn’t known was that my old friend Michael, had died that day or the day before… and I found out a few hours after the soundbath. Michael’s death, for me marked a turning point, a shift of focus. In the middle of Summer this news penetrated layers of the fabric of my being. It took me back to the late 90s when I knew him best, the times and the company we shared. Though I had not been so in touch with Michael in recent years, his strong uncompromising world view sank into me as I relooked at the world through his imagined eyes and the filtered lens of the girl I used to be. Somehow both introvert and extrovert, rebellious, even fearless. The power of youth! While most of us had mellowed, to be fair including Michael in his own minor way, really he had sustained a strikingly similar mentality to what we all remembered. I instantly felt tougher, unaffected by petty crises previously around me. For a while I was invincible! Untouchable. I thought of Michael a lot.

With Michael (centre) and friends at an anti-criminal justice bill demo, mid 90s
With Michael (centre) and friends at an anti-criminal justice bill demo, mid 90s

My erstwhile longterm relationship that had been faltering, now felt briefly healing again. My partner, connected to the old tribe including Michael, understood intimately my feelings, but the ending of our relationship was imminent. We had drifted apart, and I craved cohesion in my life. A nervous breakdown at one of my modelling jobs alerted me that something had to give. I could not visualise a future that felt fitting, under my current circumstances. The breakdown involved intense feelings of being violated by the artists sculpting me, when in fact I was also aware that neither they nor the tutor (who is one of my favourites) was responsible. The conditions of my life were so disadvantaging me, that I could not see light in my routine. To make a success of my art projects I needed all energies and people in my life to point decidedly the same way, otherwise it was dissipating. I needed freedom. We technically had an open relationship, so when I did find closeness with a new partner, it took me a little while to realise that I could not be so intimate with two men simultaneously. The new relationship rapidly came to mean so much more to me than I could have anticipated. So intense is this new connection that it felt prudent to break up with Aaron. Simple is better; and freshly blossoming love deserves the richest, most fertile ground in which to take root.

In my new partner I found a fellow life model and writer, as well as an enthusiast of all my projects, sharing much passion in nude art adventures, and travel, something I had missed in the past. I also found so much love I hadn’t dreamed of, expected, in one with apparently such different background. His openness, sensitivity, intelligence and understanding take my breath away. As the Autumn took hold, this new excitement grew, and grows. I am in love.

Spirited Bodies again feels in a good place. I have resolved some issues, and feel confident about the involvement of men modelling again. For Spirited Sound I didn’t take any chances with male models. I knew all of the chosen ones personally and felt 100% safe with them. With the help of my partner and other trusted male models, we are creating an exceedingly safe space for everyone. That’s not to exclude the trusted women models from this equation, or the artists, but it was mainly an issue with deceptively inappropriate male models, so feels apt to be solved first, by male models.

All artwork from Spirited Sound, 8/11/15
All artwork from Spirited Sound, 8/11/15, at the Bargehouse, Oxo Building, Southbank

The healing power of Spirited Bodies is very important to me. I have explored this a few ways; in more intimate workshops, through interviewing models (and artists) about their experience and playing their recorded voices during sessions. Now with Spirited Sound, a new, more direct, less personal but more universal model has been born. The sound instantly seemed to free up the format, necessarily instigating greater experimentation. Traditional life drawing standards according to the wants of some artists are thrown out. This is all about the Spirited Bodies, and this time we tried some movement poses which was a beautiful way to discover even greater harmony as a group. Three minutes of very slowly opening up from a closed posture into something more expansive, and five minutes of flickering gently together, moving as flames of a fire burning brighter and closer.

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The session was divided into 4 sections, each representing an element – Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Shorter and movement poses in the first 2 parts, then longer poses for Water and Earth. The models connected with each other when they felt drawn to, as they collectively expressed themselves elementally. Dynamic and expansive for Fire, including a slightly longer Scene from Hell – the fallen among the devils. Light and floaty for Air, as well as being blown together in a very strong gust of wind. Flowing waves for Water where the models lay variously in a row, some interconnecting; and pure grounded connection for Earth, each model occupying their own comfortable (I hope!) space. It was a big pleasure to work with the group of models, several I have gotten to know over time with Spirited Bodies, including professionals who enjoy the deepening experience a lot. They create a warm atmosphere for any newcomer.

5 minutes blowing in the wind
5 minutes blowing in the wind

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Spirited Sound happened because I had connected with Sarah, and she was interested and happy to bring her sound art to Spirited Bodies. It was her idea to work with the elements as a theme, and she created sounds to fit each mood, to accompany and inspire the models (and artists), and weave a layer of vibrational texture into the space. There were bells, singing bowls (including one large one containing water), large gongs, a rainstick, a jingly instrument which when shaken lightly produces an array of gently tingling bell sounds of different notes.

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Spirited Bodies becomes something more layered with the inclusion of sound art; another type of art is intersecting with the life modelling and drawing. A new relationship emerges between musician and models (and artists). Is the sound influencing the models, or vice versa? A bit of an exchange for sure. At one end of the room Sarah laid out her instruments, from where she could see all the action (and stillness) of the models. Had we been in the larger attic space as originally planned, she may have arranged herself in more spread out fashion around the room in order to move about and be among artists and models, so that sounds would emerge from different areas and directions, possibly moving too. Sarah and her instruments could have been linked to the visual aspect of the artists’ attention, perhaps appearing in the art, as positioned within the scenes of poses. The attic also had a particular atmosphere which would have lent itself well to the gravitas of gongs, however it turned out that heating and lighting that space was a task beyond the electricity supply. It was great as it was, but it would also have been fantastic for Sarah to have been slightly more integrated with artists and models. Nevertheless, her presence and sound creation were deeply felt and appreciated by all. This was a joyful collaboration which I hope we may explore again.

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I feel more comfortable with the trans inclusion (to women’s sessions) now. This is very delicate, but it’s important to be open. I sometimes feel that a separate group for women only – excluding non-transitioned trans women – will be helpful (particularly for cis women rape survivors, of whom there are probably more than the entire population of non-transitioned trans women). I will tread carefully. One thought is that, if women’s events are open to all trans women regardless of transition, that gesture is what is important. Possibly those trans women themselves are not interested to come along, and may well realise that their inclusion can be tricky; without wanting to be divisive, there are very different needs at play.

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The issue of competitive women is being resolved too. I am not taking this personally, but see it as symptomatic of us women, learning how to share our power. This might seem odd to be so gendered, but I do think we are not so familiar as men are, with having power in the first place, and often if we do, we are encouraged to beat off the competition. This doesn’t make sense when our projects are about liberation and empowerment, for all, not just some elite. These higher principles must filter through otherwise projects will die.

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Leaving you with a few more pictures of artwork from Spirited Sound. We were very fortunate to have a lovely photographer with us at the event too, so there will be photos of the group of models to follow at some stage. Also, I am just planning an event for December, so keep looking out! And a blog post about the women’s event at Bargehouse will also come soon.

Watery bodies
Watery bodies

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With much gratitude to all the models, artists, and Sarah, as well as Kathy, Angie and Jenny from the Southbank Festival of Creativity at the Bargehouse

(In defense of) Promoting Life Modelling

We come under criticism by some life models who resent that what we do opens up life modelling to many who would otherwise not get into it. We contribute to an ever increasing pool of life models, and those who depend on it for their livelihood and are without other alternatives worry that they may lose work as a result. It is feared that new, less experienced models will accept lower wages, and some who already have decent incomes, will even do it for free. I appreciate these comments, they have some validity, but I also have plenty to say in response.

  1. Most who try life modelling with us will do it just for the experience, not continuing further. Life modelling is not easy or for everyone; you have to be particularly good and/or unusual to make it work regularly.
  2. Artists or class organisers still overall prefer regular, reliable models they trust. A few groups low on resources will opt for cheap models.
  3. We also contribute new artists to the pool as we promote drawing in our workshops. A newcomer is equally likely to take up life drawing and they often do, thus expanding the possible market for life models.
  4. We are part of a general increase in life modelling/drawing interest in the UK and beyond at the moment as evidenced by several newspaper articles on the subject and TV programmes, plus a rise in experimental as well as traditional groups, even if curriculum based life art in art schools has declined.
  5. I understand being stuck in a rut and down on your luck for years on end, on drugs even, in unhealthy relationships, not enough real friends… it can be hard to appreciate others’ good fortune then. Actually in the long run it’s better to celebrate others’ success, and at least not be down on it. Emphasizing negativity only brings more of it, when maybe what you really want is a bit more of the pie! I know what it’s like to look at others and imagine they are doing better than you and perhaps assume they are more privileged. Did that for years and it is miserable, futile and wrong-headed. In that respect, karmically I may well deserve the very same that is being done to me now. On the other hand I know that in that time there is no way else to be; that is how the world looks, and being less happy, you have less control over it or ability to alter that viewpoint. I accept this state in others just as it was in me and bear no malice in return or grievance. It is a shame they feel that way, but c’est la vie.
  6. One criticism leveled at us is that Lucy and I are privileged as life models go, both being English, almost educated (well Lucy went to Cambridge, I barely passed an experimental theatre degree!) and with posh accents. It’s easy for us to make this happen – what about the majority of foreign life models whose English is not so good? One of the reasons they like or choose to live in the UK is that open free market policies have made us a diverse culture with the possibility for trying new and creative projects and businesses. There is help available for starting up new businesses and if you put your mind to it there are ways to transform your potential. Lucy and I have both suffered with mental conditions, Lucy with physical conditions, and I have worked alongside Eastern European ilegal immigrants (in the ’90s before their migration status had been changed) as a sex worker effectively choosing life options beneath my status. The stigma and psychological damage rendered by this has taken years to overcome.
  7. Lucy and I fully offer advice when asked about how to improve others’ projects. We happily share what we know, for free. And that goes for life modelling too, since the benefits to others seem too positive to be overlooked. Yes we do charge for workshops, but if you are broke it is totally possible to attend for free. And our availability extends beyond the paid workshop. Naturally helping others helps us. We have both gained immeasurably from this project in ways that go way beyond any money made (which is negligible compared to the time/energy put in).
  8. I don’t need to write this, but it was bubbling inside me so I guess I wanted to get it off my chest!

Pictures to follow from recent event at The Mall Galleries. We have packs of 8 postcards of these photographs available for sale, including some of the pictures shown here. Get in touch if you are interested. We also have packs of 10 postcards of artwork from our events.

models chatting in the break
models chatting in the break

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a portrait pose
a portrait pose
a chain of models, in 'A Dance to the Music of Time'
a chain of models, in ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’
our version of 'The Pieta'
our version of ‘The Pieta’

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This brings us to the end of a very full and special season of weekly workshops around London and 3 very different events. This evening was part of Telegraph Hill Festival, local to me. 11 models created powerful poses based on the theme of a ’20s cocktail party, a naked protest, and a turkish sauna/baths. Some fabulous art work will be uploaded to Facebook soon!

Lucy and I will get to plotting the future imminently and then return with a new schedule after a short break. Thanks to all who have been involved, we love our art baby very much!

Endangered Bodies & Spirited Bodies

On Sunday 10th March at Women of the World Festival, Southbank I attended the ‘Endangered Bodies’ workshop. Endangered Bodies are an international initiative who ‘challenge the merchants of body hatred who turn girls and women against their own bodies’. ‘Anybody’ is the UK chapter and is lead by feminist activist and writer Susie Orbach who was in the audience, while a team of young women presented the session.

This workshop was focussing on the language we use to describe ourselves, as women. On several seats occupied by the audience were cards with quotes written on them. The occupants were asked to read them out; they were negative, some about fat or older women (e.g. “Doesn’t she have a mirror and a scale?”), very cutting. At the same time, we the audience watched a silent woman on the platform in front, sitting as if caught looking inwardly as she overheard the comments. It was about the way we look at each other, possibly critically, without thinking, and how it makes us feel when we transfer that judgement on to ourselves, I thought. All quotes had  been gleaned from The Daily Mail including the comments of readers as well as articles.

We were asked to move to part of the room without chairs so that we could position ourselves in the space on a sliding scale of positively agreeing, and strongly disagreeing as several statements (which I have turned into questions) were read to us, largely centred on our feelings about womens’ magazines. Do we read them? Do we use them as a style guide? Do we think they are responsible for women having body issues? Is talking about women’s appearance a good way for women to bond? Are women naturally more bitchy than men? Is it our duty to inform our friends if their clothes don’t suit them? Roving mics picked up audience response as we went along. A lot of it I found fairly predictable; we enjoy our turn on the mic, myself included, but we are speaking to the converted. It was pointed out that a lot of this talk focusses on negative situations without actually doing anything to improve circumstances… though by raising the questions it did, it perhaps encourages all present to take them out of the room. The ‘Anybody’ group do a lot of work in UK schools which is possibly where they are most likely to be affective.

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Back in our seats, the hostesses brought our attention to several questions on screens in front;

How do you talk about your body/yourself?

How do you talk about your friends and their bodies?

How do you talk about people you don’t know and their bodies?

How do any/all of the above affect the way you live your life?

What can we do differently?

We were encouraged to tweet.

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An editor for lesbian magazine Diva explained that when they tried to run campaigns using ‘real’ models, readers wrote in to complain. A marketting director confessed that part of her job was to choose images of women based on very rigid parameters of convention regarding fashion, and to talk about the figures of the women in that context. She was ashamed of reducing women to commodities.

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A writer for womens’ magazines was more positive, believing that change must happen from within the industry (as well as within each of us). She had written about ‘real’ women several times and noted she was not alone. I can testify to that, we having appeared in the Daily Mail’s women’s magazine! I piped up that I am ever descibing my life modelling friends’ physicalities in order to help them get work, so I am used to talking about bodies as they are; rules of offensiveness and flattery applying in an entirely different fashion in my world.

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Another woman described how her latest workplace surprised her as no one comments on the way she or others look ever. She said it gave her space to think about herself for herself, without apparently even subtle interference.

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One of the workshop leaders talked about the pressure on Facebook to have a profile picture that receives a lot of ‘likes’, and how one way round this is to sabotage all photographs taken of one by pulling a silly face, thus undoing the possibility for the usual ‘stunning’ comments – the rush of typical affirmation which may in fact be damaging for us psychologically. Instead of playing up to idealised standards of beauty, find your worst angle and celebrate that!

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The cult of creating our online profiles can encourage all sorts of editing of appearance, which may especially affect young people negatively.

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The high proclivity of especially young women dieting was discussed, and how bringing up the subject when one is concerned about a friend dieting unnecesarily is fraught with tension. A teenage girl mentioned that in her school, girls were doing the ‘diet coke diet’ which included just that ingredient. On bringing up the topic as a concerned friend she got told she was bullying.

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Older women reminded us to be grateful for what we have, and that true confidence does oftentimes come with age. Someone advised us to practise saying ‘I love you’ into a mirror!

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Another woman talked of embracing appearance as self expression, a part of communication and a way of projecting ourselves in new ways beyond negativity. It is after all a privilege to choose how we look .

All images in this post are by artists (and models) who attended the workshop last Tuesday in Telegraph Hill; Rade, Francis, Dijah, Geoff, Donald, Mattie and several others.

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This was a super workshop with 4 female models and 4 male, plus several artists. Poses covered various themes.

Here a husband was caught with his lover by his wife
Here a husband was caught with his lover by his wife

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Tribesmen dispute land ownership...
Tribesmen dispute land ownership…
a fight is ensuing in a supermarket carpark; one woman believes the other has taken some of her groceries
a fight is ensuing in a supermarket carpark; one woman believes the other has taken some of her groceries
a woman is being initiated into a cult
a woman is being initiated into a cult
a moment of tenderness
a moment of tenderness
drunk at a party
drunk at a party

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Naomi Wolf & Women of the World festival, Southbank

Wolf got in trouble for revealing too much of herself in her latest book entitled ‘Vagina’. Controversy, talking about her own vagina. She says that word a lot, as well as describing its different quadrants, outer and inner labia, clitoris, G-spot and perineum. She learnt a lot about vaginas since she had a spinal injury which cost her sensation in that area, and also layers of consciousness she says. She felt sad and didn’t know why till the injury was diagnosed, then corrected and sensation returned. This made her aware of what she missed when normal use of her vagina was restricted. The incredible euphoria accompanying orgasm that added meaning, direction to her life. She got to researching vaginas and found some hidden material, which explained something of our sexist culture which loves to mock the vagina. About how there is a brain to vagina connection or relationship, and that the range of euphoria and energy that the vagina may release is immense. The clitoris and G-spot are opposite poles of an axis simultaneously capable of reaching each other. The suppression of this research speaks volumes.

It is well known and addressed that erectile dysfunction affects or is related to many areas of a man’s life, altering his performance. Naturally there is a similar relationship for women and their vaginas, but that is less discussed.

When a woman seeks out sexual pleasure and is supported by her culture in doing that, dopamine is released in her, she becomes more confident and her oxytocin levels rise. Creative hormones move her forward with positive energy. Dopamine makes a person less easy to push around, to subjugate. We have internalised the idea that women’s sexuality is ridiculous. In her book ‘Fire with Fire’  Wolf asserts that women are on the route to equality, and to achieve it they must stop being victims. During the ‘sexual revolution’ in the ’70s, a survey in which women self-reported, showed that 30% of women did not reach orgasm when they want to. It seems there has been a sort of plateau reached as this statistic has hardly changed in the last 40 years.

So the bottom line is female sexual pleasure makes a woman powerful, so information about how to maximise this is not popular with patriarchal systems like religion. Hence sexuality and also Love can be very subversive.

In the rape culture of war people are dehumanised, and women’s bodies respond negatively to rape reducing their chances of enjoying sex. The autonomic nervous system which leads to activation of good orgasms, is inhibited by anti-erotic impulses such as fear, stress and anger.

Wolf grew up in San Francisco around her lesbian Mum in the ’70s. She observed how her Mum’s friends became shining and integrated in a culture that supported their sexuality; she’d seen the same people previously more withdrawn, before they found their place. This was an environment which emphasized women’s fulfillment as an entitlement. It ought to be on the national curriculum!

What else did I take from Naomi Wolf’s talk at Women of the World festival on Saturday evening? That western feminists have a lot to learn from our sisters in developing countries because she reckons they are at the vanguard of feminism today, really pushing boundaries. That we ought to be kinder to each other – it’s not about judging others because they have had surgery or don’t wish to call themselves feminists. That women hold emotional trauma in at least one quadrant of the vagina and this can be released through sexual healing. None of us are heterosexual, we all respond to a variety of stimuli despite what we say (well I knew that anyway!) And finally women generally need to learn how to receive pleasure better, as this has been suppressed in favour of male sexuality for too long. I resonate strongly with this, finding it hard to really let go most of the time. On the few occasions when I have been least inhibited, either alcohol, drugs or sometimes the euphoria of love have facilitated it. But to reach that high on a more regular basis, I am still working on that.

Going to put up some recent pictures from classes I have modelled in. There is a lot more to say about the WOW festival Lucy and I were at last weekend, like how many celebrities Lucy failed to realise she was chatting up because we’d reached that point in the weekend where she could no longer recognise faces. And how everything worked out for the best despite several drop-outs, because we had so many Spirited Bodies models present to help at our stall so some were able to step in and model too. That when the plan to film the event collapsed this was a blessing because our models gave the most precious and powerful testimonials we could have imagined which might easily have been inhibited with the presence of a camera. Similarly when I asked the audience how many would like to try doing a pose there and then, about half of them put up their hands, no doubt encouraged by the models’ words. The artwork will be up soon.

I went to a workshop about body image by the ‘Endangered Bodies’ group which I also want to report on, and the last event – Alice Walker introducing her film – was the perfect finale, so moving and inspiring. We will be following up our WOW contacts for some time and learning from some of the advice suggested. Becoming a charity may be a good choice for us, but so too might a business which is a social enterprise. The atmosphere at WOW is electric with so many women on fire!

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a glimpse of vagina! I think these pastels are by Jo Parmenter from the session at Richmond Adult Community College
a glimpse of vagina! I think these pastels are by Jo Parmenter from the session at Richmond Adult Community College
quick poses
quick poses

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by model and tutor Hugh
by model and tutor Hugh