Stories of Women ~ the journey so far


The idea came as a way to develop the interview format where I would record models and artists speaking about their experiences relating to modelling and drawing, and play this while the models posed. With Stories of Women I chose to focus on one model each time, and give her the chance to lead and inspire not only with her body, but through far greater agency than is usually afforded, by letting her deliver her narrative too. There was also the fact that I could not reasonably afford to pay more than one model with this experimental and risky new venture. The Feminist Library has been an ideal new home for the project and introduced us to a wonderful, vibrant wider community of feminist activists. I am most grateful for their generous and accommodating support without which the events could not have run.

As part of a life model community I have gotten to know many amazing models over the years, each very different. Usually they pose silently and Stories of Women seemed a wonderful way to unleash another side of them; the mind behind the poses and inside the body. It gives the opportunity to address many issues that naturally relate to each of us; including size, race, age, illness, surgery, disability, Motherhood, sexuality and gender for example.

I have also encouraged fellow models to come along and join in the discussion which has made for a rich sharing of experience and a frankly much needed live forum between us. So much happens online and it is great when we can actually meet – so rarely do our individually busy schedules allow for this.

It has given me the chance to get to know some of my fellow models better too, as the invitation to share a story necessitates more communication than is usually required between model and booker. Typically a meeting happens and some further batting back and forth of ideas. It makes a pleasant change in the general routine of dashing between jobs with minimal interaction. It may put down a marker of what is important to the model at that time, gives them a reason to take stock. What does modelling mean to them? Why do they do it and is there anything they would like to change?

 

 

Two of the models so far have not been feeling that modelling will be so much in their future, so there was the sense of drawing their work to a close and celebrating a long career that is now ending, certainly with Jennifer and Hana. Jennifer revealed some very profound feelings about the work, which may have jarred with newcomers simply hoping to try it out, because it’s very different when you model full time for years on end. But this did spark intense and animated discussion as it happened among a number of fellow professionals who were present. Even if newcomers were shocked or surprised, they also learnt a great deal of inside information!

Hana Schlesinger

Hana has retired she says, but still likes a little work here and there as the pleasure remains, but she is much older now and suddenly finds there are so many more things she wants to be doing. I was given her number by a tutor Eric who I model for in Hammersmith. She was the oldest model I could easily contact that I knew of in London, in her mid 70s. It was a real treat to get to know her and visit her in Harlesden, her decades of experience through different life drawing eras and stages in her own life were fascinating to hear of. A lovely woman who radiates confidence and liberatedness, a joy to behold.

With Claire it was more of a retrospective look at her modelling career as she no longer does it much. In fact she only does it at Spirited Bodies in recent years specifically to explore her relationship with her body post mastectomy, having been a life model prior to that. It links up with various pieces of writing, poems, artworks and photographs she has also created on the subject over a number of years, and lined up with an exhibition she put on at The Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths (part of her residency). So each event has a unique content and flavour, sometimes an edge.

Leo

Leo and Natasha are very much in their element now as models, even if Natasha can’t always do as much as she’d like due to full time work commitments. Valentina modelled at Good Girls Reveal All with me, and while this wasn’t called Stories of Women, it was a very similar format so I shall include Valentina here. She also is really enjoying a fantastic life model career now, and it’s a pleasure to connect with this energy in all of them. These younger women took up modelling in the last 6 years and expressed the changes they’d felt as a result of their nude career. It was overwhelmingly positive what modelling brings to them, even if sometimes the affects are so strong that you make some very massive changes in your life that have serious consequences. It’s not uncommon when we become models that it shifts something in our intimate relationships. Suddenly we are being appreciated physically (and more as this is about personality too) by others, artists; and we don’t necessarily need that from our partners any more.

Leo expressed her devotion to celibacy and the empowerment she finds that way. As a larger model her experience of the world is shaped somewhat by how society regards her (as it is for all of us in our own way). I am a slim model and appreciated for different qualities, fat hasn’t been such a thing for me but for so many women it is. How fat becomes a gift in the life room may be the most obvious example of how life modelling can enhance body positivity.

Natasha has become in touch with her own sense of independence and confidence not just as a result of modelling but also various other nude activities, including the World Naked Bike Ride; Spencer Tunick, Matt Granger and her own outdoor photoshoots; and blossomed in that regard. She started her own life drawing group in Upminster called LeNu with her sister a few years ago which runs weekly sessions and where Steve and I will be part of a Spirited Bodies – Stories type event, hopefully in the Summer term! Natasha also very much looks forward to creating a new photographic project in the Summer, similar to her outdoor group nude shoots in 2015 (Project Naked).

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Valentina and I enjoyed a luxurious amount of time to prepare together. Because I would be performing as well, there was much to discuss – how our narratives would blend and intersect. We wanted to memorise parts of our speech for a more dramatic effect, and tried out ideas with each other over several meetings. For her, the body positivity element was very strong, and moving to listen to. The painful experiences that preceded our lives as models, are the drivers for passionate immersion in a new world of self exploration and expression, with a guaranteed audience! This gig was a new departure, a collaboration with Good Girls Eat Dinner founder Jo Wallace, who drew me in Hoxton the term before when I announced one of my events. She was interested and came along, as well instigated Good Girls Reveal All with me. A new direction for her, and a different audience for a Stories of Women type event. As creative director at an advertising agency in Knightsbridge, she arranged the event where she works. Most of the drawers were her fellow creatives from a number of professional fields. They didn’t try the modelling (it didn’t seem appropriate with many of them working with each other), but listened and drew avidly. Jo asked us questions which we had prepared, and also we delivered a couple of learnt set pieces. I found it very liberating to have this platform too, and greatly appreciated sharing it with Valentina. There was strong solidarity between us, and a chance to bond as women as well as models. Our audience were pretty new to these ideas and drew a lot from our insights. Thanks to Jo (and Valentina) who helped make this transition to a new territory especially smooth and welcoming.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our next model will be Lucy Saunders who helped to found Spirited Bodies with Morimda and myself, in 2010. This is an exciting prospect for several reasons. Lucy enjoyed a hugely popular and decent length life model career which mostly came to an end a few years ago, as she decided to focus on teaching and then PR work. There have been health issues too more recently; an operation last year left her somewhat disabled, but relieved her of a great deal of pain. Nevertheless she is rapidly regaining her mobility and is determined to demonstrate the full variety of her posing repertoire. Truly I know that even if she can’t create poses with her body as nimbly as previously (much physio is on the cards), she will have no problem enthralling an audience (of drawers) with her life modelling tales and the way she informs her posing from a number of inspirations including great masters’ compositions.

 

 

The story Lucy always tells about her initiation into life modelling and what gave her hope that it was worth pursuing despite her size – she was modelling at a RAM audition alongside a young student; slim, long red hair, perfect in the way that young people can be carelessly perfect. She knew nothing about good poses and made some fairly mad shapes. In the break, she wandered round looking at the artists’ work. One man had done a competent A3 drawing of the young woman sitting on a chair. Up in one corner, the size of a playing card, he’d done a quick sketch of Lucy sitting on the floor from behind. ‘He made my arse look like a smile, and I thought, I can do this.’ says Lucy. ‘What looking at images made of me by hundreds of artists in all sorts of mediums, from charcoal to paint to clay to collage, has made me realise is that I truly have very little control of how other people see me or what they think of my body. It is a huge relief to lay down that burden of trying to live up to expectations that I have learnt are largely internalised dictats of the culture I live in.’

 

 

It is a rare opportunity for a model to demonstrate posing with some disability, in this case one who has enjoyed a long and full career as a celebrated model. She worked at various institutions including Morley College, Kensington and Chelsea, The Prince’s Drawing School, the Hesketh Hubbard, Richmond Art School as well as many other formal and informal life drawing groups and meetings. ‘I love seeing what the artists create and while I might think my pose expresses one thing, it can be enchanting to see it turn into a completely different story through the artists’ work.’

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lucy was I think, the largest female model I was aware of on the circuit in the early days (10 years ago). Then I got to know some more, but they have generally been a relative rarity, greatly in demand for their shape and size. At Spirited Bodies we have always wanted to encourage everyone to feel comfortable in the body they are in, especially marginalised bodies, but as margins can be internal, this really is anybody. Whether your body is judged unfavourably by a critical society, or further controlled by harsh cultural practices imposing limiting behaviours; or it is at war with itself for whatever reason; if you can find self acceptance, and let go of feelings of shame, that can benefit a person immeasurably. From that place of self love, one may be better equipped to address further issues that invariably arise.

It has been very rewarding to help people come to terms with bodies they did not feel at home in, and to reclaim them, sometimes through modelling as a group at our sessions; and in some instances helping them further into life modelling careers of their own. I have probably gotten to know an unusually high number of partially disabled models due to Spirited Bodies’ inclusive body-embracing aims. Sometimes the warm appreciation of artists serves as a healing energy that goes a little way perhaps to redress the discomfort of a body/mind that may be struggling.

If you would like to join us for Lucy’s Stories of Women event, it will take place at Hampstead School of Art (HSOA) on Friday 18th May 2018, from 6:30pm – 8:30pm. The cost is £20 and you can buy tickets online here, or book a place by calling 0207 794 1439, or email info@hsoa.co.uk

The address is 2 Penrose Gardens, Kidderpore Green, NW3 7BF, London. 

a5-flyer-sow06-2000

It is an enormous delight to return to HSOA – in 2014 they generously hosted my Girl in Suitcase performance with live musicians and fellow model and friend, Ursula Troche. I have been modelling there recently and they got wind of my events in December and asked me about putting one on there, in the Summer term. They are keen to host exciting new life drawing and art related events at the school, where they fit with their programme. It means a great deal to have friendly collaborators who make you feel very supported, indeed you need that in order for a project to survive. Artists supporting each other is what it’s all about and we are very grateful to have such company. Looking forward to presenting Stories of Women for them and whoever fancies coming along. This is a mixed event (unlike The Feminist Library ones) and there will be the chance to try posing as well, alongside Lucy, and with her direction and guidance. Drawing materials provided and naturally easels, boards, tables – for the first time this type of event is happening in an actual life drawing studio! What a gift! We are excited and honoured, and hope to inspire the artists with a new understanding of a muse. Many thanks to Isabel, Anat, Caitlin and all at HSOA – their kindness is much appreciated. And how happy I am to be working and creating again, with my one time project partner. We step easily into the groove, familiar enough to get straight to the point in what are sometimes challenging personal matters. In the depth we find strength and closeness renewed. I have every hope for a most successful occasion.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With special thanks to all our friends who have turned up, helped and joined in; it is all greatly appreciated.

Bodykind, Celebrating Grandmother Wisdom & WOW Perth

Maybe it’s because I don’t particularly have an issue with fat, body hair or food… but I AM getting older that my favourite speaker at Bodykind Festival was Suzanne Fearnside. She really tapped into my emotions regarding ageing and the invisibility of older women. I was so eager for what she had to say, for me it was the most radical politics – I felt tingles when she spoke! Her point was made more poignant because unlike many (generally younger) speakers, she does not seem to have a social media presence, and is (therefore) not popular in the relatively mainstream way that they are. So she was not billed as highly, yet I hung on her every word and did not tune out. She exuded years of experience, knowledge, humility, resiliance and strength. I am not a natural with social media myself, I tune a lot of it out though of course it’s a great connecter, the means for many positive actions, and worth harnessing.

Suzanne Fearnside

Harnaam Kaur is very sweet and impressively strong and heroic, as well as being a powerful speaker. Still in her 20s yet so experienced, she has a unique voice. An activist who has chosen to grow her full beard and not hide it, after years of being bullied as a teenager. She also mentioned the damaging effects of social media and the need to unfollow accounts that we internally respond negatively to. Whether they are famous people’s, or friends’/acquaintances’, it’s how we respond to them that counts.

Regarding my own sensitivity to social media – the insecure feeling I get when seeing particular posts – I am reminded that I may have a similar effect on others. It’s a chain reaction and I want to sort out my end of it. I know it’s not necessarily that posts I am seeing are projecting anything negative or unhealthy on to the web, simply that their content is not what I need to see now. I need to unpick triggering elements – images usually – that make me feel less than good enough, in order to get stronger and gain more control over my vulnerabilities. I know it is not individuals’ fault that their posts trigger me, but perhaps that their online presence reminds me too much of mainstream beauty ideals that I do my best to ignore and avoid in other areas. I mean I rarely watch TV, films, play online games or read women’s magazines, nor do I have a more conventional job where the majority of people judge themselves and each other according to mainstream values. The most mainstream my job gets is when I occasionally lead hen parties, and the bride to be has a chance to pose (clothed) with the male model. So often I hear her say to her friends, “Draw me with bigger tits”, unless she already has the fashionable size.

It can come down to those in my social media field to expose me to these elements of society – even in a relatively alternative style. I may be overly sensitive but I cannot help the way I am, I must learn to work with it. I don’t want to constantly be reminded that women posting sexy images of themselves is much more popular than my body image activism! I find it demoralizing. I know it may be great for the women – owning the images of themselves – but nevertheless they often can’t help propagating a certain kind of commercial norm, and that’s sometimes the point – it’s their livelihood so it’s in their interests. And I am not entirely separate from this behaviour – I am a model too, and love opportunities to dress up, make theatre, and pose in extraordinary situations! It’s like doing some feng shui in my living space, clearing the things I don’t need, and organising better what I do. It can make me a bit more mindful of what I post.

Some of the other acts I really enjoyed are…

Harnaam Kaur, Megan – Bodyposipanda, and Glory Pearl

Glory Pearl rocking it something massive – real woman style! I thought she had the tone just right. She says it best in her own words – see a clip of her here.

Chris Paradox directing with wit, charm and lyrical insight, really grooving us through the weekend (as his backing singers!) And Pina Salvaje too.

Chris and Nicky of Not Just Behaviour described passionately their work in schools educating children about body image. Their positive enthusiasm was felt by all and also their many years experience.

Bodykind Festival at St Mary’s Church, Totnes, 14th October ’17

Zoe McNulty whose Strutology got us all flaunting it at the festival opening ceremony on Friday evening at the Royal Seven Stars. She wrote a lovely blog about the festival here, and it focuses a lot more on some of the other speakers than I have.

At our session on Saturday at Bodykind at The Mansion, we had 8 participants plus me and Steve, and 3 of them wanted to try modelling. They were not completely nude when posing, rather kept their bottom half covered or wore pants. They were a bit older as it happened, and one woman did not want photos of the drawings of her shared, which I don’t think has ever happened (at Spirited Bodies) before but of course we respect her wishes. There is something powerful about having a space that is totally separate to the online world.

The other participants were just drawing, as were all the models when not posing. We started with a warm up pose by Steve, standing for 5 minutes. Then one woman volunteered to model next though she hadn’t been sure before (in the presence of 2 men within the group). She enjoyed it and did two 5 minute poses; one lying and one standing. She preferred the standing because she said it made her feel more empowered. It’s true – when she stood she looked bold, facing outwardly, in control; but reclining she had been more inward and vulnerable looking. It really highlighted the difference a stance can make to how we feel.

Then Andrew Stacey who runs a group in Totnes at Birdwood House on Thursday evening at 7:30pm, gave modelling a go after many years break and had an insightful experience. He wanted to remind himself of the model’s position as he works so much with models – it helps him to understand them better. He assumed interesting positions naturally, standing leaning, and then lying on his back, each for 10 minutes. Then another woman had a go, doing poses of 5 and 10 minutes; the first sitting on a stool, the second in child’s pose. She was also more usually on the other side of the easel, and really valued this opportunity to understand the model’s perspective in a safe, sensitively held space.

Finally me and Steve did a duo for 15 minutes with him sitting at my standing feet. It was a very relaxing workshop, with plenty of time between poses discussing them, models getting changed, and looking at each others’ drawings. At least one person was a first time drawer! She did very well, especially by the child’s pose. Some lovely work produced and I think all the models benefitted and took something very uplifting from the experience (at least I hope so!), and the artists too who were so supportive and generous, well everyone was – it was the spirit of the festival! One artist said she hadn’t drawn for ages and couldn’t miss the chance, though she also would have liked to model. She took inspiration from the idea saying she may suggest all the artists take turns at posing at her local group.

It was quite novel for us at Spirited Bodies to have the models posing individually rather than as a group. It worked well because of the small group size, and reminded me how special it is when I/we can focus on one model at a time. It is a more personal workshop!

child’s pose

I felt so happy and calm afterwards, such a pleasant and powerful modelling sharing with new people in Totnes. Wonderful memories and we very much hope to return. With special thanks to Dinah Gibbons – who is the Creative Director of Bodykind Festival – for exquisite organising, massive generosity and warm open heartedness! It was such an honour and a pleasure to share in the groundbreaking body acceptance vibes at the festival. It was also amazing to experience the boost from being around so many awesome people, where you meet lots of people on the same page. It didn’t feel competitive, just supportive and nurturing to connect with and witness one another.

Totnes welcomed us with a friendly embrace too – we stayed at a friend of Dinah’s. The beautiful home was a comfortable nest to settle in each night, and our hosts most engaging. There is a strong ethic of sustainability in the town, as well as new age/hippie leanings in a pretty prosperous, independently minded area of natural beauty and many listed buildings.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I am really looking forward to welcoming Hana at Stories of Women on Monday at the Feminist Library – she is an exciting speaker with many years’ experience to draw upon. She was around when life models in London first began to get organised, through the Barefacts magazine and RAM, and even held several early RAM gatherings at her home in North West London. We invite *you to speak with her, draw and maybe model too (*women only).

Hana Schlesinger

Older women are even more invisible in the digital era – like Hana and Suzanne. The internet/social media are not as inclusive as they might be, inevitably they are a bit ageist, which makes older people’s voices all the more precious.

At the end of the month, on Saturday 28th October I will be in Perth for the first WOW in Scotland, facilitating a workshop for women – life modelling and drawing – called ‘I am Perfect as me.’ I will be joined by two of the women who posed with us at All The Young Nudes in Edinburgh in August. They will begin the modelling whilst telling the group what it feels like to pose. Then in the second half, women are invited to try modelling alongside them. The conversation may continue – usually about all manner of body politics issues – in the supportive space. Finally everyone looks at the drawings and takes time to debrief, let some feelings from the session settle with informal chat.

It will be great to see the speakers we can get to, and it’s also wonderful to build a relationship with models, sharing in their development. One of the models first posed with us last year, and now has quite a bit of experience, and the other tried for the first time this Summer. Likewise it’s amazing to continue being part of WOW, and I am so thrilled that the idea of empowering women about their body image through life modelling, which I presented at the very first WOW, has been taken up again and again.

Enjoying this busy month!

The Stories of Women

After a long break we are back with a new series of events at The Feminist Library. These will be for women only, though I would like to make a mixed event soon too, elsewhere. Also an event in Sheffield is in discussion! It is very special to be at The Feminist Library as naturally we share a lot of values. I have found it a very calm haven with so much richness stored in so many books and other archive material. There are publications you are unlikely to find anywhere else, and an incredible variety of female writing, from the cult to the little known.

I wanted to continue sharing the models’ voices with artists, and as well to celebrate the incredible breadth and diversity of female models. The idea of models expressing themselves whilst posing interests me, and not just with their bodies. Speaking of the nuances of feeling generated in pose, the different connections with people drawing, and how the practice or job sends ripples into their wider lives. Through sharing their thoughts we will spark some discussion about any issues or responses raised.

This introduction into a professional model’s interior world may warm participants up for trying some modelling themselves I hope! Naturally we welcome women who just want to draw as well. If cost is an issue please get in touch as it needn’t be. Some drawing materials and boards will be provided but by all means bring your own.

I am really excited to be presenting some wonderfully gifted and unusual women in this series. It is a chance to hear new stories in ways they perhaps haven’t been told before. Each session, the model will pose for the first 45 minutes, creating a sequence of poses to help with her presentation. She may not speak all the time. Her voice might have been pre-recorded if she prefers. She will sit, stand and elaborate for you, using her platform to engage you with particular matters pertaining to her experience. She may deliver poetry or make music. There may be a little movement. She will decide!

Our first model for the series will be Leo.

13912691_1264633963548395_9056126466328880965_n
Leo will be modelling at The Stories of Women on 17th July

Leo says, “I consider being a fat model a public service 😉. I hope other fat people are inspired to love their own bodies more.
body positivity and diversity is the key.”

Couldn’t agree more. It is very exciting to have Leo with us. She has a lot of experience and is a powerful figure with a strong mind. Please join us! Further dates and presenting models will be announced soon.

18446943_1559291780749277_6669121923446144709_n

“The Feminist Library is a large archive collection of Women’s Liberation Movement literature, particularly second-wave materials dating from the late 1960s to the 1990s.”

Tickets available here.