Vulnerability in the Viewfinder

Asheville photographer Sarah Hooker empowers women through boudoir.
Photo by Sarah Hooker

Like many women, Asheville fine arts photographer Sarah Hooker spent decades hating the skin she lived in. “Body dysmorphia [was] part of my life for so long,” she tells Asheville Made. But then, in 2017, she did a boudoir session with another photographer. Being vulnerable on the other side of the lens changed Hooker’s life. “I had no idea how empowering it would be until I saw the images and cried,” she remembers. “It was a huge leap in my journey to be kind to myself.” To help empower other women, Hooker pivoted from taking snapshots of newlyweds and young families to found Virago Boudoir Photography. 

How did you get started in photography?

In high school, I took a photography class using my grandfather’s film camera, and I loved it. Art always interested me, and I decided all I wanted to do in college was be creative. 

Photo by Sarah Hooker

When did you decide to pursue boudoir photography?

My photography career started with everything, including maternity, families, weddings, and businesses. When I finally discovered boudoir photography around 2017, I knew I found my calling. More so than any other genre, my boudoir clients encourage me to lean into creativity. They want images that reflect their personality, not cookie-cutter images.

What are the joys of the medium?

The best part of boudoir for me is not the art. It is having people bravely sign up even when feeling nervous and vulnerable, hearing about their amazing life journeys, watching them light up in front of the camera, and getting to show them just how beautiful they are. Most photography genres exist to document. Boudoir exists to lift up. 

What are some misconceptions people have about boudoir photography?

First, you are more beautiful than you know. People often think that the women in my photos are all models and that they themselves could never look like that or do a boudoir session. Boudoir is for everybody regardless of age, size, shape, or any other reason that society tries to tell you that you are not beautiful. And second, I will be 100 percent guiding you through the session. We do your hair and makeup, help you with what to wear, get in the poses first to show you, guide you through facial expressions, tell you what to do with your hands, and hype you up. All you have to do is trust us. 

Many people give boudoir photos as gifts. Can it be more than that?

While that is a great reason, the clients I see getting the most out of it are doing it for themselves. The final images are beautiful, but the whole experience is empowering. As a society, we do not encourage people, especially women, to do big things for themselves. We are told to make ourselves as small as possible, to hide our bodies, and to put everyone’s needs ahead of our own. That often leaves us in a place where we are neglectful and unkind to ourselves. Boudoir is changing that. Even just signing up for a boudoir session is a message to yourself that you are worthy.

Sarah Hooker, Virago Boudoir Photography, Asheville. To learn more, visit

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *