Inspiring Interviews

Inspired By: Mare Leon

Spend any time with Mare Manifold, and you’ll understand why customers line up to have them capture their photos. Though boudoir photography was not on Mare’s original path, a chance modeling gig redefined their journey into helping femmes feel confident, accepted, and seen through boudoir. We admire Mare’s commitment to educating on body positivity and neutrality (addressing the nuance of the terms), fat activism, and agility as a business owner in what has objectively been a trying year. We think you will, too.
December 2020
Inspired By: Mare Leon
Inspired By: Mare Leon
Amy

When I first stumbled upon your boudoir photography, I was so taken with the sincerity, playfulness, and celebratory sense in your work. How did you get the idea to start a boudoir studio and what does inclusivity mean to you in your work?

Mare

Well, it’s funny because I never intended to get into boudoir photography. I had always enjoyed doing landscape photography and had done some photography at Indie music shows throughout Philly, but never any boudoir. I was randomly invited to do a shoot once and modeled for a while before joining another studio. While I was learning the ropes, I recognized that I wanted to do more. I wanted to build out a much more intimate relationship to photography and the ways it was impacting me and those around me. This idea of inclusivity is exactly what had me thinking that something was missing - what even is inclusivity and is it actually achievable?

This was a challenging question that I often still battle with. I wanted an “inclusive” space, but I also didn’t want to make a promise of safety that I couldn’t keep. I didn’t have words for that, but I knew I needed another place to do it. So when I look at my work now, I think it’s less about being inclusive and more about doing the work to build a space that folks feel welcomed and seen in. That’s totally different from just telling your audience that you are inclusive and I’m seeing that many businesses struggle with that.

Amy

I’ve always been a little intimidated by the idea of doing a boudoir shoot - what advice do you have for a first time client?

Mare

Folks should know that trusting your photographer is important - do your research and feel good about who they are and how they do their work. Check out their online presence, read the captions, and make sure you feel like they align with you and the experience you want to have as much as possible. We share photos of ourselves, have gallery examples, a list of studio agreements posted up on the website, and are working through a trauma-informed lens to keep us accountable to upholding safer and braver spaces for folks to celebrate themselves.

I also always tell people that being intimidated is normal! Honestly, we live in society where we’re inundated with images of photoshopped bodies and unrealistic beauty standards. The idea of being photographed is extremely vulnerable, whether it’s boudoir or not, so I do advise folks to always check in with where they are with their emotional capacity to handle a gallery of images of themselves and to know their motivations for the shoot. Are you ready to just play? Do you want to have something tangible to assist you on your self love journey? Do you want to do something new and exciting for yourself with the will to leave behind expectations of perfection (even if it’s just for an hour)? If you want to share these with a partner(s), do you still feel capable of centering yourself in the session enough to feel ready to be seen? These are some questions worth exploring before booking with anyone.

Amy

I’d love it if you could tell me more about what body positivity and body neutrality means to you? Do you feel the terms are reserved for certain sizes or people or are these terms that all people should be using?

Mare

I could write a dissertation on this! Honestly, everyone should be body positive in the sense that everyone should be centering and uplifting marginalized people (in this case, especially fat Black women/femmes) whose bodies are what motivated this movement. Centering people doesn’t mean you cannot honor yourself. It means you should do your homework and recognize privileges along the way. Body positivity was a body justice movement that was meant to liberate Black fat women/femmes. It’s not necessarily the “feel good” hashtag that it has been cooped to be. Having a movement for confidence and body acceptance is great, but it’s also different from liberation work, and much of who you see in “body positive” spaces are not oppressed people.

In terms of body neutrality, this means that I accept that I exist as I do and I don’t have inherently good or negative feelings for my body. Realizing that I could be body neutral felt like such a huge relief. The call to just “love” my body felt impossible at times. I would end up having feelings of shame for not loving my body enough or having a hard day in the mirror. Body neutrality tells me that I can just have an objective relationship with my physical self and not feel pressured to either love or hate myself.

Amy

Do you have thoughts on how straight sized folks can be better activists for the larger bodied community? 

Mare

Generally, I would give the same advice for anyone who is outside of a group and/or have privileges that impact marginalized groups: do your research, listen, and sit with your discomfort. There’s a lot of noise about thin privilege and body positivity because people are too caught up in their own privilege and/or discomfort to listen in to other groups. Arguing with people who are doing the vulnerable, powerful, and necessary work of self-advocacy and calling out systems is further oppressing groups and proving their point about systems of oppression.

If you hold power in certain industries, be sure to use your voice - photographers, designs, influencers, medical folks, etc. Advocate for folks and fight fat bias. Extend sizes, ask brands who want to partner with you about what they’re doing for larger bodies (and hold them accountable), stop making fat jokes or allowing them to happen - including saying you “feel” fat, etc, etc. There are plenty of fat folks who need to be followed, read, listened to, and paid - especially fat, Black women/femmes like Sonya Renee Taylor, Ashleigh Chubby Bunny, King Fat Femmie, Veronica Garnett, just to name a few!

Amy

You’ve recently made a really interesting adjustment to your business by taking it on the road. I commend you for being so innovative and adjusting to this really tough time for small businesses. How did that idea come about and how was it?

Mare

The idea came from needing to shift a bit to fit the needs of our audience and from our sheer excitement to get out of the house, meet potential customers, other photographers, and explore new cities. We did just that and it was amazing to be able to find the connections we now have across states. I personally used to live in Austin and have gone back every year for the last 4 years so I was happy to go back to my home away from home. The drive itself was beautiful and challenging. Doing a southern tour before this contested election (especially as a Black person) was a process at times, but there is so much beauty in the land and people of the south. My faith was both restored and depleted. It’s hard to vocalize but I love that we did it.

Amy

Ok, let's go into some fun, easier questions to answer!

Usual morning routine?

It’s like Zoom meetings and quick iced coffee! I am working to build a better rising routine but right now it’s a rush to get caffeinated and online!

Fav spot in your house?

My living room on my red velvet couch next to my lovely roommate and Sage, the divine pup.

Coffee or Tea?

Coffee all the way, but a warm black milk tea is a close second.

Breakfast or skip it?

Does iced coffee count?

Favorite ways to move your body:

Stretching obnoxiously and random dance parties in my bedroom.

Recent reads:

Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life by Cleo Wade

Ways you unwind:

Putting my phone on do not disturb, taking a nice steamy shower, and putting on comfortable pants.

How do you practice self-care?

It means everything from drinking enough water to ending relationships with folks to setting boundaries to watching Netflix to unwind!

Nighttime beauty rituals/ favorite products:

Some of my favorite products are the Correct & Purge Facial Cleanser, Daily Eraser by Yadain Cultural Solutions and the evanhealy Pomegranate Repair Serum. I love to keep it simple!

Slippers or barefoot?

Tough call - most of the time I’m barefoot, but cool weather makes slippers essential.

Currently Watching:

I’m literally binge watching The Flash and Supernatural on Netflix - and I said what I said.

How much do you sleep?

*sips drink* 6-8 hours on my better days. I’m a bit of an insomniac.

Last thing you do before bed:

Set my Alexa to play sleep sounds. I’m a big fan of a box fan sound.

Learn more about Mare on their Instagram, and read other installments of our Inspired By series on the blog.

All photos credited Devon Dadoly.

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