Free Bleeding Life Modelling

The following is about a recent experience I had when life modelling and menstruating aligned for me. I am sharing it here as want to raise awareness about this issue, particularly for the benefit of women thinking of trying life modelling, as well as for artists booking models. It is not necessarily talked about much, but I think we all gain from freeing ourselves of this taboo. Female models may feel more comfortable, and artists better understand the issues involved. There is a lot of shame around menstruating, which some women experience more than others, whereby it is felt necessary to hide this biological process; the blood, smell, bodily and emotional changes. All of this concealing can further add to the psychological anguish of not fully realising our natural cyclical power, however unaware we may be of this.

I arrived early in Sidcup on a Thursday morning after no sleep. Despite a stressful night, somehow I remained upbeat in the morning, and on removing my garments in the changing room (this college has an actual changing room for the life model!) was amazed to discover my knickers and thighs smeared with blood. How unexpected, and how early. I am generally fairly regular, and this was about ten days premature. It did explain my difficult tormented night however, to a further degree than the stress I was experiencing alone could. With the full moon approaching in a few days, my cycle was realigning to bring my emotional and physical being, in keeping with the celestial sphere. I now found myself in jolly temperament, typical for me of coming on.

I was caught out, without mooncup or pad. There seemed more blood than usual for the beginning of the flow, which is often minor dribbles, and I actually felt excited by the idea of posing while free bleeding. In my robe I entered the posing space and addressed the tutor Nick. I said, “My period has unexpectedly just begun, and I am unprepared. So I will pose, and there will be some blood between my legs you understand.” He did, no problem. I have known this class for a rather long time and feel so comfortable with them, so appreciated always.

I had presented the predicament audibly so that all the class could hear too, and they were all on the same page. This post-menopausal bunch were relaxed and comfortable, as long as I was. While they were not able to offer me a tampon, they helped me feel far greater comfort than usual. Typically my dynamic and movement poses are stretched to the limit here, and several of the class members are nudged out of their comfort zone. How they must have rejoiced in my menstruation to be able to proffer the sofa loaded with as many cushions as reasonably stacked there. I did a few quick stretchy poses, and then was ushered into warmth and comfort. My tiredness was intense and I felt no resistance, just gratitude for my friendly class, who in their turn were equally gracious.

Nick was considering which of the clean sheets to cover the cushions with, and seeing none were red, I said I thought lying on my own robe would be most suitable. I can imagine in other similar situations that a tutor or class member might offer to go and buy a tampon. That didn’t arise here, and I think it was because of the exuberant manner in which I presented my predicament, more elated than troubled by my bleeding. Finally the staining of my legs was not so dramatic. The combination of long reclining poses and a large absorbant bush meant that most of this sticky mess didn’t travel so far.

When it happens, it happens. Go with the flow. Here are two earlier posts I have made, at least partly on the subject, one from a few years ago, and the other a year ago.

I will host events where free bleeding is encouraged, or if not so overt, then it will simply be acceptable. To promote menstrual health, awareness, and not hiding this vital part of our life blood. Celebrating our cycles and all the (hidden) power contained there, until we open it up and declare it ours. We shift with the weeks (if not blocked too drastically with hormones or lack of food for example), accessing different parts of ourselves at each time. Renewing, growing, blooming and shedding. When the blood comes, we are letting go of the old, what we no longer need; dead waste, old blood. To make way for the new.

Here are some photographs from my Girl in Suitcase performance, from the scene about menstrual rites, performed with Lidia at Dandifest, May 2015, Norwich. Lidia is pouring a syropy fake blood liquid over my already blackened body. The audience have been handed a cup of red wine each, in time for our menses communion ceremony.

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Circles of Women

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

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

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

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

In daylight before we began

In daylight before we began

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

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Hands reached up in a blaze of flames

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

operatic notes on a page

operatic notes on a page

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

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

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

bending in the wind

bending in the wind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a sea of bodies

a sea of bodies

 

A Natural Part of the Journey

Last week I visited 2 naturist clubs in the heart of the rich south of this land. One was a site visit for Sex Maniacs’ Ball, and then a few of us went to a sexual energy channelling workshop at another club down the road. It was all in the spirit of the Ball, because amongst other naturist activities will be an energy healing workshop and we were being briefed in how to help facilitate. No private parts are touched, but the power of the sexually focussed reiki can be such that participants are brought to orgasm. Personally I experienced a very pleasant euphoria, but I guess it all depends on who you are with. Both clubs had a very open, sexy vibe, most fitting for the mission.

Last month I was invited to model at Naturist Foundation, also in Kent, which is a more regular naturist resort. They have a life drawing group amongst other art clubs, and the organiser knew me from a class in Sidcup where I model. He picked me up at Orpington station and drove us to the club. As soon as he parked inside the grounds, he stripped off to acclimatise; I didn’t feel quite ready. It was a fairly mild day, and once we had been to the cafe and had a coffee and sandwich, said hello to quite a few people, I felt adjusted. I shed all other items, and just draped a shawl over my shoulders whilst being given a tour. It is quite a large space, with woodland and different camping and games areas. Children and teenagers were present though not nude like the older folks. I posed outdoors for the second time this year, and enjoyed it more than the first for the liberation of artists also naked. It was a special occasion as normally they take turns to draw each other. Nudity no problem, they some of them struggle with finding interesting poses. I said next time I’d give them a lesson, maybe get some group poses going on. After the session I swum in the warm pool. I don’t remember swimming nude in such relaxed setting before.

Posing in a garden in South East London, a warm evening and a red shawl. Pastel by Arnie

Posing in a garden in South East London, a warm evening and a red shawl. Pastel by Arnie

Scenery at Naturist Foundation where I posed outdoors

Scenery at Naturist Foundation where I posed outdoors

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the red shawl (from my Grand Father) is popular this Summer

the red shawl (from my Grand Father) is popular this Summer

In Scotland we exalted in student digs, right in the middle of Edinburgh. Noisy, cheap, no frills but what we needed. A bust tyre on our journey down slowed our progress to Glasgow the next day, but we got to All The Young Nudes just in time. We had trouble finding the venue once we had parked and found the street. We asked an Italian for directions and she told us “It is down a very nasty alley”. Every corner led to a nasty alley and on we shrugged till we reached the last corner. A sign on the main road told us to go round the back. Right at the back and down into the depths of some cave of a club, nothing much to look at, but that seemed to be the way with Glasgow. Inside they were waiting, keeping the artists out till the last minute, and what a queue there must have been, of artists who kept arriving through the first half and packing out this cellar of nooks and pillars, levels and pathways, no obvious centre to work with. We divided up our group of models or else not all artists would get a look. They drunk and music played, we fitted poses into spaces right in front of artists’ noses, making much of all our Scottish collaborators being professionals too. I could see why; if I was new to life modelling I would probably feel daunted by this intense and in yer face set up.

Thelma I believe

Thelma I believe

a Scottish model

a Scottish model

linking up

linking up

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Next night in Edinburgh was at the opposite end of the scale, in a well-to-do part of town (or is it all like that?) in a well kept church hall, attached to the church. A handful of artists drew intently, a more measured affair but the artwork was really special. We had a couple of new models and one pro joining us; I stayed out to direct this time.

Scottish Witches

Scottish Witches

Friends

Friends

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This was a mini-Pieta pose for 15 minutes!

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Loads more beautiful art work from this session here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.607794702576542.1073741837.320375434651805&type=1&l=f30476d02a

There was a hiccup with our final gig north of the border – the venue were unprepared for us, the room double booked, and though we still managed some nice poses together in a different space, we realised this place was not on the case (though some very lovely people did come to our rescue). We are still seeking a resolution here in terms of our next step on the Scottish mission. Overall we made some brilliant connections and can’t wait to get back, in the best possible fashion.

We all loved being on the road too, even Little Chef, takes me right back! That chance to share a bit more of our lives together, get to know each other in closer quarters and have an adventure.

With this baby, Baby Spirited Bodies, well technically a toddler now, like many Mums I make friends on the path. Friends who might not take the plunge if they didn’t know me, if we didn’t become close. Makes it accessible, less scary to be able to talk about it and feel safe with someone who knows. I’ve never been less lonely and it’s a good feeling, but I am getting familiar with some friends passing through for that part of the journey. It’s just so intense for a while, and sometimes the flame goes right out, suddenly because invariably emotions come up, and maybe a clash. I cannot hold their hand all the time, and bam they feel rejected! Onwards. Hopefully I’ll learn to smooth that phase more delicately. I am not a counsillor but I could be a better friend. Fortunately other friends that I have usually known longer, get involved and the effect is just uplifting, because of where they are at in their own journey, and how established our bond already is. Modelling with Spirited Bodies brings us closer, and I am beginning to see that some who needs must part from my company a while, do return when ready, for a new lease of friendship, with a stronger bond.

So lately I’ve been to several naturist places, and while I think these people have the right idea, not only do I not live near enough to one to consider joining, but also, it’s like they are in a timewarp somewhere between the ’70s and ’80s. Of course it’s not about appearances and that’s the point, but at least it’s about having people your own age you share cultural identity with. My own cultural identity may be quite comfortable in the ’80s and ’90s, but most naturists are older. I think it is becoming cool again though. Groups I am part of on Facebook testify to this trend, and the desire to shift the naturist way more into the modern day is a popular conversation topic; how to attract more women, and how to attract more young folks. The growing popularity of nudist events outside of naturist clubs also indicates a change; it may be young people are more inclined to undress socially within a more familiar setting, be it urban such as at this evening’s private view of an exhibition at Guerilla Galleries in Holloway (Daniel Libeskind Space) to be part of an installation (I am involved with several friends, see https://www.eventbrite.com/event/6785468519 for details), or outdoor such as tomorrow’s Streak for Tigers at London Zoo (http://www.zsl.org/support-us/challenge-events/streak-for-tigers-thursday-15-august,2096,AR.html) which is a fundraiser to help save the Sumatran Tiger, or further in nature for a mass skinny-dip!

Last Monday Thelma and I went to The Outsiders Trust Jamboree, which is a light-hearted daytripping prequel to The Sex Maniacs Ball. With children present it was all very tame, but we got to talk a little to the party about what we do with Spirited Bodies, and how that may relate to people gaining sexual self confidence. A gentleman after described how with his unusual condition he is used to being prodded mercilessly by doctors to the point that he is unfussed about his body, but feels it has lost its specialness, just a curiosity and problem to be solved by the medical profession. My Mum is familiar with that too; paralysed from the neck down she relies on others for every bodily function, dignity plays little part, or rather dignity may be redefined according to necessity. The idea of being regarded for art is exceptional, appealing, and I found that with The Outsiders themselves I felt drawn to create a life modelling event just for them. The Ball will likely be a jolly rollicking affair, less time for quiet drawing even if tantric reiki is happening. I would prefer to give my baby the true attention it deserves, although a little taster might spread the message.

At The Mall Galleries last Wednesday, it was a special day for Mum.

water colour by Graham Wood

water colour by Graham Wood

drawing by Margaret

drawing by Margaret

There are more pictures of Mum from this event but they have not been shared yet. There are also many pictures of all the other models of course too; see our Facebook page for them. I just wanted to emphasize Mum as it is harder for her to make herself known, being paralysed and less able to attract artists with dazzling moves. I look forward to events which bring disabled/differently abled people modelling to the fore. It is on the agenda.

Choosing a Different Path, & Spirited Bodies at The Dana Centre

by Cynthia Barlow Marrs at Dana Centre

by Cynthia Barlow Marrs at Dana Centre

Sometimes I get a touch of the social phobia – the shivers creep up on me as I get dressed for a family function, or an attack of nerves has me weeping on a bus on route to a networking event which I am sure will be full of ‘posh’ women! It’s that fear of being judged for not having a ‘proper’ job, a ‘normal’ life. I would prefer it if instead of subtle remarks hard to pinpoint when you are feeling twitchy, people came out with the more direct “But how do you get by with a crap job like that?” or “Are you a slag because you pose for artists?” “Is it because you are mentally ill?” “So where did your parents go wrong?” “I hope my daughter never meets you!”

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I am so familiar with the usual run of questions trying to suss out if I am still renting in my ’30s, if I can afford to do this because I have a rich husband (I don’t!), if there is any evidence of a ‘normal’ job in my background (there isn’t), if my life gets any more shocking than being a life model (this is where the fun starts); I can anticipate this nonsense a mile off. Sometimes I am on form coming back at them in all my cutting finery, other times it’s an effort and I reel off some well worn spiel and take another sip.

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It doesn’t happen very often, but when things do get to me, I ask friends why I still do this. Recently, a good friend reminded me. She said, picking up that part of me wondered why I am not ‘normal’ after feeling like an outsider at a party where everyone seemed to be part of the ‘mainstream’; “It’s very important what you do. If you had a child, you would not be able to make Spirited Bodies the way you are now. Most people grow up thinking they must get a certain kind of job, with a set income. They must marry the right kind of person, buy the right property, have children at the right age, mix with the right people and send their children to the right school. When people do choose a different path, that is something amazing.” (Her voice was shaking. She is a young Grandmother who is very close to her family and has grown to appreciate so much an alternative lifestyle.) “You must celebrate your different path,” she said, “And remember how unique and inspiring it is.” Thank Goodness for strong, clear-sighted friends. I knew immediately that she was right, her words rang loud and resonated deeply. I almost cried with joy as I remembered that I had indeed chosen a different path many years ago. When I was still a teenager I knew I never wanted to be conventional! The girls in my North London grammar school wreaked of materialism and bored me no end. I got off the track, scrambled through all sorts of wilderness to find some freaks who were real! Idealistic and romantic – me? More like dark, fearless and underground!! It can take a long time to come out of the dark, and sometimes it’s pretty fucking scary. But I am out now, and I mean business!

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On Tuesday Lucy and I gave a presentation at The Science Museum‘s ‘The Dana Centre‘ in South Kensington at an event called ‘Eating Identities’. Lucy spoke whilst showing slides and I posed so the audience could draw. Lucy was talking about portrayal of the body in the media focusing on youth, slimness and sexualisation, and how Spirited Bodies can help people discover a sense of value in their bodies no matter what. Other speakers included Dr Meredith Brown who is a feminist art historian at The Courtauld Institute; she looked at the female form through the ages in art, and Catherine Collins who is Principal dietician at St George’s Hospital in Tooting; she discussed the futility of most fad diets and how our bodies are meant to be a certain shape anyway so we are better off not attempting to deviate too much from that. While these two spoke, Lucy and I both posed. It definitely felt quite novel to have some life drawing at this presentation – when Meredith was speaking I got the impression she had not anticipated how real and live we would be, nude and contorted in front of her! She was trying to describe one of the original models for a Renaissance Venus painting or some such, and the fact that the model was a prostitute. She kept stuttering on that word as she looked open mouthed at me in front of her feet away on a table with my legs open and unashamed, totally cool!

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Here are some photos of the presentation and more of the artwork from it.

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IMG_2587Me in classic one-legged pose

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IMG_2628Some artistic licence with the accessories!

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Nude modelling giving women confidence ~ my talk with Women on Fire

On Tuesday 23rd April I will address an audience of women at a Women on Fire event; it is part of their A Woman Cubed series. I will be speaking about how modelling nude may bring women confidence.

I will draw from my experience as well as that of some of our Spirited Bodies.

I will look at how nudity has changed in its status through history, how it has become incredibly sexualised where it used to represent purity. Indeed the naked body has been of the highest spiritual significance.  There is of course a political element; it may be convenient that a population ashamed of the natural human body is a society living in fear. In fear how easily are people subjugated and controlled? I may not have time in the talk to cover this element, but it is related.

I will discuss what is unique to life modelling; as well as the nudity, the usual silence and stillness. Shed of our daily trappings we have an opportunity to reexamine who we are.

This is a women only event.

About Women on Fire: “Women on Fire is designed to link up the women of the world who make brilliant things happen. It promotes women as decision makers, especially in the many areas that have a direct effect on the wellbeing of all life on earth. It aims to embolden, uplift, inform and inspire women in all circumstances to live their power – but without the loss of lovely, feminine tenderness.”

Women on Fire founder Judith Seelig is a shaman and change maker. She will be talking about women letting go of judging ourselves and comparing ourselves to others.

To book tickets for this free event, register here; it takes place at Kings College London, from 7 – 9pm.

Judith Seelig by Tracey Fahy

Judith Seelig by Tracey Fahy

Judith by Tracey Fahy

Judith by Tracey Fahy

Judith poses beautifully, photographed by Tracey Fahy

Judith poses beautifully, photographed by Tracey Fahy

I first came across Women on Fire at a women’s business networking conference a couple years ago. I was looking at ways to take Spirited Bodies further; we had done one event and I was preparing for the second, which was called ‘The Ages of Woman’. One of the speakers at the London Women Mean Business event mentioned Women on Fire, so I checked them out. They had a big event coming up with some very inspiring speakers from Camilla Batmanghelidjh to Polly Higgins, covering many areas of life. I decided to go to their regular meetings and stay in touch. I am thrilled to be asked to take part in next week’s event!

Related articles:

Feminine Transmission

Fire Power

Life Drawing Therapeutic for Older People

Today I modelled at Jackson’s Lane community and arts centre in Highgate, North London. The group is for older people, 55+, but most are in their 70s and 80s.

I was touched when Edna, an 87 year old with a dowager’s stoop revealed her unexpected joy at coming to life drawing. A few years ago her spine had suddenly started to crumble, literally one day she felt it go. Formerly 5′ 6″ I think, she lost several inches and now walks with a frame. She said, “It feels like for the first time since my body became broken, I am facing that fact through examining another body. I can see what’s wrong by looking at another body that is functioning. The doctors never show you, and they don’t look at you nude either, (except when operating) though they have to treat you. No one wants to see your body when you are older; relatives don’t even take photos of me any more.”

Despite this sad tale, Edna expresses a lot of happiness on her smiling face and in her twinkling eyes. She has lived a lot throughout her life so far, working as a psychotherapist, travel writer and latterly a photographer. She used to climb mountains and dance a lot. Fellow artist Sheila suggests it is better not to look back because it may remind us what we have lost; better to look forward as life is always full of surprises!

Liz who runs the class has gotten to know the members quite well, and they feel safe talking about painful feelings sometimes connected with families who are unkind to them. One woman describes her children’s greedy interests in her home… and their lack of sensitivity or consideration for her preferences. She says she enjoys coming to the groups at Jacksons Lane where members are ‘pre-internet; they actually sit down and talk, tell stories.’ Her family dismissively say, ‘why would you want to hang around with that bunch of disabled people?’

Sheila and Edna both clearly have some experience of life drawing, and an artistic sensibility. As I photograph their work, they ask what for, so I explain about Spirited Bodies. I mention the 73 year old woman who had had 2 hips and a knee replaced so only posed sitting down, and did not tell her judgmental family. I also recount the recent appearance of 82 year old Arleen who is a life model (who has had a mastectomy), at our Southbank event. Edna and Sheila are all ears, asking where can they find out more? When will there be an opportunity in North London? It is as if I have poured a drop of hope into their midweek afternoon. The class awaits more funding to be resurrected (today is the last session in a series) and I sincerely hope it is.

my 1st pose is about 10 minutes with a bit of a twist

my 1st pose is about 10 minutes with a bit of a twist

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By the 3rd pose Edna has revealed her excitement at confronting an able bodied form, and how it is helping her understand her condition. I decide a spine view is in order

By the 3rd pose Edna has revealed her excitement at confronting an able bodied form, and how it is helping her understand her condition. I decide a spine view is in order

after a break of some coffee and cake, longer seated poses are decided on. It was very cold today, so I wrapped my coat round my shoulders

after a break of some coffee and cake, longer seated poses are decided on. It was very cold today, so I wrapped my coat round my shoulders

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the coat becomes part of the pose

the coat becomes part of the pose

I love this luxurious final pose!

I love this luxurious final pose!

Some lovely drawings by a very sweet group; rarely does life modelling feel so much like it could help someone.

Docile Bodies Rising Up

First I want to thank Deirdre, the feminist sociology professor I met at a viewing of a film about a legendary life model last year. She recommended ‘The Politics of Women’s Bodies; Sexuality, Appearance and Behaviour’, a selection of essays collated by Rose Weitz. Weitz explains how historically women were expected to separate their maternal and sexual aspects, as men were unable to accept that the women they wanted to be nurturing their future generations might also have needs. To a large extent this still stands. Hence the duality, the double standard; a woman is either a Madonna or a whore.

In ‘Believing is Seeing’, Judith Lorber discusses how 1 in 2000 births are in fact intersex (hermaphrodite) but this is covered up immediately by “corrective” surgery (which turns them all into females as it’s easier) as well as by a society that doesn’t wish to acknowledge what is outside of its binary vision. Our whole idea of ‘male’ and ‘female’ is a complete farce! Intersex people frequently report feeling trapped in the wrong body, so physically and socially constructed as our lives may be. Karin A Martin describes how we become gendered bodies; what we assume as nature is not just decided by surgical tradition, or nature; but by long held cultural beliefs. In primary school we learn how to behave and move like boys and girls. Girls are taught to take up less space.

In ‘Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernisation of Patriarchal Power’ Sandra Lee Bartky takes Foucault’s assertion that our bodies are insidiously controlled by the most subtle means, i.e. by the fear inside our own minds, which makes us into ‘docile bodies’ only too willing to move to the beat of the elite; and takes it to feminism’s logical step further.

“Subjected and practised bodies”

In ‘Daring to Desire’ Deborah L Tolman debunks a myth which supposes that women are less sexually inclined than men (where did they get that idea?), by showing that teenage girls feel anxiety about showing the true extent of their sexual feelings because of fear about what others will think of them. Written in 1994 this is somewhat out of date and I would like to see the updated version. When I was popping my cherry and bursting my bubble in the early ’90s, if I held off behaving like a total nymphomaniac at all times it was because I only liked goths! Rather I was kind of picky, and liked to be in control. I felt safe in a scene which allowed my sexuality and independence to be exercised. If I thought a guy was hitting on me I lost interest; I wanted to make the conquest. I wasn’t typical in a mainstream way, but on the goth scene I was not unusual. In ‘So Full of Myself as a Chick’, Amy C Wilkins examines a West Coast American town’s goth population for their unique standards of women’s sexuality as demonstrated during the ’90s. This is comparable to what I grew up with. Women on top and in charge, up to a point, which is the message Wilkins has. Polyamorous relationships as frequently exercised by goths still favour male sexuality in the end. Women’s bisexuality is used as an excuse for allowing lesbian relations yet somehow denying women total autonomy. That was then. I am not a practising goth now but sometimes visit. Not being among them it’s hard to see where they are at. I see the younger women as triumphant as ever riding a wave of freedom, at the same time I know how age can catch up with you, and pull you down (as the drugs wear off?)

‘Designing Women’ looks at how women who undergo elective mammoplasty corroborate existing patriarchal hegemony. They are simultaneously pawns and free agents who recognise their enhanced power as women with breasts of a certain shape and size, in a culture predisposed to appreciate such. “…the hegemony of beauty is exercised less in one-on-one interactions wherein a significant other expresses dissatisfaction with a specific woman’s beauty than with women’s internalisation of the generalised other, communicated through the hegemonic gaze.”

Injuries of class; like deviants tortured publicly in the 17th century, poor women bear bodily marks of their crime to remind us what could become of us. “The bodies of poor women and children, scarred and mutilated by state-mandated material deprivation… work as spectacles… for socialising and controlling bodies…” Branded with Infamy, Vivyan C Adair

Letting go of the Internalised Male Gaze

We (women) each have a censor inside of us judging us from a (perceived) man’s perspective. Not bad since we are often trying to attract them – good to be on top of what they may think of us. One step ahead of them. Yet debilitating when taken to an extreme so that concern over our appearance and behaviour dominates our lives, taking up far too much time, and at the cost of far more important issues – like getting equal pay and decent maternity rights. And when our perception of the male gaze informs us that we must relentlessly diet or modify ourselves this is doubtless damaging for health mental and physical. Our internalisation of the ‘male’ gaze is not fictitious though – we glean it from media’s obsession. We women are not supposed to take up physical space – or by extension power space; we’re not supposed to have our own voices.

In ‘Letting Ourselves Go’, Cecilia Hartley exposes how fat women are the only real feminists. For my entire adult life I have had a body that is deemed acceptable as a woman’s; a little pre-pubescent in form but not without curves, I don’t have to diet to remain a healthy size 8, in fact I eat quite a lot of what I want. I don’t go to the gym, but I am a compulsive cyclist and if I don’t get that buzz racing round the city I start to feel restless. And I hold tricky poses day in day out because that gets me high too. Natural expression and genetics. What am I doing pushing body confidence? Sharing a good feeling; and besides it’s more than just bodily boldness; confidence spans so many realms. If I can give something I take for granted to lots of others, maybe the universe will show me what has previously eluded me.

There is so much more I could say about this thought provoking book, but I must to bed and finish reading it!

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The Pieta at Spirited Bodies 10; 8/2/13, photo by Gil Limor

The Pieta at Spirited Bodies 10; 8/2/13, both photos by Gil Limor