Ashley Starling wanted to stay true to herself going into the Mrs Ohio pageant this year. Knowing she’d need a headshot and full-page photo ad to compete, she was drawn to Black Locust’s unique style of photographing women in an authentic way. Read about her journey to finding beauty in her own words.
Written by: Ashley Starling, Mrs. Ohio America, 2015
Every woman deserves to feel beautiful. Every woman deserves to have at least one picture of herself that she is proud of. My experience with Black Locust gave me exactly that.
All my life, my definition of beauty revolved around my mother. She is classic, like Audrey Hepburn. She is tall, elegant, and angelic. There is picture of her that hangs in my grandmother’s house. It is my favorite. She looks so timeless. Every time I am at my grandmother’s I enjoy looking at that picture, and I am so proud that she is my mother.
The photo of Ashley Starling's mother on the wall of her grandmother's house.
I decided last year to compete in the Mrs. Ohio pageant after having had a baby. I have always wanted to compete in the Mrs. America system, and this was perfect motivation to finish losing that baby weight. I was fortunate enough to place second runner-up. However, I felt in many ways that my performance was based more upon what I thought the judges would want, rather than me being myself. My makeup was a bit heavy, my hair was heavily teased, and my mannerisms were a bit rehearsed. After careful thought, I decided to compete one more time. However, this time, I wanted to make sure I walked away knowing the judges saw “me.”
Catherine Murray has taken my pictures for years. From my first work headshot to my son’s newborn photos, she has captured some of my most favorite memories. Catherine and her business partner Stephanie came to my home with so many beautiful ideas. They had pulled pages and pages of magazine photos and headshots from the internet for my review. Then they went into my closet and started pulling clothing. Catherine and Stephanie gave me so much individualized attention. It was such a neat experience.
Behind the scenes of a Black Locust styling consultation.
On the day of the photo shoot, Catherine came to me with a new idea. She wanted to shoot a very natural shot of me. I wiped off some of my makeup and changed my lip color. Stephanie took out my big earrings, and I put in a simple pair of pearls. I changed into a simple white sweater with an elegant neckline. They suggested pulling my hair up and away from my face.
I was a bit nervous. I felt sort of exposed. When you think of pageant headshots, you often think of big, glamorous hair, heavy eyeshadow, and big earrings. This was so different. It was bold in its own way.
It took Catherine and Stephanie about 25 minutes to get the lighting just the way they wanted. Then, they started shooting. When I first looked at the test shots, I got really emotional. There was one shot the really captivated me. My expression was very simple, and the shot was timeless and elegant. I got tears in my eyes. I looked so much like my mom in the beautiful photo that still hangs in my grandmother’s house – except this time I saw myself the same way I see her every day. Stephanie looked at me and said, “I love this photo. Someday when you son is older, he will be so proud of this picture.”
Ashley's first ad for the Mrs. Ohio pageant program.
The picture ultimately became my ad page for Mrs. Ohio. I also chose another very natural shot as a second ad page. This is who I am, and I wanted the judges to see that. I am a beautiful woman in my own special way, and I am so very proud of that photo. This year, being myself, I walked away with the crown. In part, I know that my win was because I presented a very different package this year. I was bold enough to be exactly who I am.