WOW PERTH

We arrived on the train late on Friday evening of 27th October, and after a long day travelling we were happy to walk along the river Tay to find our digs and snuggle down for the night. We unfortunately missed Jude Kelly talking to Nicola Sturgeon which is a shame, but we didn’t know about that when we booked the train tickets. Perth is a picturesque place, even at night and instantly charmed us with its pretty calmness.

This was a blessing from a fortunate alignment when in late August I happened to be in Edinburgh for an event I was running, just as Lou Brodie¬† – WOW Perth programmer – wanted to chat with me about how best to include a life modelling workshop in their festival. We met up over coffee and I talked her through the logistics. It’s a bit niche so I was confidently able to say to her that no one else around does what I do, even if they do a life modelling workshop, it’s not feminist! Anyway, it was a huge privilege to work with Lou, whom I found to be very positive, sensitive and considerate.

Naturally I love to travel with Spirited Bodies and be part of WOW so was privately keen before I dared to imagine it might be a possibility! I was not expecting her to pick someone who isn’t Scottish, but there seemed a strong enough case for it. I decided to go with the interview format like I’ve been doing sometimes at Stories of Women recently and before that as well. I looked for models in Scotland that I knew already and two came forward though in the end only one made it – Aimee McCallum and she was very happy to speak about her experiences. I had met her in Summer ’16 and again this August so seen parts of her journey.

She introduced the event boldly and evenly with fine poses to warm the audience’s hands though the room was not cool. With a wooden floor and a very big pile of cushions within a circle of chairs looking inwards… Aimee began to describe revealing herself through her art, to her family, and continuing to be liberated. For her first degree show she had created a photographic image of her and her boyfriend nude, overlayed with kaleidoscopic patterns. It was about the ritual of covering up the body; so she was exploring the idea of being naked for art before she began modelling.

Aimee

At the point of asking the women if they wanted to try there was a very high positive response rate! Certainly we had more women modelling than drawing some of the time and it was very relaxed! You could tell that the women did not mind if they were not being drawn, they were just happy to be chatting together in this liberated way. And listened to. Many women tried – about 9, and one artist simultaneously breastfed whilst drawing. Sometimes the baby couldn’t be quiet! The models had a lot to say.

Getting naked in front of friends, attitudes towards nudity in front of children, growing/shaving the bush, sex after childbirth… it’s an intimate space and not being so many of us made it perhaps cosier. The conversation was recorded – for Lisa’s podcast called The Hot Bed Collective; she was taking part as an artist and model. She had come to run the ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ session on the Sunday, and thought my session might make for rich material for the podcast. Everyone in the room was fine with that luckily, and it’s nice to think some of our spontaneous meanderings are not lost!

WOW as a whole is an opportunity for all women to get involved and be listened to, to learn and to share and there were many platforms going on. I could only get to a fraction.

In the Teenagers with Gemma Cairney session I particularly liked how articulate some of the young women were, and very entertaining with it. Gemma is extremely positive and was helped by the audience with advice like what to do when your friends are critically bulhemic for example? The girls themselves described an inadequate education curriculum and I wondered about how to get into giving sex and relationship lessons, it could take me a while but I do feel I have something to offer.

In the Shame session they explored the horrific amounts of (toxic) shame that women experience and also the basic need to feel (healthy) shame. The fact that speaking out is so powerful and healing so we must do it more and more. The speakers covered abortion, fat and trans shaming in particular from their unique experiences. A memorable question from the audience pointed up the invisibility of age, and how that still affects us all.

It was a privilege to get so close to some of Louise Bourgeoise’s work in the gallery next door – including one of her giant spiders, most awesome. Also prints of hands and arms reaching, connecting the legacy of her handing down her egg to the next generation. As she had grown older, her artistic assistant we were told, became her carer, and the two roles fused. Literally, very touching as intertwined hand prints testified.

When I first came across WOW a few days before the first festival in 2011, I was so excited, couldn’t wait to go. I was incredibly moved by the powerful force that felt like the beginning of the more mainstream and blatantly visible feminist movement coursing through our culture at the present time. The voices in the festival rang loud with empowerment and calls to action, it was thrilling. I was able to share the concept of Spirited Bodies to an audience in the festival hall including a celebrity panel, and Jude Kelly offered to host it which made me so happy! It has been a nurturing and developing relationship spanning events over several years and has introduced me to many wonderful and enriching opportunities.

Perth is a beautiful place to visit and quiet too, I hope to return sometime and spend longer there. I also hope that WOW continues to grow in the region, as this was a very ripe and promising first festival in Scotland.

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.

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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!