Beauty in Bloom

Before you start reading, be sure you click on the video above and watch it in full screen.

Through the span of my career, I’ve focused on creating imagery fuelled by my fairytale inspirations. I photograph subjects framed around nature to create a world that only exists in fantasy. I love using nature as my studio and celebrating its true beauty.

A few years ago, I began suffering with eczema on my face and body and it took a serious toll on my mental and physical health as it progressed and escalated. I found myself compromising my love of photography because of my own insecurities of showing my face to the world. I wasn’t inspired to create as my energy was wrapped up in battling these health issues. My whole world began to change.

 April 2017, not quite at its worse (I couldn't bear to photograph that! Believe me, I'm nervous enough about sharing this one) vs today.

April 2017, not quite at its worse (I couldn't bear to photograph that! Believe me, I'm nervous enough about sharing this one) vs today.


While desperately looking for help both online and in the real world, I realised just how much other people were silently suffering with their own issues but putting on a brave face to the world. The ironic part is I always championed others on being strong and beautiful and here I was feeling the complete opposite! We don’t see ourselves how others see us, and that is just what I wanted to change, for others and myself.

This inspired me to create a personal series that showcased people who have insecurities or who too have been on a journey. I decided to reach out to my feminine audience online, sharing that I wanted to photograph them and also share their personal stories. I wanted them to be the inspiration for others that have gone through so much in their lives, showing how it’s still possible to be strong and, more than anything, remind them how beautiful they look in the eyes of others.

I got back over 100 submissions from women, and those who identified as female, sharing their stories. The tales ranged from abuse, self harm, confidence issues, mental health, insecurity, chronic illness, sexual assault, and so much more. The scope of the stories both shocked and saddened me, however there was also hope and perseverance in the words. The strength and resilience of the human spirit is truly inspiring.

It was also amazing to me how many of these women didn't see themselves as beautiful. Yes beauty is often thought of as the face we're born with but that's not entirely true to how we perceive beauty in real time. That's when inner beauty influences our perception on someone's beauty. Expressions, smiles, twinkling eyes, perhaps little mannerisms and quirks, all these things that are connected to our personality and inner light influence how beautiful we appear to each other. 

Having a condition that quite literally took over my face was actually a blessing in disguise. I was forced to confront myself, who I was without makeup or perfect skin and along the way I learnt a lot about myself. I realised that I had depths of willpower that I'd never have thought possible, I discovered I had a curious nature, researching and applying self healing practices, and nurtured the strength that I pulled on every time I stepped out the door. I found beauty in all these traits within myself and that realisation sparked an idea of bringing that out in others.

And so, ‘Beauty in Bloom’ was born. A project dedicated to celebrating every beauty, femininity, inner light, strength of spirit, and the Queen within captured against the ever-changing, ever-resilient backdrop of nature (a metaphor for womanhood if there ever was one!).

Thank you to everyone who submitted their story. I wish I could have captured you all. You are all so inspiring and in my darker days you gave me hope.
Here are women I selected from the entries and their stories...



Mel - R.jpg

I have mental health problems and depression, which I’ve suffered from since I was 14. I always felt on the periphery of social circles and always felt different because I had mental health problems. I tried to commit suicide twice in my mid-teens, and ended up in the local mental hospital. It was daunting to grow up within such a stifling community, where everyone knows your business, and judges you on it. I lost a lot of friends because of my mental health problems. People didn’t want to talk to me, and would actively cross the road to avoid talking to me. Stigma by association I suppose. It was a very lonely period of my life. My mental health still affects me on a daily basis, but I have learned to live with my demons.

Once I left the Isle of Man, I finally found my tribe, people who I am still friends with to this day. I found folk who understood me and my sense of humour, and accepted all of my foibles and quirks. I finally had acceptance, and the warm blanket of friendship from my kindred spirits. My twenties were the best time of my life, where I became the woman I was most at peace with, I suppose. My depression came back to plague me in my 30’s and 40’s and I had periods of darkness that encompassed me fully, and left me unable to function. My husband and amazing friends got me through the bleakest points, and despite the black dog barking at my door, moments of colour and vitality emerged.

Fast forward to the present where I am saddled with cripplingly low self-esteem, as I come to terms with my fading sexuality and impact as a woman. Wild Bohemian Mel still lives within me, but feels penned in by middle age and marriage. And every now and again when I chortle at innuendo or tell a filthy joke, I know she is alive and well.



Mairead - R.jpg

When I was 20, in my final year at university I woke up one morning and my heart was going really fast. By 3 o’clock it was about 140 beats per minute and I felt as though I'd spent the day running a marathon, instead of sat in a comfy armchair reading. I was in and out of hospitals and doctors for the next year and a half before I was finally diagnosed with a one-in-a-million tumour on my pituitary gland, which causes my body to produce too much thyroid hormone. I’ve had two lots of brain surgery but they haven’t managed to get rid of the tumour. At the moment it seems to be kept under control by monthly injections of medication (fingers crossed!).

The experience completely changed how I see myself and how I think about beauty. As a result of the illness, my hair fell out really badly and for a long time I found that incredibly hard to deal with. I stopped going to hairdressers and cut my hair myself; I would only wear it in one style and for a long time whenever I left the house I worried about whether there were gaps in my hair - I really obsessed about my appearance. Over time I’ve come to a much more healthy balance. It was only once I’d stopped caring so much about how my hair looked that it started growing back. I’ve put on muscle and taken up climbing and I love the fact that I can lift heavy watering cans and help my fiancé put furniture together. Instead of focusing on wanting to be prettier I’ve started to care more about being healthy and strong.



Helen - R.jpg

My name is Helen and I am proud to be me. To be a woman for some is a birthright, for others its an unattainable dream. It’s been a long journey of self discovery that ended with my being truthful to myself about who I am. We are not always what our bodies state we should be.

Being female doesn't make a person weak, feeble or inferior to society’s male dominated benchmark. Neither does being a male who identifies as female or vice versa make that person subhuman, worthless, a plaything, a joke, a freak or whatever derogatory view that is held by the observer.

My life started simple when as a child being male or female didn’t matter to me. My first day in what is now preschool saw me make friends with all the girls. It was they who I identified with and was accepted by. The boys were so different to me.

Time moved on as it does, social constraints forced me to become something I didn't recognize as me. I could no longer smell the aroma of  flowers drifting on a summer breeze nor see the beauty around me for I was wrapped in the dark cloak of masculinity. I longed for those innocent years to return.

Laying awake crying myself to sleep dreaming that I would awake from my nightmare in the morning as girl. I soon learnt such feelings were seen as wrong and what followed was a period of shame, guilt and embarrassment. It became apparent that guys who dressed as women were something to be laughed at and bullied. Then started the secret second life that I lived for many years kept hidden away in many unknown places.

My late teens saw my parents reaction to my brother coming out as gay crush my dreams of ever being the woman I so desperately wanted to be. Life settled down I married and we had a daughter then sixteen years later I came out to my wife and daughter who both supported and accepted me for who I was. All the guilt, pain and fear had gone.

I can now see beauty again where once I saw conflict. I have been given this gift of femininity and will cherish it till my dying day. I am an equal to men as are all females.

We can be strong, resilient, confident, successful, and independent. I am proud to call myself a Woman and to be accepted into your arms as an equal.



Ts-Ying - R.jpg

In the winter of 2016, I left my undergraduate program in Taiwan to pursue the dream.

Being a Fashion designer has always been my dream, so I started to apply the one of the best art universities in the world - University of Art London. At that time I encountered a lot of difficulties in making this decision. A new country, on the other side of the world and especially since I can’t speak much English.

I could barely speak in the interview and found it very difficult to understand what are they talking about.  However, the professor recognised my artistic ability and gave me an offer! This recognition has given me the power to overcome all difficulties in the future.


Siobhan & Sasha

Siobhan and Sasha - FB Size.jpg
shivsahsabefore R.jpg

Siobhan (left) - I used to feel as though I was incredibly skinny in secondary school, always wondering why I could never fill my clothes like my other friends. When you're in school it's very easy to compare yourself with other girls, waiting impatiently for your curves to come in. However with a lot of love from my friends, family, and twin sister I was able to build up my self confidence. It didn't happen overnight but as time passed I began to practice self love and it finally dawned on me that we are all unique difference sizes, different heights, different skin tones, different hair, and so many more differences, but THAT is what makes us beautiful! 

Sasha (right) - When I was younger I found it difficult to speak in front of groups of people because I always used to pronounce things differently than others. Due to that I avoided saying particular words and avoided speaking in large groups. I once was selected to speak in an assembly in front of the whole school and just being selected showed me that my teacher saw past my difficulties and instead saw strength in my words.

I remember talking to my mum and sister about my issues and they really helped me see that it's our differences that makes us beautiful. Learning to overcome personal difficulties is hard, but by maintaining a positive outlook in life, that's the key to overcome any issue.




I was born in Hong Kong to a Taiwanese mother and an English father. I was raised in England by my mother so I find it difficult to identify with just one culture. Though I feel inherently British, I feel a strong affiliation with my Asian heritage and have spent a lot of my adult life rediscovering these roots

I feel most at peace when exploring new countries and cultures. In our day and age, strength doesn't come from defining ourselves by the country we were born in. It comes from being shamelessly ourselves and accepting this confidence in everyone we encounter.

I hold immense pride for my mixed ethnicity and in this way, I hope that more women can learn to accept that their differences make them unique and beautiful in whatever form they take.

Strength is feeling home in ourselves no matter where we come from or where we feel we belong. Beauty blooms when the roots of many soils entwine and everywhere can be home if you carry home inside of you.




One of the things in which I like to think best describes me is my sense of independence and my understanding of people. By the age of 16 I had lived in three different countries and had moved out of home. As a result I feel that I was able to connect closely with three different cultures, and surround myself with many different kinds of people who have shaped me to be who I am today.

Something that has helped shape me throughout my life and especially the years growing up as a teenager has been my ongoing battle with anorexia and weight issues. Seeing my body in a different light to everyone else around me has played a key role in shaping my self image and had a really negative effect on my self esteem. I found living with this personally has shocked me at how different the notions are than they are portrayed on TV and social media, it has helped me to appreciate the human body in all its shapes and sizes and the road to recovery has taught me a lot about accepting myself and learning to appreciate the beauty of the female body.

Another defining influence of my self image has been my on going fight with various skin problems. Having my personal flaws painted obviously on my skin made it very difficult for me to be confident and accept myself into society. I was afraid of the way that people would react and perceive it. I am still learning to accept these flaws and trying to find a way to flaunt my scars rather than hide them to help radiate confidence and show people the way in which I would like to be perceived.



Jasmine - R.jpg

Growing up I had a stammer, felt the difference of the colour of my skin to those I saw being called beautiful on TV and in the world around me. I chose to wear a headscarf for most of my life which only added to the feeling of being an outsider.

I had mastered escapism to help me deal with the feeling of being different, through fairytales and art, ultimately, creating my own art inspired by those very things, all of which helped me heal and grow.

These days, I escape to nature when I can, it's where I find true beauty. It allows me to gain perspective and appreciate the differences between us all. I guess that also comes with age and understanding, the fact we hold such differences is what makes us beautiful, and I see that beauty in everyone I meet and everywhere I go.




Words from her mum - I’m nominating my daughter Yasmin. She's a talented & determined young sportswoman - training 3 times a week as a competition gymnast (doing the full 4 piece equipment - floor, bars, vault & beam) & also a skilled footballer playing as Striker for her local team & recently was in the local paper for getting two hat-tricks (that's 6 goals!) in one game & was awarded Coaches Player of the Year at the club awards evening.

She started football pretty young by playing with the boys at primary school & her school teacher recommended she join the local team as he'd not seen a girl play like her before. Her ambition is to be a doctor one day (earning the same as men!) & to push her sport skills as far as she can - she'd love to be a sportswoman at the top of her game on an equal footing with men too. Either way she's hoping to encourage girls to get involved with sport & to push themselves to try areas that may be dominated by men/boys & to break down any barriers.

A few months ago she suffered severe concussion during a football match - so bad that she had five weeks off school & sport - couldn't read, watch tv, sleep or move around without severe dizziness or pain. Her bravery was incredible. She had to withdraw from a gym competition she'd spent months preparing for - which she did without any upset. I was knocked sideways when she said she wanted to sign up to the next season of football. But it sums her up - she's an incredibly determined young lady with not only physical strength but enormous mental strength that I could only dream of!



Daria - R.jpg

My name is Daria. I'm 29 years old and originally I'm from St.Petersburg, Russia. Growing up in a cold city of Murmansk in the Arctic Circle taught me to appreciate every moment when it's sunny and the opportunities that are available in the fairly open Western world, that a lot of times it's about hard work rather than your background and connections.

One day I decided to change everything and make my life better as I felt it was rapidly going into nowhere. Being very lucky quite soon to know what I want to do in life, I found free university education in Finland. I applied there, passed three examination rounds, took a bank loan to pay the rent and moved away from my home. Worked hard on my studies and helped a person with special needs to earn some money to pay some of the loan back and one day I got an offer to do internship in a German game company as a 3d environment artist. That provided me an official experience in the games industry that is very hard to enter as an artist.

What I always wanted to do is to create unreal places where one can never visit in real life. The gaming experience in childhood, that really moved me, allowed to walk in the forests, visit a castles, go for adventures and help others in solving problems. These days I'm working in a large world-famous game studio initially thanks to open-minded Finland that gave me a free ticket to my new happy life. Always coming back to my memories, I believe, regardless of what happened to people in the past, they should always be grateful for that experience as that's what made them be individuals.



Olivia - R.jpg

My name is Olivia, and I am 24 years old. I'll be brave and tell you probably the most fundamental story of my life so far.

I grew up in a normal family, mum, dad, brother, sister. I thought life was pretty simple, go to school, get my grades, go to college, study photography, move onto uni, work at Vogue. Simple right?

I accidentally found out my Dad has cancer when I was 12. My mum asked for something out one of her draws, and I looked in the wrong one. I didn't tell my parents I knew because I felt like I'd be in trouble. So I kept it to myself.  

Three years went by, I noticed bruises along the way, but that was all. Then one day, he came back from a business trip, skin and bones. He'd left an 18 stone man. I'd run up to hug him, but I was so shocked, I just stood and stared. I asked him what was wrong, and he said nothing, he just did some exercising while he was away.

The next day we were due to go on a family holiday. My mum told us that my dad was feeling poorly, so my sister would take us and our friends instead. They'd meet us down there in a few days time. We went to Salcombe, Devon. I holidayed like normal. One evening, I felt a bit strange. I began to evaluate myself, my behaviour. I was one of those kids that always got bullied. So I kept myself to myself, struggled a lot socially.

My relationship suffered with my parents because of that. My dad would come into the room to watch TV, I'd be awkward and leave to sit by myself. Don't get me wrong, I loved my dad, to the moon and back. I just developed weird coping mechanisms.  

Anyway...I was sat in the park with Jess, my best friend at the time. She was texting a boy, not really listening to me. I said 'I'm going to be a better daughter. I'm going to go to the cinema with my dad. I'm going to spend more time with him. I want him to show me Birmingham (where he's from)..' etc. It's like I was overcome with this bizarre gut feeling. So I text him. I said, 'You need to be strong, I love you so much'. My way of saying, look, I know Daddy, keep strong.

I got a text back saying ' I love you Girl'. He used to call me Girl. He died the next day.

However, I didn't know he did. My sister didn't come out of her room the next day. I thought I'd done something to upset her. Little did I know, my mum had called her to tell her my dad had died. My mum told her not to tell us, so we could enjoy the rest of the holiday. I carried on for three days.

We got to my house, my mum came to the door in her pyjamas, trying not to cry. I knew something was wrong. He was probably in hospital I thought. No biggie.

“Come into the sitting room kids, I need to talk to you about something.” We followed her into the sitting room. Then it happened.

“I'm so sorry but your Daddy has died.”

My little brother, 11 years old, instantly hides under a blanket.

I felt numb. I just mumbled.  “I knew he had cancer”.

He looked at me shocked. “why didn't you say!?”,

“I didn't want you to get angry at me”

“we wouldn’t of been angry Olivia, I'm so sorry, he didn’t want you two to know…”

I walked through the entrance hall to grab the home phone. I noticed when walking up the stairs that the wall had dents in. The dents where from the stretcher that carried my dad down. My mums room was at the top of the stairs. I stood for a moment, and walked in. It had been left untouched. My parents slept in separate rooms most of the time, but he'd obviously been in here in his last days. Those stickers, the ones they put on your body when paramedics come in, they were on the bed sheets. His hair was stuck to them.

I went and sat in my bathroom, and I called Jess. She was with my other friend Kara, giggled, jumping around. 'My dad's died.' Silence.

The next 7 years where so difficult. My hero, my best friend, my dad had just disappeared. No funeral because my mum was in denial. My mum turned to drink...the day my dad died, my mum did too. I became John's (my brother) mum. I failed my GCSE's, so I didn't get accepted into the Photography course at college. I did a year in film production instead, then I couldn't afford to go. The option of university disappeared, and I began my first full time job in a stock room. We lost the house, the cars, we lost everything.

 Now I'm 24 years old, 25 in December. My mum still drinks, my brother is at uni. I work as a website designer despite failing Graphics and IT and being told I was a waste of space. And somehow...instead of working behind the camera, I work in front of it as a model. I'm an internationally published cosplay model.  

It's been really really tough, and most people who are in my life now have no idea of my past. It’s really sad what’s happened, but I believe with losing my father, it gave me life. I fought against being that bullied kid that let everything get on top of me. My dad fought for his life. He was given three months and he lived three years for us. I wasn't going to take things for granted anymore. I've travelled the world and every day I do something that scares me. I live now, not just exist. That, that is the best gift anyone could give to me.



Thank you to these incredible women who've shared their stories and who gave me their time and hugs. You are all so beautiful, inside and out.

Thank you to my lovely team!
Videography: Joe @ Detail Films
Assistants: Pratik Naik, Indy Sagoo, Niz, and Ella
Special thanks to Phase One

And Thank You to all the lovely women who got in touch. 
I hope that one day our paths will cross and I can capture you too!

Retouching by Bella Kotak & Pratik Naik



Bella Kotak

Bella Kotak is a fine art and fashion photographer currently based in Oxford & London, England. An art lover from a young age she always knew that she would work within the creative industry. Photography changed her life when she picked up a camera and began a 365 project. From that moment she was hooked by this medium that translates thoughts and imagination into tangible form and has since been featured in several magazines around the world.