As a boudoir photographer, I pride myself on providing a safe space for my clients to express themselves freely in, not only physically, but emotionally. I am touched by how many life stories I am treated to from my clients, and one particular story that stood out for me recently is that of boudoir client Christen Williams. Having lost her wonderful mum to primary peritoneal cancer, Christen went straight to a genetic counsellor for testing, where she was diagnosed with the the same BRCA 2 gene mutation. Three years later, she made the decision to opt for a preventative double mastectomy, which would reduce her chances of developing breast cancer from 85% to 2%. About a week or so before her surgery date, Christen decided to book in for a boudoir shoot with me as part of her journey to document her pre-surgery breasts. I recently caught up with Christen Williams to find out more about her journey and what the photos mean to her now post-surgery…
***Content Warning: This interview discusses cancer, female genital mutilation, domestic abuse and murder, which may trigger some readers. If you would prefer to read something a little lighter, click here to read some of my other interviews.***
Occupation: Domestic Abuse Change Coordinator, soon to be Child Advocate
How would your best friend describe you? Braveheart. Brave, with a big heart. I think most recently my friends are in awe of everything I have endured and impressed that I still have a smile on my face. They’d say I am inspirational and always wanting to help others and see the best in people. But most importantly, fun to be around and a “whirlwind of joy” (beautiful quote from my BFF).
Name three things that you always carry with you? In my pocket I always carry: 1) All my friends, an entire photo album of my life and all the songs in the world. They all fit in a tiny little device called a mobile phone, magic. I would feel lost without my phone, literally, I have a terrible sense of direction. 2) My rings never get taken off, unless diving with the fishes. I have 9 on at the moment, they all tell a different story; of loss, new beginnings and adventures. Most of them are attached to my late mother, so I can carry her with me wherever I go. 3) A pen. I love sending cards, post cards and letters. There’s nothing more wonderful than receiving something in the post other than a bill.
What was the last book you read? The Salt Path – Raynor Winn. If you ever need a book to make you appreciate what you have, then this is the one. The Salt Path is one of the most inspirational, life affirming books I have read. A true story of Raynor Winn and her husband Moss, who lose everything but gain so much in the process. Life is so fragile, and you never know what’s round the corner, this book really advocates mind over matter.
Do you remember how you originally found me? As soon as I mentioned a photoshoot to my friend Danielle, she recommended you. I believe you played hockey together at uni. She’s followed you on social media ever since and raves about your work.
What inspired you to book a photoshoot? I had a preventative double mastectomy booked, and I needed my body to be captured before I went under the knife. I have always loved my boobs, and been graced with a wonderful pair of 28FFs. I didn’t want to forget what they looked like as I grew older and they became ghosts of my past life.
Who would play you in a movie of your life? Is it too late to pick Marylin Monroe? “To all the girls that think you’re fat because you’re not a size zero, you’re the beautiful one, it’s society who’s ugly.” If not, Emma Stone, without a doubt.
Whats the most interesting thing about you that the internet doesn’t know about you yet? I used to work as a Social Worker in Female Genital Mutilation. This opened my eyes to the shocking abuse of female bodies across the world. Through this work I met some of the most incredible people who had survived all sorts of abuse. The human spirit is so strong, we all have the ability to change the world if we care enough to fight for ours and others rights.
Tell us about one of the outfits you wore for your shoot – why do you love it? My mum’s lace, sequined turquoise top. I love it so much yet never had a reason to wear it. Until now. I am not sure whether she would be turning or smiling in her grave? I completed the outfit with some bright orange block heels and multi-coloured silk pants. I love wearing colour and brightness, it reflects my feelings on the inside.
Describe your shoot experience? It was honestly the most empowering, wonderful experience I have had. Tigz and Kelly Bare made me feel so at ease, with the best pre-shoot chats over a cuppa tea. My biggest anxiety was my nipples. I wanted them cold, hard and pert. The windows were open, the fan was on, Kelly was wrapped up in her coat, and they still weren’t cold. After a few dips under the cold tap we got there. I don’t have nipples anymore, and I do not miss the erect “nippy noodles” as I call them. My next shoot can be nice and warm!
What song gets you on the dancefloor? DJ Fresh – Gold Dust. I will jump and dance like an excited puppy on caffeine for the entire song. Then I will need to Time Out for the next 5 songs to recover.
What are you most proud of in your career so far? In 2017, a young, beautiful woman Kerri McAuley was murdered by her ex in Norwich. After her death I worked with her mother and hairdresser to raise awareness in the beauty industry about domestic abuse. We often tell our hairdressers everything (I know I do!). Myself and my colleagues put on an event to train over 200 hairdressers. The event received national coverage and has been replicated across the UK. I am so proud to be part of Kerri’s legacy. I like to think that many other women have been supported and saved because of her.
What is your top body confidence tip? There will be so many people in the world who would dream of having a body like yours. I love my body more since my boobs have been removed. This isn’t because I look better, it’s because I view my body in a different light. We all want what we haven’t got. But you need to stop… learn to love and respect your body for what it is. Alive.
What will your autobiography be called? No Nips & Free Foobs
If you could be a model for any brand, which brand would it be and why? I am terrible with fashion and brands, and buy most my clothes from the charity shop. But I love vintage festival gear. Sparkles and sequins. Something I can hula hoop in at the same time as modelling.
How do you feel looking back at your images after your surgery? I am so incredibly proud of all I have been through over the past 6 months. My body looks the same, I still feel as sexy as I did the day these photos were taken. I honestly believe that my brain, my personality and my soul is what makes me shine – my body is just a vessel for these things. Tigz, I cannot wait to get back in front of your camera.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about booking a session of their own? Do it. Now. Don’t wait for a body part to be removed before capturing your beauty. Do this for you. Put yourself first. Love yourself. You never know what life will throw at you, good or bad.
What do you think is the BEST thing about lockdown? Sitting still and reflecting. Being silent and planning. Most of us are on the go all the time, me included. It’s been beautiful slowing down, going for walks, reading, gardening, being one with nature. We can find happiness in simple pleasures and I think lockdown has grounded us all and made us appreciate home life.
What do you think is the WORST thing about lockdown? Not being able to hug my friends. I sadly split with my partner during lockdown, and I cannot tell you how much I have needed hugs. I have needed friends in my house on those rainy days, not on a computer screen, but as a shoulder to lay my head on. My poor cat is completely hugged out (and my arms scratched to smithereens!).
What are you most looking forward to doing when lockdown is over? Sleepovers with the gals. Where we can double dip our crisps and try each other’s drinks. Sharing a pizza and dancing round the living room bellies filled with prosecco. Promises of going “out out”, but the only “out out” is a trip to the supermarket to buy boxes of wine that never get drunk. Or… Tinder?
What exciting project are you working on right now? I am working on my YouTube Channel BRCAchatter, which is about cancer prevention, mastectomies, health and positive body image. My next vlog will be “Where and Why Have my Nipples Gone?” Once lockdown is over, I plan on travelling round the UK to interview other young girls who have had mastectomies. Please get in contact via any of the means below if you want to be on my vlog.
Inspired by Christen Williams? The time is now. Book your own boudoir shoot with me today: then drop me a message via the contact page with your chosen package and any preferred dates!