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Spirited Bodies at BodyKind Festival 2017

23 Oct 2017

On Friday 13 October, Esther and I travelled down to Totnes, Devon to participate in “the world’s first ever festival of body acceptance“. The inaugural BodyKind Festival would include speakers, workshops, art, photography, theatre, dance, film and music, all “looking at ways of feeling more comfortable in the skin we’re in“. Esther had been invited to lead a Spirited Bodies life modelling workshop on the Saturday evening.

Festivities opened at The Royal Seven Stars with ‘A Night in the Stars‘. We settled down with a bottle of wine to enjoy poetry by Chris Paradox, naked stand-up comedy by Glory Pearl, and a grand finale that had most of the audience on their feet dancing with School of Strut. Chris was both engaging and edgy, whilst Glory was exactly our kind of performer! And although I’m not a natural strutter, I loved Strut’s blog post.

Saturday was ‘Core Event‘ day, in which a series of speakers (including Glory again) preached their body-positive message at St Mary’s Church from 10:30am to 4:30pm. Too many to laud individually, but top marks go to Suzanne Fearnside for her words on older women, to Not Just Behaviour for their work on children’s body confidence, to My Body Positive for listening to the body itself, and, of course, Harnaam Kaur


Harnaam Kaur – “the bearded dame” – on bullying and self-acceptance.

As the Core Event closed amid rapturous applause at 4:30pm, so Esther and I briskly made our way to Studio 1 in The Mansion – a grand community building on the main street through town. Esther’s workshop was one of five, all separately ticketed, due to start at 5pm, so we did wonder if anyone would join us! After a nervous wait to get the door unlocked, eight people arrived – a healthy number, given the room’s limit was 15.


Esther outside ‘The Mansion’ in Fore Street, central Totnes.

The studio was ideal: a fully equipped art room with easels and large cushions for the models. We hastily cleared the centre space, set-up the easels and provided drawing materials for each artist. It then fell for me to provide the icebreaker pose – 5-minutes standing. I withdrew to one corner, removed my clothes, and wrapped a sheet around my waist. When called, I stepped forward, dropped the sheet and got into position.

Spirited Bodies is model-centred. Esther shares advice and experience then asks the group: who would like to try modelling for themselves? Three said they would give it a go. First a woman who initially was unsure about men being in the room (me and one other), but then decided to pose with a sheet around her waist, reclining and standing for 5-minutes each. Next was my fellow male, with two poses of 10-minutes each.

Everybody is unique. Our first volunteer overcame her apprehensions to stand strong and confident for her final pose, yet still didn’t want any photos of drawings to appear online. Our second volunteer runs a life group himself but wanted to experience the model’s perspective. Our third volunteer was also no stranger to life drawing, but was now keen to try being the subject. She posed for 5 and 10-minutes.

The spirit in the studio was open, engaging and encouraging. Often at Spirited Bodies events, models opt to pose in group tableaux that Esther suggests, but here – maybe inspired by the whole festival vibe – they were empowered individuals, content to take the floor solo. Nobody posed fully nude, but their personal breakthroughs were all that mattered. At the group’s request, Esther and I finished with a 15-minute duo pose.

The session was over at 7:30pm. We debriefed whilst packing away, and it was lovely to be part of that warm atmosphere. I felt it had been a positive evening for all involved, irrespective of whether they modelled or not; it seemed everybody had opened up and embraced the occasion. Certainly Esther and I had enjoyed their company. That night we celebrated with a superb meal at Willow Vegetarian Restaurant.


St Mary’s Church and the River Dart at Totnes.


The view from Totnes Castle.

We loved Totnes from the moment we stepped off the train – it purrs with independent vivacity and creativity. Everyone was so kind and helpful, from Dinah Gibbons whose drive took the BodyKind Festival from dream to reality, to her friends who opened their wonderful home to us and were the most generous hosts imaginable, to the multitude of volunteers who gave up their time. Thank you, Totnes, I hope we’ll be back!

From → Art

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