Old Fashioned Subtle Sexism and Implied Body Shaming

I’ve been a life model for a number of years now and fancied a change. I’d like to work with children but have no such qualification beyond babysitting as a teenager and modelling occasionally. One option is Teaching Assistant, so I looked it up and (a) the job description wreaks of “normal” job in a way I’m not sure I can handle any more. (b) The pay rate is low. I mean I often refuse that rate as a life model. I can earn a lot more as a life model, and to some extent being freelance can negotiate my own terms.
There is so much freedom and variety in my job and this mere cursory glance at another option made me appreciate that again. For a job looking after children, committing to regular hours for weeks on end, only minimum wage (or London Living Wage?) applies. Disgusting!

On the other hand I was thinking about what’s been bugging me as a life model recently. Certain jobs were making me uncomfortable. Even if I felt appreciated for my talent as a model, I also felt judged, subtly. These are jobs where I happen to fit into the artists’ idea of attractiveness in a body for them to draw. I am slim, a bit curvy, young(ish!), fit, reasonably flexible, not bad looking… and I know how to behave as life model in the way that is desired. I don’t just mean turning up on time and holding poses. I know how to engage with the artists and make suitable conversation. They want something reflected back to them which is how they see themselves as artists. They want to feel appreciated and to feel at ease with you.

What was bothering me was, these jobs while often better paid, do not always feel ethical. I know that they never book a fat model, an old model or a male model for example. They have asked me to recommend models and I’ve connected them with various. Not all have gone down too well. One was too old, too political and possibly opinionated. Another was an astrophysicist by day and they didn’t find her conversation stimulating in the way they wanted from their life model. Perhaps she hadn’t switched off yet from the day job!

At another such group I enquire what their other models are like. “Oh we don’t have any horrible bodies here,” I am told, and now I know I have completely strayed from the land of the politically correct. Which is partly a relief for the honesty, but in this case it smells of elitism, and I ask myself what is the appropriate response from me? At the time I say nothing as the conversation meanders on, and she speaks of their appreciation of fit bodies, with the strength to hold more ambitious poses. The woman I spoke to is not an organiser, just a regular punter. It’s true that when the model is really exerting their self, it can make for more compelling poses. But that wouldn’t rule out lots of older, male or larger models.

Is it for me to question who they want to draw? Is it a matter of aesthetics? And personalities? I am grateful to sometimes be among the chosen, but as someone who has run my own groups for all body types (to encourage body confidence) and gone to other groups to draw, I know of brilliant models outside of the obvious mainstream norms, and many of these would automatically be excluded from the jobs I described. Part of this it seems to me, is perpetuated by us models, picking up on the standard and only recommending similar types. After all, we want the work.

Posing one on one for an artist can be like a mini-relationship, an affair, a courtship. It might last days, span over weeks, months… Unless it’s for a commission or similar endgame, it’s very much about a connection of personalities. An exchange that is more than time and physical effort, rather an energetic connection. Sometimes it exists artistically alone, a musing inspiration, but other times I sense a girlfriend experience of sorts. Male artists with disposable income and space in their lives.

I used to be a hostess in Soho clip joints. Male clients paid excessively for time in my lingeried company, sipping expensive drinks. They likely entertained ideas of further/sexual developments. My job was to keep them there. Of course now “art” is occurring, so a higher purpose is implied, or at least perhaps a more acceptable relationship/activity. Several muses may be simultaneously on the go, alternating weeks, months, or exclusivity may be preferred for an intense period. Sharing an interest that the wife doesn’t (any longer), if she ever existed. Sometimes I am a cheap counsellor for their woes as well as indulging or reprimanding their neuroses, and providing conversation with my body to be looked at, submitted for inspection.

It can feel like that with a group of artists too. They fall in love with me a little, collectively, unanimously, and hopefully I with them. We bond for a while, over years at intervals. It is loose, casual, but they know me so well. I share brief intimacies in passing and they enjoy glimpses of my truth. Being able to be with artists in this way, to organically make this relationship work, is perhaps an unwritten skill, talent in the job description. It’s such a personal thing that is more than about looks; though I think often those talented in this context seem to share certain traits. A kind of physical beauty, and inner charm, genuine sharing without being too shy, or domineering. Exuding happy, contented, feel-good vibes. Being comfortable in this slightly old fashioned at times role.

I am sure more varied models could take on the position (and surely sometimes do) if they wanted it, but does the fit feel so natural? Do they feel accepted? Or is it just that I don’t know, and out there actually all variations coexist, with some artists choosing less typical muses, or even being less typical (and male) themselves? I hope so. I would love to hear about that. It would make me feel less like an anachronism!

I have modelled for female artists individually, but only a couple of long series which were both for committed projects where I had the desired form.

There are other groups and artists, not of this type, and fortunately now many so, who feel wholly ethical. They employ all good models and enjoy full diversity as much as is available. Every group has its own vibe to a certain extent attracting models and artists who fit in, though this is a broad spectrum. My feelings in this piece reflect my realisation that I felt more comfortable in these more I think ethical work situations. Yet there is also a place for more intimate encounters of the muse variety if not being outright physical or overtly sexual. These can be a healthy transaction, an exchange of ideas and growing friendships. It’s positive and it’s a privilege to explore connection outside of the romantic sphere (and be paid for it). It can run parallel to other relationships, offering other avenues to learn about ourselves. It’s the sort of job where you negotiate the boundaries, in terms of conversation as well as poses. What they are, for how long and when to take breaks. Do you also share meals, or go for a drink with them? Sometimes, but it usually stays professional. I mean it always does, but sometimes you become friends.

In Hammersmith, by Barry

In Muswell Hill

At Lauderdale House, in Sharon’s class

Above are some recent drawings of me from various classes. Posing with Goddess props at Cody Dock, in Tim’s class.

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Shadows & Light; photograms, rope bondage and mentoring girls

Yesterday I was asked to mentor teenage girls about body image in a pod on the London Eye on International Day of the Girl (October 11th which is also my Mother’s birthday). Today I told teenage girls who were continually whispering in the 6th form class I was modelling for, to shut up. I could not discern their words but there was a constant low level conversation in their huddle, and when I was looking their way I was not imagining the cheeky ‘OMG she’s looking at us’ looks directed at me. 3 poses into this nonsense I thought of saying something. I had a few ideas in my head but knew that whetever came out would be more effective unrehearsed. It needed to come from my heart in the moment. As I changed pose I glanced their way decrying “It would be better if you shut up.” Then realising that might have sounded unduly strong – I am more than twice their age and also about 10 years older than the teacher, I added, “I mean I can hear that you are whispering, and it IS off-putting.” I was calm and I’d said what I needed to say, what a relief! I automatically assumed the next pose facing another direction (I was in the round) and where I had been counting 300 seconds (5 minutes) for each pose in my head, I now just let time be. I felt myself turn a little pink at the surprise of my outspokenness, crossing an unspoken line in terms of my position in relation to the teacher (who was turned away at a computer on the other side of the room) and the class, then returned to my usual shade and gathered a growing smile on my chops. I had taken control just for a minute and the dynamic of the class had shifted. Now there was silence; and a sense of it being possible for anything to happen now. No one knew what would happen next. Well of course it was pretty straight forward; tension had been released and I had more smiles than before. Reminded of the time I told patrons at The National Theatre who were rude to me when trying to buy a programme from me (I worked front of house), to fuck off, got a warning from the manager, left early and had a fantastic evening at an art event I would otherwise have missed, I remembered that sometimes my anger pushes me forward. It’s good to cross lines to maintain strength, make a point. It’s worth risking your poorly paid job to stand up for truth and self-expression, being real and not waiting for someone else to champion your cause.

I will add here that the tutor here had been very supportive and given me such a fantastic introduction to the class as she raved about Spirited Bodies. I certainly felt welcomed (my first time there) and trusted, and in good hands. Dealing with the pair of girls was an isolated, individual case and everything else was fine. I even got a round of applaus at the end of the session; I wonder if I will be booked again.

On the same day that I received an email asking me to mentor teenage girls on the London Eye, earlier in the morning I had been going through old papers and found this section of diary from a few years ago that drew my attention: –

“It’s such a shame I think, that I haven’t known really, what I want to do, since those crucial years as a teenager. It’s as if someone took all the aspirations I had been having, and said, ‘Whoa! You’re not going anywhere with those! Forget that shit, and get some real experience…’

And I bought it, and all the little packets of speed I could get my hands on.

I look back and sometimes wish better guidance had been available to me. There was a sense from within me that I really wanted to go off the rails, to shock, lose control, and completely change from the girl I’d been. Any obviously sensible advice would have been most likely unheeded. It would have taken a very special person to penetrate my closed-in, bent-on-being-fucked-up world. Someone who’d been through something similar, but already come out the other end.

And I could have done with someone being really tough on me, hardline about certain issues, to give me a sense of discipline, and where it was that I was Really fucking up. But for me to accept that, that woman would have to have known what she was talking about. And be kind. I needed all that…….

A little gentle guidance would have been so good. Like, ‘Yeah try those needles, undeniably fun that injecting… but don’t let it take over! And don’t lose sight of artistic interests and your education…..’

She would have told me which things I was doing to make money that really fuck with your head; to live on less, and not worry about pleasing men who expect you to look, act and fuck a certain way….

I hear her voice, ‘Keep reading, watching, alert for what’s going on out there. It’s easy to get lost in that enclosed world, but there’s so much more going on which will be much more important later. Be informed and find your creative path.’

Nothing like learning the hard way.”

It’s a funny idea I have of some sassy role model having words with my troubled youth. Not realistic. The whole point is that you have to find out on your own. Anyway; where would all the fun be if someone had told me what not to do? Events become stories you remember for years after because at the actual time of them happening, you really didn’t have a clue what was going on. Yet I do recall yearning at particular moments of apparent darkness for some female guidance.

Here are pictures from a photogram session which involves holding bizarre poses in a dark room on giant photographic paper whilst coloured lights are flashed from above.

27_20130801-crop-esther-bunting1326 I had to get used to working in the dark with artist Andrew Chisholm which I found very meditative. It was like a ritual, each of my movements in coordination with his procedure and that of a technical assistant, giving each other signals that a phase was complete so the next could begin.

27_20130801-crop-esther-bunting1327Extremely light sensitive paper had to be wrapped and unwrapped in darkness, deposited in a giant processing machine. It was quite amazing and magical as we waited for the result to see if how we had planned the image had transpired.

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This was a novel way to engage in nude art and could appeal to those preferring total anonymity, though I am not sure a shadow is necessarily that. It is a fairly expensive procedure but if you are interested contact Andrew. Some of his photograms will be in an exhibition starting this Friday at Candid Arts in Angel, London.

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Yesterday I was grateful for a more spiritual experience when modelling. This was for a friend Jon who organises the annual Festival of the Art of Japanese Rope Bondage. Dressed in a partly transparent kimono I allowed Jon (Nawashi Murakawa) to tie the intricate knots around me and suspend me from bamboo sticks hanging from the ceiling. An eerie haunting Japanese music accompanied together with Vera Bremerton doing live vocals. The stage was set up in Japanese decoration; a painted backdrop and various paraphernalia; sticks, cloths, hats and the twiney ropes. First I watched Jon arrange Maya into poses as she submitted, I could see she was in trance and so it was after for me. The atmosphere here was very supportive of my whole being, the room full of enthusiasts, people doing knotting themselves at the other end. I felt the love and gave Jon my trust. I experienced how this art allows the model to express sexuality without being overtly sexual. Parts of me were exposed at times which may have been more erotic for me being partially covered. But I was just hanging there, contorted in ways I could not normally manage. There was pain, tingles and numbness but I am used to that. I gave in to the new variation of sensations, the rope digging in cutting off different parts of me in isolation, and enjoyed performing to a drawing audience.

I wore a hat with ears first

I wore a hat with ears first

by Brett who added remembered text

by Brett who added remembered text

by Jon, after he had suspended me

by Jon, after he had suspended me

On October 11th Thelma and I will be spinning slowly in The London Eye around breakfast time with women role models from a variety of backgrounds including ‘policewomen, artists, lawyers, conductors, painters and decorators, athletes and business women.’ We will be speed-mentoring teenage girls about body image and related matters, this is organised by Southbank Centre, Women of the World (WOW) of which we were a part this year and have attended every year since it began (2011).