For Women

EDIT: here’s a link to Womankind Worldwide, a charity that you might like to donate to this Christmas. A huge amount of help is needed and doing a little bit is better than nothing.

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This blog post has been on my mind for somewhere between a few days and a few years. It’s going to be a little piece written for women, by a woman who loves women (I love men too, for the record, but this is not about them).

I’m going to write it as a ‘flow of consciousness’; much like all my blog posts really, as I very rarely plan them, or go back and edit – the result will hopefully be that it’s entirely honest, and possibly even a bit intimate as I share details about my own life and my own thinking. It might also get a bit hippie-dippie in places, and for that I make no apologies, because this stuff is important and probably has its roots in emotions and values.

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I’m aware that this blog has a big-ish following from all over the world, possibly because it features a lot of nakedness, but also because there are a surprisingly large number of people out there who appreciate art, beauty and the striving for its recognition (after all, the internet is not short of other supplies of nakedness for nakedness’ sake; I like to flatter myself and my followers that you are after something more interesting).

Those of you who are linked to me on facebook may have an inkling of what I’m waffling towards… Although it’s been on my mind on and off, the final trigger for this post was a message I received recently from a very young, beginning model, who thought she was troubling me by getting in touch (I am never troubled by hearing from other models! I love it!) and wanted to tell me that, although she’d been considering starving herself towards a tiny bodily ideal for fashion work, she had since seen my artistic portfolio and thought better of it. Seeing my work (image after image of a UK size 10, rather than the 6-8 fashion standard), made her re-think things and feel better about herself, such that she is content with the way she is. Honestly, it made my day to hear that.

So here’s the thing….

I have noticed, more and more, over the last few years, that I have better body confidence than the majority of women. I am happy with my physical body in a deep way, and in a way that I find is increasingly unusual. I wish other women had my confidence. I’m going to write some thoughts down in the hope that you find something in it, even just a small thing, a single phrase or thought process, that might make you feel better about yourself in a long and sustaining way.

Some disclaimers…
– Immediately, I want to point out that I do NOT think I’m perfect. I could easily point out multiple ‘flaws’ – ones that you may or may not have noticed about me yourself – if I felt there was any benefit in doing that. I’ve written about this before in previous articles. Every person has areas of their body that they would change or ‘improve’ if there was a magic wand with no catch. I want that to go without saying, because it’s so incredibly obvious.
– I’m aware that this is a very self-indulgent piece of writing, but my aim is going to be to talk through why, exactly, I think I have this confidence, in the hope that perhaps a few other women might see things in a new way that will enable their own confidence to expand. I love women. We’re very important. (That’s probably the crux of my argument, right there, but I’ll carry on regardless).

Some scattered thoughts I hope your own brain will make into a coherent structure for me (Thanks for that!)

Perhaps my contentment with my physical body has a lot to do with the fact that it comes NOT from my physical body. It comes more from my knowledge of the deep truth that I am a member of womankind, and in turn a member of the wonderful group called humankind. How can you not respect and honour yourself once you know how amazing that is?

As women, we have a lot of intrinsic power. We have a lot of worth – equal to that of men – and are incredibly valuable. We are not objects to re-mould, criticise or apologise for. No mistakes were made when each of us were created; we were supposed to be how we are. There is a huge amount of freedom in that knowledge.

Although this shouldn’t be the case, the amount of respect we receive from men can often be limited by the amount of respect we show for ourselves. If I go around telling people I’m not worth something, then why would another person believe that I am (unless they are more spiritually evolved/generous than I am)? This is an important point in so many areas of life, as well as in modelling (that’s modelling both an artistic endeavour and as a business one). You must respect and honour yourself before you expect another person to, and you must show that respect in tangible, positive actions such as boundary-setting and saying ‘no’ to things you’re not comfortable with, without it becoming a huge drama. If you are not getting the respect you deserve, you must remove yourself from the situation.

Thinking back to some memorable points of life at which my body became a ‘thing’ to be considered, I’d say my first memory is (and it’s a cliché!) at a ballet class. I began ballet at the age of 3, but I think I was about 6 when (and I have a clear memory of this) we were told, ‘pull your tummies in’. Dancers will know that many movements and balances can’t properly be performed without engaging your core muscles at the same time, but of course the implication was also to appear slim by minimising the natural curves of the stomach. Girls do become aware of their bodies and its relationship to conceived notions of beauty, with all the ‘shoulds’ that come along with that, from a very young age. This isn’t a terrible thing, necessarily, but I feel lucky that I grew up with a mother with strong values (despite her own  battle with her weight) and who celebrated my curves (which appeared early), and so any fascination thereafter with being skinny was never very deep.

Now, I never ever ‘suck in’ my stomach for photographs, though I hear most models do. I do engage my core muscles frequently though – it helps to balance – and that may be a small part of the reason my abdominal muscles often appear very defined. I don’t ‘try to look thin’; I aim to look like the best version of myself (and to balance when on my toes!).

In secondary school, aged 13 or so, a boy in my class took it upon himself to rate the bottoms of all the girls in the row of desks in front of him, throw scrunched-up balls of paper to get their attention, then, when they turned round, held up a number. The fact that tight trousers were in fashion made his job easy. I got 10 out of 10 (and some commentary feedback), and that marked the beginning of my awareness that men found my curves sexy. Seeing as life is much easier if you go with reality rather than object to it, I decided to take my curves as a strength rather than a fault to be worked on. I’d like to think that if the opposite had been true, i.e. that I had been praised for being ‘skinny’ or ‘slim-hipped’, I would have felt the same way rather than fighting it. The truth is, obviously, that multiple and conflicting notions of beauty can and should simultaneously hold.

I strongly believe that if anyone – whether it’s a friend, lover or photographer – hints or jokes that you are overweight (or underweight), you should feel sorry for them, firstly for their rudeness, a terrible affliction, and secondly because they may be rather narrow-minded. (Of course if there are proper concerns about your health at stake then that may be a different matter.)

Never compare yourself or allow yourself to be compared to other women. Photographers who mention exactly what another model would have done (in their imagination) in the same location as soon as you arrive there are the bane of models’ lives. This happened to me once and was deflating – hardly inspiring! – but it’s not uncommon from the stories I’ve heard. I suspect a photographer/artist would be quite put out if a model casually said at the beginning of a set, ‘Oh, if xxxx was shooting this with me, I bet s/he’d already have set up that light over there and angled it slightly differently…’ Comparisons can be toxic. Celebrate individuality, the person right there in front of you, and your own self for what it is and the beautiful things it can do and is doing. Your authenticity is creative. Forget about everyone and everything else.

Meanwhile, although I don’t find the following rude or offensive (models have to be thick-skinned and objective, after all), if a photographer points out that, in a pose where I’m twisted or bent over, there is (God forbid!!) a small fold of skin, say at the waist, I would smile and adjust my position, but inwardly wonder what is so terrible about the proof that a body is stretching or bending and not made of plastic or rubber. This happens to the skinniest models out there, because if it didn’t, it would be because you could not bend. Similarly (and girls I’ve mentioned this to outside of the industry are amazed by this), I have seen models of all shape and sizes (from ‘average’ to ‘fashion-model-thin’) up close in the nude, and I have to this day never seen a woman without any cellulite at all. We all have it, even if it’s very very slight and invisible under most lighting conditions.

The desire to be strong and healthy is much more admirable, positive and attractive than the desire to diminish yourself or binge. I enjoy the feeling of being toned and fit, so that is what I strive for and that can really be the only proper motivation for changing your weight if you feel it needs to be changed. External motivations will mess with your head and self-esteem, and your self-esteem (and head) is worth protecting. I feel grateful that dance and exercise are enjoyable to me, and that I tend towards healthy (and always vegetarian) food anyway, because dieting sounds to me like the most boring thing in the world (I love cooking and hate denying myself).

People reading this might think, ‘it’s OK for her – she looks pretty good so of course it’s easy for her to feel good about herself’. I hope I can get across that this ISN’T where my self esteem comes from, and that if it did, it would be a very hollow version, brittle and breakable at the slightest critique (don’t forget, there is a lot of critique in this industry both online and in person; did I mention models have to be very thick-skinned?!). I sometimes wonder, though, if this is linked to the self-respect idea; that you get what you put out. I respect myself so others naturally show me respect. I ‘market’ myself with the assumption that I might be aesthetically appealing, so people respond as though this may be the case. The most plain Jane can improve her attraction instantly, merely by believing that she is attractive. How can she do this? By understanding that she is a woman, and that women are amazing, and worth appreciation.

I can’t not mention the impact a tiny little book I was given when I was growing called ‘The Goddess Within’ has had on me. I wish I could remember who gave it to me. Compiled by River Huston, it’s a cute 4-inch-square book with beautiful pictures and quotes from prominent women on each page, in categories of ‘the attitude’, ‘the look’, ‘knowing’, ‘loving’ and ‘living’. These are some quotes that stood out to me at the time (I actually pasted some to my wall) and which I still love:

‘I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself.’ – Rita Mae Brown

‘I am tough, ambitious, and I know what I want. If that makes me a bitch, OK. I can throw a fit. I am a master at it.’ – Madonna (admittedly I mostly just find Madonna annoying, but I love this quote.)

‘I never practise, I only play.’ – Wanda Landowska (I think I once declared this to my piano teacher. He was probably un-amused.)

‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ – Eleanor Roosevelt

‘Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Our goals should be health and stamina.’ – Emme Aronson

‘Women should try to increase their size rather than decrease it, because the bigger we are the more space we take up and the more we have to be reckoned with.’ – Roseanne Barr

‘Elegance does not consist of putting on a new dress.’ – Coco Chanel

‘Don’t deprive me of my age. I have earned it.’ – May Sarton

‘Don’t compromise yourself; you are all you got.’ – Janis Joplin

‘People call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.’ – Rebecca West

‘We make ourselves up as we go’ – Kate Green (I adore this quote and it’s on my website in the ‘adorned’ gallery, as well as being at the beginning of a novel I’ve written.)

‘The brother that gets me is going to get one hell of a woman.’ – Aretha Franklin

‘When one is pretending, the entire body revolts.’ – Anais Nin

‘Loving, like prayer, is a power as well as a process. It is curative. It is creative.’ – Zona Gale

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……….OK, I have no idea what I’m doing with this blog post anymore, or if I’ve achieved any of my aims (if you liked it, I’d love to hear from you at ellarosemuse@live.co.uk, and you are welcome to share it) or if I’ve just bored you all in the process of trying, but I will leave it here, after listing a few resources/links that I swear by and recommend. No one grows in a vacuum; take a look if you want to take hold of your power and see things on a different level of honouring and valuing yourself for who and what you are. Life is too short not to and your happiness is too important.

General:

‘Women who Run with the Wolves’ – not really a light read, but very ethereal and whimsical as well as earthy and gritty. I made an important life decision after something in one of these chapters clicked for me, and have felt better ever since.
‘A Woman’s Worth’ – I haven’t actually read this yet but am looking forward to it arriving in the post soon.

Dating:

(because I love this topic; it’s heterosexual-based because I am; I’m sorry if that doesn’t relate to you; hopefully the principles are universal)
– ‘The Tao of Dating‘ – I only found this quite recently, but wow, this man is wise. Chase the fulfilment, not the person. 🙂
‘Why Men love Bitches’ – Another one about dating and about being the best version of yourself for your own benefit. It’s hilarious, full of practical advice and not as annoying as it sounds.
Baggage Reclaim – this blogger has annoying habit of writing ‘you’ when she means ‘yourself’, but other than that, it’s amazing.

‘I only Feel’*

Evening! Just a quick update before dinner to show some recent film images taken in Belgium recently by Dimitri, while listening to Radiohead, Blonde Redhead and other such stuff.

I found Dimitri’s way of working quite interesting; he absolutely forbid any posing whatsoever. Instead, I had to just ‘exist’ in front of the camera, go into my own thoughts and feelings and be completely un-self conscious. I think the results are good, and it made me think of the way different photographers work; there is such a range of methods among those I work with. Some come with exact ideas, some have no plan whatsoever, some take control, some want the model to take control and don’t offer any real direction, some want emotions and moods to be acted, some (rarer) want no acting whatsoever. I want to say I think I’ve noticed a very slight divide between British photographers and mainland European photographers in this last comparison, but I don’t know if that sounds pretentious, and I’d need to do more research… And the painter I’m modelling for again here in England is definitely of the ‘just be yourself’ camp, as we were discussing the other day, though perhaps that’s another difference (between painters and photographers). Usually I think modelling is mostly acting… but is it? And when does a stance become a pose?

I always appreciate being able to model while holding my cup of tea…
*I recently found a model’s profile and read the words ‘I never pose, I only feel.’ Made me smile.

Damsels in Distress: Shalott

Copied from the ever-helpful Wikipedia, this is the story of the Lady of Shalott, the inspiration for a day with Keith Cooper last summer:

According to legend, the Lady of Shalott was forbidden to look directly at reality or the outside world; instead she was doomed to view the world through a mirror, and weave what she saw into tapestry. Her despair was heightened when she saw loving couples entwined in the far distance, and she spent her days and nights aching for a return to normality. One day the Lady saw Sir Lancelot passing on his way in the reflection of the mirror, and dared to look out at Camelot, bringing about a curse. The lady escaped by boat during an autumn storm, inscribing ‘The Lady of Shalott’ on the prow. As she sailed towards Camelot and certain death, she sang a lament. Her frozen body was found shortly afterwards by the knights and ladies of Camelot, one of whom is Lancelot, who prayed to God to have mercy on her soul. The tapestry she wove during her imprisonment was found draped over the side of the boat.

Keith was inspired by paintings such as this one by Waterhouse (which happens to be adorning my nearest radiator by way of magnetism), and had wanted to do this shoot with Ivory Flame and I for a long time, so we arranged a date, boat hire and took a row up and down the river here in Oxford. I absolutely love the results. The colours, reflections and fabrics and range of emotions (there was laughter, tenderness, peacefulness and quite a bit of death), came out so well, I think, and I’m really proud of these.

Help me pick a favourite?! (As always, click and scroll through to see larger.)

Outtake alert:

Holly and I are planning to do our best to visit the current pre-Raphaelite exhibition in London before it finishes this weekend. Who thinks we should turn up to the Tate in our long, white dresses?
We will also be modelling together on Saturday the 9th of February at Eye For An Image Studio in Banbury, Oxfordshire. I think there may be some time available for anyone interested in working with an experienced and creative duo.

Thinkin’ About Your Body

Although modelling is my ‘full time income’, as I usually put it, writing is my long-term dream, and my time is split into two professions, realistically (though the two work very well together). I always write on the days I’m not modelling. This morning, instead of banging out 1000 words of my current work in progress (which is actually going quite well at the moment!), I spent an hour accidentally banging out a poem instead. I have told myself that this can justify the static word count of my novel, since I haven’t let myself do this in a very long time.

Probably needs some changes and polishing (some stanzas in particular definitely need some whipping), but I’m quite pleased with it as a first draft:

Mapping Renewal
2-3 weeks for the lungs.
About a year for the alveoli to regenerate.
Nothing on the surface; forever, deeper.
24 hours for the cornea. Which explains
why I can see you so clearly now.
20 years for the heart. Perhaps four times
in a lifetime. Three if repairs are slow. Scars
can’t muscle. Intestines; 2 or 3 days. Fighting to rid;
stomach acid sears through. Gargle, spit:
taste buds; every ten days. I am not
so enthused by your wanderlust now.
6-8 weeks for an eyelash. Mine
are doe like, defined by black; don’t bat for you.
3-6 years for hair and your indecision.
I bleached mine; I am getting it cut.
The skeleton takes ten years. Osteoclasts.
Osteoblasts. Break down. Build up. I am cast
as beauty. My closet is empty.
Fingernails twice as fast as toenails.
Keratin, circulation, tissue supply.
New skin every two weeks.
Less elastic. Still waterproof.
We won’t touch again. The liver, flushing
away cruel toxins; just five months a round.

The brain ages alone, coughing notes in the dark
through dreams and organs; imagines its own future:
conjures decision; the belief that it can thrive.
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And because I thought Mosa (of OnePixArt) might appreciate this kind of thing, here are some images he took of me in LA. I have admired his artwork for a long time, and it was certainly interesting to be let in on his philosophies about women. I think the third is my favourite.

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And finally, a song about bodies I’ve been enjoying by Bobby McFerrin… Love this guy. I’ve finally joined the modern age and have all my music on my phone. Well, not all; do you have any idea how much music I own? It’s quite shocking. But anyway, along with some questionable beauties (the most questionable being Take That’s debut album, teach-yourself-spanish, and the Sister Act soundtrack – all choices I personally stand by, however) I treated my studio day attendees on Saturday to such gems as:


Off now for a round two of responding to emails before meeting up with new friends tonight. Excited to see lots of my ‘old’ friends in the next week or so too. You gotta love that about Christmas; everyone gathers. 🙂

Through the desert… (My head soaked in river water)

Hello! 
Just a quick update while I find my feet here in the desert…
I’ve just finished spending an amazing week in the company of wonderful people, a house/commune of girls who are all very different, yet all very like me, where going around nude is nothing out of the ordinary, beautiful art is created, and evenings were spent testing our tolerance for heat in hot tubs, then cooling off by slipping like whales – or, perhaps more flatteringly (possibly), otters – into the cooler conjoining pool, while sipping wine or water laced with freshly squeezed and freshly picked lime-tangerines (we couldn’t diagnose them; they crossed boundaries but tasted deliciously sour). What an amazing reality. So sad to leave that behind. I have now jolted my system into a city of fakery, artificial pleasure and sin; not my most natural habitat, but a wonderful part of the world from which to discover a nearby(ish) hole in the ground, I hear. And I want to wear feathers in my hair and pretend to be Pocahontas while finding the landscapes of the natives.
Here is a slideshow I made (and please appreciate that I am technologically retarded, in the truest sense of the world, and that this actually took a lot of effort). It shows various nude shots of me and is a good overview of my work so far in that genre. I amused myself by pushing the ‘English fairy’ angle quite heavily; hence the incredibly beautiful song by the incredibly ethereal Bat for Lashes, who spent a lot of time singing through my car’s CD system a couple of years ago and whose third album is going to be grabbed by me as soon as I’m home, as its being released while I’m away. Actually, I’ll just order it online now. 

Thanks to all those photographers featured. You are great.

Criatura

I’ve been reading an amazing book recently; one I picked up in a hostel in Costa Rica at the very end of my Central America trip last year, then put back on the bookshelf as it was too thick to carry home (my backpack was 100% full of things collected over the course of 2.5 months; souvenirs, textiles and the most beautiful hammock you’ll ever see (and which I haven’t seen in a while, since England is not the ideal hamaca-hanging arena).

I spend an indecent amount of time on amazon.co.uk, buying new CDs most weeks and occasionally treating myself to new books too… and I bounced through ‘recommendations’ a few weeks ago until the same book caught my eye again. And it could get to me without me carrying it!

I will admit that one of the reasons I initially was drawn to this book in San Jose was the cover. I think the most discerning readers always judge a book by its cover… And I have always been drawn to wolves. Here it is:

‘Women who Run with the Wolves: Contacting the power of the wild woman’, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

Unknown to me at the time, this is apparently a real classic, a bit like ‘The Artist’s Way’ and all that other good stuff. I’m learning a lot from it, and it’s also interesting to consider it in the context of my modelling work (tenuous link ahoy!!). My images often portray what I’m told is a very feminine, soft and sensual ‘prettiness’, and this book explores the other side of that womanly coin; the intuition, power, primal animal attributes and wisdom of women. When you’re feeling a bit too simpering and primped, it’s a good slap in the face. Women should be strong, powerful and deeply creative, not overly passive, girlish and naive; they are deeply knowing, instinctive and in touch with the vital, if they let themselves be.

I’m about a third of the way through, but I’m finding the author’s writing style so beautiful and poetic; so mad, funny and academic all at once. So this is a big fat recommendation. She weaves mythological fairy tales and folklore from all over the world with psychoanalysis and explorations of the unconscious, paradigms, roles and archetypes that can help us know what to do and who is who and who has what intention… and how to stay true to yourself. Cool huh?

I love a word which comes up frequently in the book: ‘criatura’ (creature). I think the following shots compliment the theme, being quite different from straightforward ‘pretty’ or ‘perfect’ representations of femininity, so they are well worth an appearance on my blog; they show flesh and bone, the workings of the body, and are real and mysterious at once. I also think they are beautifully lit, which never hurts. 🙂

By Shane Lewis, shot in Dublin:

On another bookish note, what an amazing idea this is, at a time when libraries here in England are dying/being closed due to cuts and land-line public phones aren’t really very necessary. Apparently these book exchanges are cropping up in rural villages; I imagine my American followers will find this very quaint. 😉

And, I’ve got the guilts about updating this blog, etc., when I still have lots of emails to catch up on. I am getting to them ASAP. Sorry.