Body image

How a boudoir photoshoot improved my body image

Boudoir photoshoots aren't just for your partner. They can also be a powerful tool to help improve body confidence.

The Flourish team
A naked woman in a tub closes her eyes, looking happy

“Bodies aren’t supposed to have that many rolls on the side,” my sister matter-of-factly stated. She was pointing to where my hips dipped in right above my thighs.

Things weren't going according to the plans 11-year-old Emily had at the time. I had just bought my first bodycon dress and thought I was supposed to be the next Britney Spears. I brought it home and did the traditional fashion show through the living room for my mom and sister, and the feedback would change my life forever.

That was when I realized other people's bodies didn't look like mine. I had gone through puberty the past year, and my body had changed, even if my mind hadn’t realized it.

It was one of the first moments I felt shame for what I looked like and a feeling that I needed to hide my body rather than celebrate it. A feeling I'd come to know well.

For the next decade or so I wore a lot of a-line dresses, peplum tops, or anything else to hide what I felt was an undesirable area. And the Britney Spears dress? That was promptly returned.

The feeling of trying to hide translated into other areas of my life as well, beyond just clothing. I'd hide my butt behind someone in a picture to make myself appear smaller, make my personality larger or louder, so that was what was the focus... not my appearance.

It all came down to a feeling of insecurity – feeling insecure in my own body, making me feel insecure in the space I took up in the world.

So how did 11-year-old me grow up to be writing today to the internet void about her body image, insecurity, and a boudoir shoot?

Like most things in 2022, I can blame TikTok.  It brings me no joy to admit that I tend to be susceptible to the influence of the TikTok algorithm and this was one such event.  My "For You Page" showed me boudoir for the first time as an act of empowerment, rather than a gift to a partner.

The concept that I could do a boudoir shoot for myself intrigued me, and I realized this could be one way for me to gain confidence, feel more aware of my body, and fall more in love with myself.  (*Spoiler alert: it was.)

Step 1: Finding the Photographer

The boudoir process was much more involved than I ever I imagined. It all started with the idea that this was something I wanted to do to celebrate myself and where I was in my body, in this moment.

Researching the right photographer was overwhelming, and I realized there were so many options out there. There were photographers that specialized in boudoirs for special occasions like weddings; some that only showed one body type or one type of lingerie in their portfolio, while others had me comparing thousand dollar price tags to advertised groupon deals.

For me it clicked with my photographer Beatrice at Gold Coast Chicago Boudoir when I could picture myself as one of her models. Her portfolio did an amazing job of highlighting a variety of body types in a way that felt like she understood posing, photographing, and celebrating women because of and not despite differences in body size.

Step 2: Preparing for the Shoot

To prepare for my boudoir shoot, I bought and tried on more lingerie than I have in my entire life. I even went to my first high-end lingerie store for the first time. I'll note that this probably wasn't necessary, as one of my favorite photos of myself was just me wrapped in a sheet. Sometimes less is more.

One of the parts of shopping that pushed me the most out of my comfort zone was that my photographer didn't recommend baby doll dresses. Having spent decades hiding my stomach and sides with a-line dresses and peplums, I was at a loss of where to go from here. My photographer recommended bra and underwear sets, corsets, and bodysuits that would highlight rather than hide my body. My most important criteria was that everything needed to fit me and that everything would make me feel beautiful without alteration.  

My most important piece of advice is not to forget who you are in favor of what you think “sexy” should be. I spent the night before my shoot frantically looking for what I believed to be sexy shoes. The problem was that I hate walking in heels and feel uncomfortable wearing them. Try looking sexy when you can't figure out how to walk without stumbling! I hadn't even bought heels over three inches since college. Why I bought two pairs of 5-inch heels for this shoot is beyond me. I wore them for 10 minutes and went the rest of the shoot barefoot.

Step 3: The Shoot

Waking up for my shoot, I knew I needed to start my day by stopping at my favorite coffee shop for my daily coffee, but even that couldn't get rid of the butterflies in the pit of my stomach. In fact, none of my normal morning rituals helped me get rid of the pre-shoot jitters.

My photographer greeted me once I arrived at the shoot and got me started on hair and makeup. My amazing hair and makeup artist helped to transform me into subtle, natural, but still glam. I wanted something that was a step up from my normal swipe of mascara and concealer without feeling too far away from the normal “me.”

My first pose felt so awkward. I was standing there in my bodysuit, a little cold and out of place, trying to hide my body. Beatrice could tell – so she started with just having me “Power Pose” to get my jitters out, making me laugh and getting me to loosen up. I stood there with my hands on my hips, just laughing and smiling for at least 30 seconds. This was the moment when my nerves and anxiety started to melt away. From there on out, I started to get more comfortable trying new poses, laughing at the ones that felt unnatural, and feeling amazing in the ones that worked.

What shocked me the most was that I spent more time feeling confused about what to do with my face than what to do with my body. After about 10 minutes I didn’t feel self-conscious of what I was doing with my body. I did feel weird trying to make my face do things other than smile and laugh – soft smiles and sexy smolders weren't within my comfort zone. Every ten or so clicks I'd try a more serious look and my photographer would hype me up with a confidence boosting "Oh, I see you!" I left the shoot unsure how those serious pictures of me would compare to the smiles and laughing pictures I was used to taking.

Step 4: The Reveal

As an impatient person, the three weeks I had to wait were the hardest. I was anxiously waiting to see how the pictures turned out. Would I look beautiful? Was my makeup too heavy? Did I pick the right outfits? Would I like any of the poses?  Worst of all, would I even like my body in any of them? All of the anxieties of not knowing how the pictures would turn out, ran through my mind.

My photographer had me come in-person to view the photos and I was blown away. I had never seen myself look like that before. She had taken and edited over 140 photos of me in ten different sets. We started by going through them all one by one. When she got to the first one of me making a serious face, it took my breath away – I didn’t know I could look like that. And my butt - well, my butt looked great!

I came to this session expecting to buy ten digital images. After seeing all of them I purchased 33 images, an album, and a metal print (lord knows where that's going!). Once you see yourself that way, it’s hard not to double down on that investment.

Step 5: The Impact

So where does that leave me now? Well, I’m currently waiting for the photos and the album to be ready in May. I thought it would be out of sight, out of mind in the meantime, but the mental photos I have of myself looking beautiful still flash in my mind. As I said in the beginning, this process was just for me and the next step wasn’t happening for a few months.

This past week, though, I noticed the true impact of the shoot on my body image was larger than I thought.

I’m down in New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras and decided to go get a costume. I was in the store and fell into old habits, picking up my typical flowy dress with lots of fabric to hide my mid-section when one of my boudoir pictures popped into my mind – in that moment I was reminded of one very important fact: my body doesn’t deserve to be covered up.

I put away the dress and grabbed a high-waisted shorts and crop top set that reminded me of my outfit from the shoot.

It’s a subtle change – a different outfit choice, a new pose in a photograph but I feel empowered to take up more space, to show the world my body the way it truly is, not the way it thinks it's supposed to be. This doesn’t mean I don’t suffer from doubt or bad body image days, but on those days, I find myself thinking of those pictures to give me strength and a little reminder of my power.

Without fail, every time I told someone I was doing a boudoir shoot, they asked if I was doing it as a gift for my partner. My partner sees me every day without the lens of my own internalized body image trauma – he already sees me as beautiful. This shoot was a time to acknowledge my individuality and prove to myself that I was beautiful in the body that I have at this moment. Not the woman I'd be if I lost weight. This shoot was for me and me alone.

Tips for anyone looking to do a boudoir shoot!

  • Research your photographer! Find one that fits your style and has models that look like you!
  • Places I found lingerie (in service of full disclosure I'll highlight those that need to up their size inclusivity game):
  1. CantiqLA
  2. AdoreMe
  3. Anthropologie (their plus size selection is lacking)
  4. Journelle (Only goes up to an XL)
  • Don’t overthink it! Your photographer will guide you through how to pose, where to look, etc., just enjoy it
  • If you're looking for a boudoir photographer in the Chicago area, check out Beatrice at Gold Coast Chicago Boudoir
Author
Headshot of Emily Weiss
Emily Weiss
Head of Growth
Emily is a strategist focused on growth and innovation in the health and wellness space. Her personal mission is to improve the experience women have within the healthcare
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