My Boudoir Photo Shoot: How It Changed Me
Once upon a time I was a wild woman in her twenties. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, and did so unapologetically. Of course, I am pretty G-rated in general so what I mean by the above is I would go out after work to grab drinks or take random drives to the beach. I did not have any responsibility other than my job and my dogs so I came and left as I pleased. I also had the luxury of a damn good metabolism so all those Coronas didn’t go straight to my ass.
Fast forward to the magical year of 27. My husband and I had been married for a couple years and we were very excited to welcome our beautiful baby girl into the world. I was pregnant. Oh boy, was I pregnant. I ate ice cream sundaes like the world was going to end and damn did my belly get B.I.G.
Looking back, I want a refund. Where was my cute little basketball baby bump? I looked like I was carrying a small planet. Everyone kept saying that if I breast fed, the weight would just melt right off. So in the moment, I wasn’t too concerned.
Our gorgeous ray of light busted into the world on November 6, 2014. She was perfect. (She still is ... minus her age-appropriate wackiness and meltdowns.) I did everything “right” during my pregnancy. I wanted to be that perfect mom. The one who breast feeds and only gives her baby organic and natural baby food. For a split second I even thought about using cloth diapers.
I obsessively watched her while she slept to make sure she didn’t stop breathing. We were absolutely in love. So much so, I didn’t give much thought about diet and exercise. I was fixated on giving every morsel of myself to her. But it didn’t matter. I brought this bundle of pure perfection into the world. After all, I was breastfeeding and it was all going to “bounce back.” Right?
It’s so true how they say you don’t know that something is a problem until it is. Well, my first real encounter with my hatred toward my post-pregnancy body was in late December. My husband’s company was having a Christmas party. It would have been our first night out as a couple since S was born. I was looking forward to getting out of the house, having a glass of wine, and enjoying the evening with other adults. My husband was working that day and I was home with our daughter … but had the whole day to get ready.
Mid day I went to my closet. It all went downhill from there. I came to the realization that the body I once had … the one that looked so hot in skinny jeans and tight tops … it was GONE. There was no sign of it bouncing back. I did not like one single inch of myself in that moment. I cried. Actually sat on my bed and sobbed.
I never made it to the Christmas party that night. My poor husband is a saint. I do not know how he kept his sanity with an infant and an emotional wreck of a wife. I guess that’s what marriage is about though. I am so thankful for him every day. Looking back, I was legitimately depressed. I hated myself and did not want to go out or be seen. I was embarrassed and disgusted.
Over the next several months I joined a gym and got into healthier eating habits. I had returned to work so it was easier to stay on an eating schedule and make healthier choices. I was not in that dark place any more and had lost a considerable amount of weight. However, I was most definitely not at my pre-pregnancy weight. My arms were flabby and I was still not happy with what I saw in the mirror. I still wasn’t comfortable in my skin.
This battle went on for the majority of 2015 and 2016. I didn’t hate myself but I had settled on the fact that I was a Mom now and was never going to be as beautiful as I once was. I gave up and just thought that part of my life was over. Sad, huh?
In 2016 I was trying to obtain my real estate license. In preparation for it, I wanted to have some professional headshots done in anticipation of having business cards made and whatever else. I had met a photographer through some mutual friends and she had actually come to the shelter I worked at to adopt her dog, Blitz.
She specialized in boudoir but I reached out to her to ask about pricing for headshots (even though that’s not really her thing). I knew she offered hair and makeup, too, and I wanted to have great quality photos. I don’t know if she knew how I was feeling about myself but she enthusiastically agreed to do my headshots and said we would do some “fun” shots, too.
I had seen Beth’s work before. I was secretly intrigued, perhaps obsessed. She took beautiful photos of women of all ages, ethnicities, and sizes. I was so envious of these women. So gorgeous, glamorous, and confident. I remember thinking to myself, “I used to be that girl. I wish I had done a photo shoot like this before I got pregnant.“
I remember driving to the studio that September morning. I was so nervous I was shaking. I didn’t know what to expect. Even though I had met her before, and felt like I knew her through social media, I didn't really know her.
I arrived at her studio and she warmly greeted me. I probably looked like I was going to throw up and she probably felt bad for me. Even if you ask me now why I was nervous, I really have no idea.
She had me come in and she went right to work on my hair and makeup. She was SO EASY to talk to. I felt instantly at ease once I sat in her prep chair. Maybe she had some essential calming oils in a diffuser somewhere. I don’t know.
She was extremely professional and yet casual at the same time. It was a very comfortable setting and only positive and good vibes were flowing. In my text messages to her prior to my arrival, and on that day, we did talk about my hatred of my body. Beth seemed to really care and was so open to me sharing how I was feeling. She is also a Mom so it seemed natural for me to talk about it with her.
She is an absolutely stunning woman so I didn’t know if she would understand. However, what she helped me to realize is that regardless of what size you are, or how many babies you have had, or any of a million other things, every woman shares the same struggle with body image. Of course, not everyone shares the same complaints. Whether it be cellulite ... or maybe you think your boobs are too small … or your waist isn’t tiny enough. The bottom line is, every woman is their own worst critic and picks on something about themselves regardless of how beautiful they are.
So we finished my hair and makeup. Very professional and corporate. I put on my top (with the tags still attached because I really couldn’t afford it and had every intention of returning it. Go ahead, judge me. I wore it for six minutes.) We then went to work making me look like the friendliest and best realtor this side of the Canadian border. ;) I was remarkably at ease with Beth. I thought being put on the spot to pose would be awkward or uncomfortable. Beth is excellent at what she does. I hate to keep using the word professional but she knows what she is doing and knows how to flawlessly coach her clients. She was patient and guided me effortlessly. She was positive and encouraging. At no point did I feel out of place or strange.
Ok, so we were done with with the headshots. Which, of course, were pretty standard, and didn’t really let Beth’s creative juices flow. She looked at me and asked me what I wanted to do next. What came flying out of my mouth was, “I am game. You tell me.” In that second I was thinking, “Oh God! What did I just agree to? Is she going to throw up when she sees my cellulite? Is she going to laugh? Is she going to change her mind when she sees all that I can hide with black leggings?”
She guided me to her spectacular wardrobe collection. She showed me some pieces, then picked out a black bodysuit and a mauve pink set. She told me to put on the black bodysuit first and then come out when I was ready.
I stuffed myself into that suit. A mutual friend of ours was there and I solicited her assistance in getting my giant ass into that tiny suit. I walked out of the dressing room feeling all sorts of exposed. Beth likely sensed that I was on the verge of aborting said mission. She took me under her wing (not her actual wing … although she has those as accessories in the studio) and put me behind a sheer white curtain.
In hindsight, I think she knew I needed a security blanket in that moment. I was so worried about trying to not look fat. I can’t remember how it came about but there was literally a moment when Beth asked me to trust her and promised she would never let me take unflattering photos. It made sense, of course. If she took unflattering photos, not only would I not be happy, but other clients would make note and not want to be photographed by her.
I took a deep breath and made the choice to trust her. She guided me through several different poses. I very quickly got into a groove and even forgot I was half naked. I was having so much fun! We laughed, we joked, we were like old friends just hanging out. It all felt so natural. Beth had taken plenty of photos in that outfit. She told me to put on the mauve pink set. I did as I was instructed. I came out and she said, “Ok, we are going to go down to the barn.” Alright, go big or go home.
Mind you, under any other circumstances (and had I not come out of my shell in the last 30 minutes of shooting) there was no way I was going to walk outside with barely any clothes on. I found this strength, this fearlessness, and I went for it. There was really nothing to be afraid of. I mean Beth’s studio was out in the middle of nowhere. The only creatures I encountered were some horses and dogs. Oh, and I believe Beth’s Mom may have caught a glimpse but I can only imagine the crazy things she has witnessed Beth shooting before … haha!
I spent that entire day at Beth’s studio. After shaking my nervous jitters, I can honestly say it was one of the most memorable and fun days of my life. It was a day of pampering, glamour, and lots of laughs. When I left her studio that day, I felt changed. I walked with my head a little higher. I felt more confidence running through my veins. I had no idea how the photos would come out but, regardless of the results, I was brave and left my comfort zone. I was proud of myself. I felt human again. I wasn’t just a wife or a mom. I felt like a woman.
(Side note: I didn’t wash off any of the makeup when I left the studio. When I arrived home, I was greeted by the owner of the recycling company we use. There had been a mix up and he came over to personally apologize and pick up our recyclables. Very nice gesture. However, I saw the look on his face. My makeup must have looked straight crazy to the naked eye … lol. Don’t worry ladies, it photographs beautifully. Just be sure to either wash your face before you leave or don’t make dinner plans immediately following.)
I didn’t expect to see any photos for a few weeks. So when I saw Beth had messaged me later that night I figured she was just reaching out to check in. Then I saw she sent me an image. I opened it and remember looking at the photo of the woman and wondering who it was. For a split second, I literally didn’t recognize that I was looking at myself. I actually asked out loud, “Do I really look like this?” I showed the photo to my husband. I am pretty sure I made him blush. He answered me that I do indeed look like that. My heart sank. I started to cry. I was in disbelief.
I was beautiful.
How did I hate myself so much for so long? How did I believe that I was so frumpy, ugly, and gross? I was none of those things. Why did I think I had lost my sexiness?
I gave birth to my daughter on November 6, 2014. My photoshoot was on September 2, 2016. For nearly two years, I was in such a rut. It didn’t matter how much my husband tried to tell me I was gorgeous. I thought he was just being nice. I absolutely hated the skin I was in. I didn’t believe I deserved to feel good about myself. It's not a feeling that I can truly articulate. Although I have a feeling that I am not the only woman to go through this. In fact, I’ll bet someone reading this knows the EXACT feeling I am describing.
It took a single day. It took a single person. It took a single photo to show me what I actually looked like. For me to see myself as I truly am. To love myself again. To 100% believe that I was sexy, and feminine, and worth it. I still get chills thinking about that day because I am a completely changed person because of it. I am more confident than I have ever been in my life. More so than I even was when I was eight jean sizes smaller. Because I finally realized that the size of your pants does NOT define you. Listen, I still try to be mindful of my diet and I try to stay active. But that is because I want to be a healthier version of myself. It is no longer because I think I need to fit into some mold in order to meet some standard that doesn’t exist.
I know it seems crazy that one experience of a boudoir photo shoot can really be so mind blowing and empowering. It wasn’t just a photo shoot though. That is my point. It was a therapy session, really. It was because a photographer colored outside of the lines and didn’t conform to society’s standards of only taking photos of Victoria’s Secret-type bodies. It was because she truly believes that ALL women are beautiful. It was because she wants to empower every single woman and for them to set examples for others. It was because she is a mother herself and wants her daughter to grow up in a society where we are not defined by any physical attribute.
This is NOT a plus-size movement. Just to be clear. I don’t believe in that God awful term. This is a women’s movement. I don’t care if you are a size 0 with an athletic physique or a size 25 with some junk in your trunk. You deserve this experience. It should actually be mandatory.
(Again, I just want to emphasize that I am a huge advocate of trying to maintain a healthier lifestyle. After all, I want to live a long, happy life. I want to enjoy grandkids and great grandkids someday. As much as it pains me, eating gooey mac and cheese each day and not working out probably won’t get me there. You have to decide for yourself what works for you and what makes you feel your best. On the other hand, I am a huge advocate of YOLO. So if I want that cheesecake and wine, I totes have it.)
My outlook on EVERYTHING has changed. I no longer stress if I put on a few extra pounds after the holiday. I no longer obsessively feel the need to ask my husband for validation of my beauty. Although, I do love him for the fact that he still tells me everyday. I am so blessed with a gorgeous little girl. I will do everything in my power to set an example for her … that we are not defined by our physical appearance but by our morals and character. This is a movement of a positive body image, regardless of what size, ethnicity, or cultural background.
I am a new person because of my experience. I want this for every woman.
Here are a few tips if you are thinking of taking the plunge ...
1. Look at the photographer's work and testimonials.
When choosing a boudoir photographer, look at previous work and testimonials. Talk with the photographer. See if you vibe with them. It’s important to feel comfortable with your photographer. You will be spending many hours with them and will not have a ton of clothes on so you don’t want to feel awkward. They should be easy to talk to, listen to your vision, and understand why you want to do the session.
2. Get a handle on hair and makeup.
Work out the details of hair and makeup. Does the photographer have someone on set for you or will they do it themselves? They may expect you to come with your hair and makeup already done. This is very important and not something to overlook. Make sure you have your hair and makeup professionally done. You do not want to look washed out. Remember that dramatic makeup I told you about? Yes, your makeup to the naked eye is going to look a bit much but it photographs much differently. It is worth the extra cash if it’s not included in your session.
3. Understand the release.
Make it crystal clear to your photographer if you wish or don’t wish to sign a release. It is actually the photographer’s job to thoroughly explain to you that you have the option of signing a release or not. If you sign a release, that gives them permission to use your photos and share them as they please. This session is about you and your reasons for doing it are very personal. I chose to share my photos as I wanted to empower other women. I am so damn proud of myself and those photos so I wanted to share them with the world. However, it is absolutely OK to keep the photos to yourself and/or your significant other. This journey is yours and your photographer should respect that. Sadly, not all photographers are trustworthy or hold themselves to the same professional standard that Beth does. Protect yourself.
4. Have your wardrobe ready.
Lost Highway Imaging provided a huge array of wardrobe options. However, not all photographers will provide that added perk. Ask for suggestions in regards to what kind of wardrobe to bring. Do not be afraid to bring something that makes you feel sexy or something special that you want to try out. Depending on your body type, your photographer may caution you against wearing it or suggest something else. Let them provide the guidance on that. I have done a few sessions so far and my go-to essentials are:
Nude and black strapless bras and panties
Black or red pumps
My husband’s favorite sports jersey
Steel boned corset
5. Trust your photographer
Even if the poses might feel strange at first, or you don’t think it will look a certain way, please have some faith. They are seeing you from a different view and the photos will come out very different than you may think. They want to produce a beautiful result, just as you want a beautiful result. So embrace the experience and go with it. Remember that barn I talked about? It was outside of the norm for a typical boudoir photo shoot. But it was unique and some of my favorite photos featured that setting!
6. Eat, drink (water), and be merry!
Eat breakfast and bring snacks. You should also come prepared with water (although I am sure your photographer will have some available for you). It is a long day and being a model actually does require quite a bit of work. We don’t want you passing out from low blood sugar! I promise, the camera is not going to pick up on that bowl of oatmeal or granola bar you ate.
I really can’t express to you enough how thankful I am to Beth Claire of Lost Highway Imaging for this experience. She has since become a lifelong and dear friend of mine. I feel as if she saved me in ways I didn’t even realize were possible. I have truly blossomed into a new woman. I was granted the very amazing opportunity and honor of being a brand ambassador for Lost Highway Imaging in 2017. Looking back at my journey, you can literally see my growth as a person and woman in the photos.
I love myself. I have pride in myself. I want nothing more than to inspire women to do the same.