When my good friend Mandy Hinkle began directing boudoir photography shoots last year, I must admit, my inner critic rolled her eyes.
“This seems like some cheesy trend a la Glamour Shots in the 1990s that middle age women will flock to in order to feel better about themselves,” I judged.
As with many aspects of life, what I judge or criticize is usually something I need to personally examine.
Boudoir photography is generally described as a style in which women (not ordinarily models) pose sensually and sometimes erotically, often for the sole private enjoyment of their partners. As Mandy proudly continued to post pictures of her work on Facebook (with the permission of her models), I saw a joy and freedom in the beautifully diverse collection of faces and bodies.
I gradually became intrigued.
When I witnessed the exuberance that Mandy, a former directing actress, displayed every time she talked about her boudoir work, I was convinced to take the plunge and do a shoot. The clincher was hearing Mandy’s emphasis on feminine empowerment as her inspiration for the shoots—not just doing boudoir so that women have sexy photographs to give their partners.
Mandy declares, “This was the work that would mean it all mattered… everything that happened in my own traumatic past mattered, because it made me better able to help women reclaim their bodies and celebrate themselves.”
As a size 18-20 woman traditionally viewed as one of the bigger girls in my peer group, I am no stranger to being wounded by body shaming.
While I’ve engaged in a plethora of practices that helped me to heal many of these wounds (e.g. Hatha yoga, aerial yoga, conscious dance, psychotherapy), I knew immediately that my boudoir photography shoot would usher in the deepest layer of healing yet.
I found it poetic that my day of pampering by Mandy and her photography partner Carrie Lee Farley was on Super Tuesday 2016. This day will likely go down as one where notorious body-shamer and misogynist Donald Trump all but secured the Republican nomination for president. As I came of age in the era of the Trump brand, his comments denigrating fat-ass women and elevating the importance of outer beauty, especially in his pageants, came to epitomize everything that society taught me about body shame.
His comments set a larger context for my pain, as Trump-like figures in positions of power gave permission, either implicitly or explicitly, for many family members and those in my peer group to constantly criticize the way I looked. Getting called “fatso” was a regular occurrence in elementary school, and in church, yet the sting of those insults paled in comparison to comments I heard from family members, supposedly “for my own good,” telling me things like “fat women are never taken seriously, you know.”
I was valedictorian of my high school class with a horizon of goals and dreams ahead of me, yet my mother (also a victim of the culture) fretted that if I couldn’t get my clothing size into the single digits, I would never find a suitable husband by the time college ended.
During my boudoir shoot, in which Mandy and I featured a combination of 1950s-style pinup shots and some modern looks featuring my own jeans, bras, scarves and necklaces, I was overcome with a sense of, “Wow, all of the body haters and religious shamers from my youth, family and community would be repulsed to know I was doing this today—and that is awesome!”
I breathed into that realization and felt the liberation of it all flow through my body during the four or so hours that Mandy, Carrie and I spent together playing (along with some of my favorite music) and celebrating the process. Doing this shoot was a mixture of playing dress-up and engaging in a powerful experience in a redefined style of psychotherapy.
We began in a lovely Grace Kelly-inspired formal gown, taking some very classic shots. Then, as I started to get more comfortable with Carrie, my photographer, I let my hair down (literally) and started putting my legs up the wall while laying on a church pew-style bench, trusting Mandy’s direction that the beauty and confidence radiating through me was being captured in Carrie’s lens. From there, we moved on to a more sultry dress of black lace, and then after I shed the bra we played around with my favorite pair of jeans and my beloved, multicolored scarves.
In many ways, the clothing choices during the shoots and my decision, as we progressed, to shed the layers were symbolic of my own healing and recovery journey that I’ve been on for these past 15 years.
By shedding the layers of what is expected of me and of what others have tried to make me believe about myself, I’ve found freedom to be as I am supposed to be in this body, in this life, in this world.
That the loving intention of Carrie’s camera documented this experience for me to cherish forever is the gift of this process.
Photographer Carrie Lee Farley brings a spiritual passion to her work as a boudoir photographer. She says,
“After I gained an understanding of what it meant to really love yourself, I then wanted to pass this on to other women. Along our journey we have had the majority of our ladies say the most amazing things about their sessions with us. Knowing at the end of the day that we helped one woman see herself in a more positive light and maybe even crack a smile or laugh makes it all worth it. Let’s face it, ladies, we live in a very ugly, judgmental world that hopefully we are changing in the process.”
My advice to any woman thinking about doing a boudoir photography shoot: Go for it!
Know that you never have to share your pictures publicly, and if you are able to interview your photographer or the photographer’s directing collaborator ahead of time, I highly advise it. I believe one of the reasons I enjoyed my process so much is that I felt safe with Mandy and Carrie from step one. They are women who do this to empower other women—such a blessed trait to encounter in today’s world.
If emotions come up during the process of getting your photographs taken or seeing them afterwards, honor what is emerging for you—good, bad or indifferent—as part of your healing process, and use your conscious practices to hold space for these emotions. That may be breathing through what came up on your mat during your next yoga practice, or seeking the support of those you trust.
If you’re intrigued and not yet feeling ready for a boudoir shoot, that’s okay too. My hope is that one day your intention of interest will manifest in some arena of life where you and the larger world may behold your beauty!
Author: Jamie Marich
Editor: Toby Israel
Images: Courtesy of Author via photographer Carrie Lee Farley