Women of influence

By Frances Prescott

In celebration of International Women's Day on the 8th March, I'm sharing the stories of three women who have inspired me – Hy Money, the first woman sports photographer; artist and political activist, Frida Kahlo and Emma Slade, Buddhist nun and founder of the charity Opening Your Heart To Bhutan.

Hy Money
Sports photographer Hy Money arrived at Tilbury Docks from Bombay when she was 19. Her scant possessions included £50 and a Box Brownie camera, a present from her mother who asked her to take a photograph of Buckingham Palace and send it home. Married at 22, she initially used her camera to take pictures of her children. For her son's 8th birthday, she took him to Crystal Palace Football Club, a trip which triggered a lifelong passion for sports photography. Despite the fact that women were prohibited from taking photographs on the pitch, she was eventually accepted into the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), and soon became a familiar sight on the touch lines of First Division football matches.

Earning the title of the first woman sports photographer, she has become recognised as one of the leaders in the field and her images of footballers, tennis players and boxers are some of the most iconic images in sports photography. For more on Hy's photography, as well as news on her upcoming exhibition, visit her website here.

Hy is a real inspiration for anyone thinking of forging a career in any male dominated environment. I first became aware of her work through a friend who was working on a documentary about Hy's life, and I was gripped by her story. She is fearless, resilient and despite the huge barriers that existed in the profession of sports photography, didn't give up her struggle until she was accepted. Through my work as make-up artist and facialist, I am lucky to work with the Lionesses, the England Women's Football Team, so I'm very aware of the boundaries that have existed for women in the world of sports. Not only did Hy break into this world at a time where there was huge prejudice against women, especially in the world of football, but she did it while bringing up young children and running a home. She is also beyond talented and her portraits and live-action photographs are recognised as being some of the most iconic sports images.

Frida Kahlo
One of Mexico's greatest artists, as well as one of the world's most influential painters, Frida Kahlo has become an icon to women across the globe. Born in 1907 in Mexico City, she survived a catastrophic tram accident where her spine and pelvis were fractured and spent much of her life in pain as a result. She turned that pain into art and it was whilst she was recuperating at the Red Cross Hospital that she painted her first self-portrait – Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress, 1926 (courtesy of fridakahlo.org) using a specially adapted easel that she could use whilst lying on her back in her hospital bed. From her radical political views (she was a communist) to her stormy relationship with fellow Mexican artist Diego Rivera and affair with Leon Trotsky, Kahlo never shied away from controversy, both in her life and her art until her death in 1954.

I barely knew anything about Frida Kahlo until a close friend of mine introduced me to her work. My friend Lisa was a photographer/artist herself and was obsessed by Frida art and her unique style, embracing every aspect from her monobrow to her flamboyant traditional dress, her passion for the artist rubbed off on me. I was inspired by her bravery and the fact that she didn't allow physical or emotional pain to stop her becoming one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Nor did she let the fact that she was a woman at a time when women were not active in politics prevent her from engaging with some of the most influential political figures of the time.

Emma Slade
Having forged a successful career as a Chartered Financial Analyst, Emma Slade was reverred for her dynamism and analytical thinking. On a business trip to Jakarta, she was taken hostage and although she was released unscathed, on returning home at the time of the financial crash, the trauma of her kidnapping along with the chaos in the City made her take stock of her life. It was then that she began a healing journey that included yoga and eventually, Buddhism in Bhutan in the Himalayas. She is now a Buddhist nun and in 2015, she set up the charity Opening Your Heart To Bhutan which supports rural and disabled children in Bhutan. Her book, Set Free published in 2017, is a candid account of the dramatic shift in her life from city slicker to spiritual devotee.

I first met Emma Slade when she was a high-flyer in the world of banking. She was one of my clients and came to me for facials at my Whitstable beauty room. Within 5 years of meeting her, she had totally transformed her life, leaving investment banking for charity work and Buddhism. She turned up for a facial, no longer dressed in city-smart clothes, but in her Buddhist robes, head shaved. I am totally in awe of Emma's bravery and how she turned a life-threatening experience into such a positive transformation. Walking away from a life of success and material wealth into one of spiritual devotion cannot be easy, but she has embraced it and now lives to provide for others, not herself. And for all these reasons, I'm paying tribute to her achievements this International Women's Day.

Portrait of Hy Money and football image courtesy of Hy Money; Emma Slade photographed by Wendy Carrig; Frida Kahlo and Self-Portrait in Velvet Dress courtesy of fridakahlo.org