Taking the Men out of Menstruation; Return to Women Only at WOW

When I bleed the artists Love me more.

They sense my edge more clearly and it pleases them in their aim to capture me, define me. Even if the power of the Mystery is actually stronger, their overall grasp of my Being is deeper, more profound at that time, because I radiate so vibrantly.

Other times perhaps I’m a bit blurry, but day 1 of my cycle, I’m as crisp as an iceberg, as hot as a volcano, and I melt and pour all over their page. During Menstruation, the artists compliment me more, rebook me more, and generally become more fascinated with me. I have observed this over 8 years of primarily making a living from being a life model.

Sometimes I can smell myself, maybe a little blood has rubbed onto my thigh. Can they smell me too? I’ve heard of artists taking offence at male models getting hard or just dribbling! But female models bleeding; I think they are simply grateful I turn up at all. Lots of female models won’t pose at that time, but I do and I know I excel then. I don’t care if my mooncup overflows and artists get a sight of my rich blood flowing down my leg. In fact I like that they see the whole deal uncovered. It doesn’t happen often as to pose without mooncup or tampon would be extreme, blood necessarily instantly gushing. Only a very feminist life drawing group might go for that, but I haven’t found such yet. To be honest, I haven’t asked. This post my first overt foray into the grit of menstrual posing.

I love my periods and decided to celebrate them with my girlfriends in a red tent group every new moon. The female body and our connection to the natural world and the universe is incredible. I hardly get PMT; at worst it tells me what I need to remove from my life. At best it makes me a lot more badass. Sometimes I want a lot more Me time. I’m less malleable.

I used to experience it more painfully when I was younger, in my early 20s, but I think becoming a life model improved my relationship with my body. I can use the poses like yoga to stretch parts of me that need releasing, sending endorphins on a regular route round my nervous system keeping me in check.

Every day I go to work is a celebration of my body.

Also over the years I have attracted partners who respond more positvely on all levels to my form; less jealousy, greater acceptance and gratitude. Naturally this is a mirror of myself.

PMT may be very individual, but I think many of us can work through it, unblocking its potentially negative hold on us. I believe that it is a cultural construct (and very powerful at that), but it can be undone. That involves unlocking the burdens that have been placed on us by others and ourselves, and figuring out what we actually want for ourselves. In some cultures and in some cases, that may be nigh impossible, but here in the post-Industrial West where the traditional family unit long disintegrated for many of us, reconsidering the life of womankind must assume prominence. We are ripe for it.

Men & Spirited Bodies

Some men are sneaky fuckers. They know how to behave in front of me so I’ll think they are kosher. Then they act like a dick with the female models. They don’t realise some of the women are my friends, so I know all about their idiot tricks.

I’m left with a choice.

a) Don’t bother with men any more.

b) Only invite men to model who I really know and trust. (Male artists very rarely a problem).

c) Get funding as dealing with idiot men is very consuming and one ought to be paid to bother. It would be a great shame to miss all the lovely men out there who may benefit and not cause any problems. But dealing with men in this game involves many idiots.

d) Make the issue clearer at events with announcements at the start outlining the rules.

What can happen when the wrong men pose at Spirited Bodies

Staying still in close proximity to several nude (desirable) women – they get carried away in male fantasy of what this long awaited opportunity means. They have been conditioned to think that because these women are happily naked with them, they may be sexually available. Perhaps they have never been naked with a woman before, never had sex or a girlfriend. There’s a lot of potential issues rumbling around the studio. Not just about the body, not just about sex, but concerning the entire Patriarchal corruption of the male/female relationship.

One more thing about the Blood

That bit at the end of the period or the beginning or even somewhere in the middle on an unpredictable one – where there’s not enough blood to warrant an insertion (tampon/mooncup). Fuck it. I’m just going to bleed a little, smell a tad, because that for me is going with the flow.

Spirited Bodies at Southbank

On Saturday 7th March we return to the Women of the World festival at Southbank Centre. We will be in the Blue Room on the Spirit (ground) Level, from 5 – 7pm. This is a Women only event, for women wanting to model, draw or witness. Interviews with some of the women modelling will be played while they pose (sound recording). Get in touch (info.spiritedbodies@gmail.com) if you would like to book a place to model, draw, or even be interviewed. Limited places. If you get a day pass or a weekend ticket to the festival you can also come. There will be guidance on how to pose if you are new, and this is a very supportive environment if you are nervous. If I have time I will schedule a smaller workshop for women a week or so before the event to warm up for it.

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These pictures are of myself and Hope Deeney posing at Toynbee Art Club, December 2014

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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).

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

perching

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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

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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