The essence of beauty
Helen Booth on the power of boudoir portraiture
I first came across Helen’s work around four years ago. Right from the outset, I loved the genuine passion for improving the life of women that seemed to permeate her photography. And that’s why I ended up suggesting to my wife, Rachel, that she book a boudoir portraiture session with her. The photos that came out of that were truly fabulous. And the effect on Rachel was noticeable. So, I was delighted when Helen agreed to be interviewed for this issue of the newsletter. I’m sure you’ll agree, her insights and perspective on women, beauty, and the power of boudoir portraiture, are profound.
1. How did you end up becoming a boudoir photographer
One of the strap-lines on your website says, “Feel beautiful and confident in your own skin.” You run a photography studio specialising in boudoir portraiture. And, as an external observer of your work — my wife, Rachel, enjoyed one of your boudoir photo sessions — you are clearly driven by a desire to help women see their own beauty. Where does that drive come from? Was there a moment where you realised it was a passion and that you wanted to use photography to do something with that passion? What’s the story that led you to specialising as a photographer in boudoir portraiture?
Funnily enough, Sam, I had no idea the positive impact of boudoir, it was a very happy coincidence. I came into it in 2009 after I’d had my first child and was looking to find a way to balance a creative, fulfilling career with bringing my daughter up too.
At the time there weren’t any photographers in Yorkshire specialising in boudoir and I hoped it would become popular after seeing its success in America. As soon as I did my first shoot with a friend I just knew this was what I wanted to do. We both loved it!
When I realised how amazing it made everyone feel, my job satisfaction grew even more. I’ve always believed in self-love and nurturing yourself and others especially as I’ve grown older. I think I’m just a compassionate, positive person by nature.
2. Can boudoir portraiture be empowering without undermining women?
Why do you think it is important to help women feel beautiful and confident in their own skin? Some people might argue that inner beauty — or intelligence, ability, creativity, competence — is all that matters. Our culture places high expectations on women to look a certain way, and many young girls in particular feel immense pressure about their bodies and how they should look. How do you see boudoir portraiture being a positive contributor in the midst of all this? As a father to two girls, I want them to grow up being confident about their bodies and not at all ashamed of them. But I also want them to measure their contribution to the world based on their unique abilities, their brilliant minds, their amazing creativity, and their resilience and hard work. Can boudoir portraiture be empowering without undermining women when living in a society where all too often women are judged and valued based on how beautiful or sexy they are?
Of course, confidence is multi-faceted, but feeling good about yourself definitely plays an important factor.
Boudoir encourages women to see and believe how beautiful they are, embrace their own bodies however they come and live life more confidently as a result.
It doesn’t undermine women, it does the exact opposite, as boudoir isn’t for models, it’s for everyday women. It’s not saying you have to look a certain way, its an expression of femininity, which is tailored to suit each individual and their personality.
My clients age from 20 to 60-years-old of all different shapes and sizes and proves there is no specific way to define beauty, they are all beautiful!
3. What is the essence of beauty?
You have photographed countless women. You help them look their best, help them see themselves in ways they haven’t been able to see themselves before. I remember seeing Rachel’s photos for the first time and telling her, ‘you now get see how I see you all the time.’ Why is it so hard for women to see their own beauty and feel confident about how they look? Our society seems to have a very one-dimensional view of beauty. What for you though is the essence of beauty? Why is it so important for women to be able to recognise their own beauty?
Many of us do see our own beauty, but there are so many factors which do influence how we feel about ourselves. Something that has happened to us in the past, negative experiences and comments which have embedded in our minds, social media and the media in general, giving us false impressions of what a large proportion of women actually look like.
Things are changing though, there is definitely a movement away from showing completely conventional beauty and a desire to keep it real and show a wider spectrum of women in the media.
Comparing ourselves to others is never good for you, but is hard to control doing subconsciously.
The essence of beauty is not skin deep for me, it is something which radiates out of us, it’s the sparkle in your eye, the happiness in your smile. Everyone is beautiful in my mind.
I think it is so important for women to see their own beauty because it’s not good to keep thinking negatively about yourself, it’s only holding them back. No-one else is concentrating on what they see as a flaw, they only see the wonderful person they are.
If I can help women free themselves from negative self-talk and focus on their best features and them as a whole instead, I’ll be a very happy lady!
4. What’s the impact of boudoir portraiture?
For someone who has perhaps never considered anything like a boudoir photo shoot, perhaps thinks it’s for someone else, but not them, what would you say? What impact have you seen from your work? What stories have emerged from the women who’ve gone through this experience with you?
Give it a go! Boudoir is much more than just having your photo taken. It’s a transformation, a celebration, an opportunity to be pampered and re-energise yourself.
Pushing yourself outside your comfort zone is exhilarating and it gives you the encouragement to try something else new and it goes on! Clients often can’t believe it’s them when I show them the back of my camera, it feels good to be reminded you can look stunning. The knowledge does you wonders!
The positive impact from this experience blows me away. It has literally saved marriages, lifted women up after break-ups or difficult times in their life or health issues, re-empowered women who have lost themselves after having children, helped women accept and embrace their new figures after dramatic weight-loss, helped women embrace their bodies as they are or a new land-mark age, re-ignited passion for life and boosted their relationship with their partners in every kind of way. It is truly incredible.
It’s nearly four years since my wife, Rachel, had her boudoir shoot with Helen. With me interviewing Helen for this issue, I asked Rachel to share, in just a few sentences, what the impact of the shoot was for her. Here’s what she had to say:
I was a bit reticent about doing the photo shoot, what I’d look like, whether I’d know what to do, whether I’d like what I saw, whether it would look like me. But I have to say that it was one of the most empowering things I’ve done.
Helen was a master at putting me at ease and bringing out my self and my confidence. Sometimes in life your identity gets swallowed by the roles you play in life, at work and in parenting but this was a great way of seeing me as me.
I love my photos and, after two pregnancies and health issues, it made me find many things to celebrate about my body and the stories it tells.
A BIG thank you to Helen for taking the time to share her thoughts!
For a good summary of Helen’s work, see her portfolio.
Her website is: masquephotography.co.uk.