When Modeltypeface met the WI!
Wednesday night was a night of banished preconception: I gave a speech to WI members about fashion and feminism, hopefully shattering many of the stereotypes they may have held about models (generally that we’re brainless, shallow divas). But it worked both ways – I was expecting a load of fusty old Daily Mail readers and cake, but instead I met some truly passionate women who are driven to bettering their communities. The Cambridge Blue Belles are a pretty rock n roll, fun and radical WI group! Once lady spoke about Winter Comfort, which seeks to supply homeless women with sanitary products to improve their self-esteem and chances of work. That is not what I expected of the Women’s Institute.
There was cake, though.
I hope you’re all proud of me. I’ve never done anything like it before! I’m not really booked on my speaking capabilities, and, if I am, it’s to say “Mmm! creamy yoghurt and just 2% fat!” in castings. I was slightly nervous, as I’ve not written a speech or delivered one before, but mainly I was very excited.
Here I am, talking to the ladies in my favourite People Tree dress!
Growing up, I was always terrified of new challenges and would avoid them, but now I always grab such opportunities with both hands. I’ve learnt that if you try a new thing, you can’t fail. You might not excel at the task, but you will have gained new skills and glow with a sense of pride. A bit like the 1-legged burpee twists we did in my exercise class on Wednesday – I mainly just fell over, and didn’t do very well, but my bum still hurts now which means my buttocks will be that much perter. The journey is the goal.
Moving onwards from that strange analogy, What did I talk about? I explored my own journey to becoming a feminist, first. It all started on MSN messenger…
A boy I fancied said that feminists were “hairy, man-hating, angry lesbians who hate mothers who want to care for their kids,” which is, sadly, a very commonly held view about feminists. It’s also very wrong. Case in hand: I love men, I have a boyfriend, I think motherhood is one of the toughest most important jobs out there. Also, I am only moderately hairy.
However, because I was a teenage boy and found it very important that certain teenage boys might fancy me, that flippant MSN conversation cemented my views on feminism.
I then spoke to the WI about modelling. I’d love to hear what some of my modelling sisters & brothers think about it. In a nutshell, I reckon it’s been the most amazing thing to happen to me. As I said earlier, I was always a nervous kid, and being thrust into such an adult, strange, creative, wonderful environment made me so much more independent and confident and strong.
However, it also meant that I relinquished control over most aspects of myself – I was told what I should measure, what my hair should be like, my clothes, my schedule…Hell, I was even told to smile less in castings as my face was ‘too happy!’
That can be quite weird a weird world to emerge from when you get a bit older. It’s almost as if we can become a bit institutionalised, and not feel in control of our appearance and weight, leading to serious issues for some models.
And back to feminism! When I went to Uni, I learnt much more about feminism, and where we’ve come from. Once upon a time, barely more than a century ago, we would have married a man, given over all of our money to him with no say in what he did for it, and not be able to report him for rape if he abused us as rape between husband and wife was not recognised by law. We had no vote, and no chance of employment in many industries.
Each wave of feminism has fought for what each generation feels it is lacking – such as votes for women to employment opportunities, to equal pay and sexism in popular culture.
I decided that, oh, maybe that MSN conversation was a bit rubbish. Maybe there’s rather a lot out there in the vast and varied world of feminism that’s relevant to me. The more time went on, the more I felt feminism growing inside me as a world view through which I assessed my own experiences.
But there was a hitch. Can a model be a feminist? Hmmmm. Models are generally seen as posing for men in their undies that makes women feel bad about themselves. It’s also seen as very exploitative of young girls. I truly worried that my job and my worldview couldn’t be in harmony.
And this is where we arrive at who I am and what I believe in today. I think I can be a model and a feminist. What is modelling if not loving and supporting your fellow sisters? And what is this blog doing? We’re moving on from these rigid ideas that ‘you can’t be a feminist if you’re a mother and wife’ or ‘you can’t like fashion if you’re feminist.’ This wave of feminism is far more inclusive and thoughtful and respectful – it just tells us to question our actions and our conduct, and the wider implications of what we say and do.
Finally, I said how proud I am to be part of this wave of feminism. In the past, we feminists have been seen as very western-centric and, of course, ‘man-hating’. This wave feels so unified, so together and strong, as well as looking outwards and campaigning against FGM, rape in war zones and, yes, even the male of the species with the #heforshe campaign!
I think it’s time for fashion to follow. It’s time to see a greater variety of shapes and colours on the catwalks and magazines. It’s also time to think ‘this dress makes me feel empowered, but was the women in Bangladesh that made it also empowered – or exploited?’ We’re seeing feminism pop up everywhere, in our magazines and behind Beyonce….
So now it’s time to really take action. And that feels very exciting!
I’d like to thank Joanne Croxford for inviting me to talk, and the Cambridge Blue Belles for making me feel so welcome and comfortable, and asking me some really good, challenging questions!