I Am Woman. I Will Not Be Defined.

Dear woman, when was the day that someone decided you were ___________ *insert female stereotype here* _____________ ?

Maybe you remember the moment, or maybe it happened slowly. But my guess is, you've allowed others to define you.

Maybe you expressed who you were and someone in the crowd said, "No, actually you’re __________." And you believed them. Or maybe someone in the crowd said, "You are ____________" and you rejected that definition so you decided to be the opposite of it, even if the opposite wasn't completely true.

There’s something I’ve learned over the past few years. The opposite of the identity you reject won't necessarily be your authentic self.

Two years ago, I transitioned out of a definition I had subconsciously clung to for over half a decade and my entire marriage up to that point. It was "Pastor's Wife."

I never signed a contract that said I had to make this title my identity, but at the time I believed it was an expectation that my family and faith community had put on me. However, when that title was no longer mine (because my husband made a career change), I resented it. Bitterly. I looked hard at the expectations and the ways I'd made myself physically and mentally ill trying to meet them. I resented the crowd that I believed had crushed me beneath these impossible standards and when I woke up that first Sunday morning with no place to go, I realized that I'd clung to this definition like a safety blanket so I could hide beneath my insecurities and blame them on the impossible "standards" others had set for me.

I climbed onto that pendulum and swung as far to the other side as I could. I cussed, I used the F word (feminism), and posted photos with alcohol on social media. I felt like a badass because I read books by people I didn't previously agree with and started to speak my broadened mind. I wore crop tops! But do you know what happened? I started to make whatever-is-the-opposite-of-pastors-wife my new identity. But over time I began to realize that trying to be a perfectly strong and independent #bossbabe (ugh) is just as impossible as trying to be a perfect Pastor's Wife. I began to reexamine my faith, my work habits, and my beliefs around all of these pieces that make me who I am.

I finally stopped clinging to the pendulum - regardless of where it sat - and got brave enough to jump off completely.

Big sigh. I've never written those words before. But I smile as I share them with you, because that festering wound has become a scar that I acquired on this journey (strenuous hike) called life. Through this process I faced the fact that while our society has wrongfully stereotyped women, we are prone to accept those stereotypes so we don't have to change or grow.

I get it though. It can be easier to accept one tidy definition than to look in the mirror and drink in the multifaceted, complex, and overwhelmingly beautiful being you are.

So that leads me to this project - these portraits. I wanted to photograph Alexis first as a blank slate, and then as an undefinable woman. In my world, a vintage gold motorcycle jacket, bralette, and handmade tulle skirt do not "go" together. But in this portrait, they do. Because Alexis is a woman like any other, who is professional, creative, kind, whimsical, AND true to herself. She is independent but vulnerable and involved in her family and community. She does art therapy for children and also loves Crossfit. She enjoys cotton candy and salad bars. She is soft and fierce.

You and I are so much more than the one little definition our society uses to pinpoint us for marketing strategies and advertising. We are more than the words we choose for our Instagram bios. We are women - We will not be defined.

Cheering you on,

Mitzi

Ready to celebrate the many pieces of who you are? Contact Mitzi here.

Your Juiciest Boudoir Questions Answered

1108509061.jpg

Since it’s part of my daily life, sometimes I forget that the world of boudoir photography still has details that make many women blush, giggle, or qualify their questions with, "I hope this doesn't sound weird but I was wondering if..."

I also recognize that for many women who would love to do a photoshoot like this, those questions hold them back because it's nerve-wracking to call up a stranger like me and ask them! I mean, most people who call me second-guess their ability to pronounce the word "boudoir" so it's not surprising that they're bashful to ask if I'll photograph them nude.

First things first: Some advice I give to every client at their boudoir consultation is: Wear whatever makes you feel sexy. We plan five different outfits so there's a variety, and I think many women are surprised at the amount of outfit options for boudoir. In fact, one of my favorites is just a white sheet. But since there are so many boudoir portraits I don’t share publicly, I can understand why most of our clients have very similar concerns! And that leads me to the first question:

1. WILL YOU POST MY BOUDOIR PHOTOS ONLINE?

That is completely up to you. 90% of my finished boudoir work is seen only by my client and myself. Your privacy is my number one priority. Some women believe these photos are for their/their partner's eyes only. Some would be comfortable with me sharing, but their career prohibits it. Others have told me they'd be honored to be featured on my Instagram, and one even said, "I'm fine either way, but since I'm curvy I want other curvy women to see my photos and be encouraged that they can do this too." So, like I said, it's entirely up to you. At your ordering session, you tell me WHICH images you'd be okay with me posting and on what platforms. After all, I'm here to serve you and give you a great experience.

2. DO I NEED TO SHAVE *EVERY*WHERE?

Once again, that is up to you. The majority of my clients choose to shave/wax before their shoot, but if you feel sexier NOT doing so, don't! If you're undecided, the only reason I'd advise you to is the same reason I retouch things like bruises and blemishes out of photos: To remove distractions. You should see YOU first when you look at the portrait, and I want you to feel sexy, powerful, and beautiful. So again, take this into consideration and decide what you're comfortable with.

3. IS IT OKAY IF I WEAR __________?

You fill in the blank however you want, and it’s fine by me. The thing I've learned in nearly decade of doing women's portraiture is that it's my job to create a safe and empowering environment for each woman no matter what makes her feel sexy, and every woman has her “thing.” Several years ago, a very straight-laced and shy client arrived to her shoot and proceeded to pull thigh-high leather boots and matching gloves out of her duffel bag. "My husband's request," she started to explain, but I smiled and reassured her “You don’t have to justify anything to me.” No matter how cozy or kinky your outfit looks, if it empowers you, you don’t have to ask my permission.

4. IS IT WEIRD TO DO THIS IF I DON'T HAVE A PARTNER?

If you'd asked me this question 7 or 8 years ago, I would have said yes. Because of my belief system at the time, I viewed a woman's boudoir photos and sexuality as something only for her husband... I've since come to see sexuality as so much more personal and something every woman (and human) has to own before they can fully share it with someone else. Whether you have a partner or not, your boudoir shoot is really for you. Earlier this year, I had a client fly in from across the country to do a half glam/ half boudoir photo shoot to celebrate her 21st birthday. She shared with me that she'd recently worked through the damage of years of sexual abuse, and that this shoot was to celebrate her body - her body that had for much of her adult life only brought her shame. As part of her healing process, she wanted to celebrate herself and when she saw her final portraits, we both cried.

If you happen to have a partner who enjoys looking at the portraits, that is definitely a bonus! Time and time again my past clients tell me things their partner told them when they saw their boudoir photos: "I'm so touched that you went out of your comfort zone to do this for me." "I can tell this experience made you feel beautiful, and that change in you is what I appreciate most!" "I'm so glad you did this boudoir shoot because you can finally see yourself the way I see you."

5. IS IT OKAY TO WEAR NOTHING AT ALL?

More often than not, I get a bashful request for fine art nude portraits. But I love it! I know this client is ready to get out of her comfort zone and how empowered she's going to feel. I think the female body is the most beautiful piece of artwork ever created and is therefore the most inspiring. Besides, some women just aren't into lingerie. They'd rather wear nothing but a strategically placed white sheet, a curtain, or high heels. I always ask ahead of time what words you'd use to describe your ideal portraits, so pair your artistic vision with my detailed posing direction, and I promise you'll feel confident.

Here's the bottom line: If you want this experience, all you have to do is reach out. There's no question I haven't been asked, no story I haven't heard. Friend, when you come into my studio to be photographed, I honor the vulnerability you dive into. I know it's scary but I also know how thrilled you're going to be with the results! "Losing ten pounds" won't necessarily make you more confident - but showing up for yourself will.

Love,

Mitzi

Ready to reach out and start talking details? Contact me here.

Right Now

unnamed.jpg

I usually write and talk about boudoir from, well, the photographer's perspective.

I talk about how it's normal to be nervous, how every woman has insecurities, how I offer outfit styling and give complete posing direction... and still, every couple years when I, Mitzi Starkweather, have boudoir photos taken of myself, I learn something brand new.

When I look at my boudoir photos from this past week, I feel beautiful.

Don't get me wrong - I love to write. But in this moment I wish you were sitting with me in my living room so the gravity of that sentence could sink in. I'd look right at you and as my eyes widened I’d say, "When I look at my boudoir photos... I feel BEAUTIFUL." I'd say it slowly and quietly, because the words surprise me. If only you knew the way I normally pick myself apart.

At times I've struggled with feeling like a hypocrite. At one point I sobbed in my bedroom and told Jordan I had no business telling women they were beautiful and valuable just the way they are, because every day I struggle to see my own worth. He reminded me that's what a person's "calling" is: the truth they're trying to believe for themselves.

Every day I struggle to believe I am worthy.

I love boudoir photography because it’s stripped down and intimate. A boudoir portrait says, "This is who I am in the most intimate parts of my life, and I celebrate it." I've done multiple boudoir photoshoots for myself over the years because as I grow and change, I want to continue to celebrate the person I am.

Women: Please resist the pressure to view your life as a steady slope downward toward wrinkles and saggy boobs. You are so much more than this! You are wisdom and strength and beauty and fierce love! You're world changers. You know who inspire me the most? My sixty, seventy, eighty, and ninety year old clients. These women are so incredibly confident, sexy, and brilliant. They have endured trials, raised children, overcome abusive relationships, survived cancer, conquered career goals, poured into their communities, and so much more. I can't wait to have glamour and boudoir portraits done when I'm that age!

Everything changed for me a couple years ago when I decided to focus on what I am rather than what I am not. I decided to speak confidently about what made my heart beat fast, and women who needed to hear it told me it inspired them. Yes, it usually happens while I'm photographing them in a glittery gown or lingerie. Portraiture is the method I use to show people their value, and it's the method I use to challenge my own beliefs about myself. I get it - the camera is scary because it's a mirror we can't hide from. But when we open ourselves up to celebrate our beauty, we set off on a journey and don't return from it the same.

It's easy to forget or over-complicate the sacred act of showing up for yourself. But friend, show up. Not next year or next month or when you lose ten pounds or when *whatever excuse you can think of* happens. Just show up. And if you'd like to feel beautiful again (or for the first time, or in an entirely new way), you can show up to my studio for a day that celebrates you, the beautiful you that you are right now.

I’ve found that my clients love to show off their photos to their girlfriends. So friend, I want to share my portraits with you. I want to show you so you can see that right now, I am proud of the woman I am. And trust me - If I can do this, so can you. View my boudoir gallery here. Click the image below if you’d like to book the experience for yourself! I can’t wait to hear from you.

Cheering you on,

Mitzi

Nobody But You

For us "traveling for work" usually means something amazing. A few weeks ago a client flew us to London to capture his New Years Eve proposal and engagement portraits, so we stayed an extra week to explore. And I did something different than I usually do. What I'm about to say will probably surprise you: I actually took photos... for myself.

I fell in love with photography through black and white film in high school. There's something about monochrome that helps you see emotion, eliminate distractions, and capture a feeling. But over the years, as my photography career has bloomed, I've neglected film. I've neglected capturing the mundane parts of life -- MY life -- in general.

When we went to Paris last year, I had the honor of styling and photographing two incredible women in the most beautiful locations I could dream of. But now, a year and a half later, I wish I had taken more photos for me. Photos that weren't meant to be hung three feet wide on the wall - but photos that would later remind me of the food I ate and the flowers I sniffed and the way the kids played near the Seine. I'm realizing that there are so many valuable types of photos that aren't the two extremes of iPhone selfies and formal portraits.

So, for this trip to London, I gave myself four rolls of "film" (96 images). Rather than pack yet another camera and lug it around the city, I used my regular camera. However, to mimic the boundaries that film gives a photographer, I set up rules: Images could not be re-shot or deleted, even if they were blurry or too dark or light. I had to use my light meter and not rely on the photo popping up on the camera screen afterward. I also created one "film look" preset to edit the photos. The final rule was this:

Everything is worthy of being photographed.

This proved to be a much more powerful experience than I anticipated. And now I know why: I had to allow myself to do something for me. Not for a client, not for the ‘gram, not for Facebook, and not to try to prove anything to anyone. I had to believe that my own life and experience has the same value that I already believe everyone else's has.

Women, wrap your head around that for a minute. We are SO GOOD at doing things for others. For many of us this trait is so ingrained that we almost cannot conceive of spending time, money, or effort on anything that doesn't directly benefit someone else.

The worst part is that we get used to it. I hear these things from you all the time when you're trying to schedule a three hour makeover and photoshoot:

"I wish I could but my life revolves around my kids and I can't ever get away!"

"I would love to do something like this, but I just can't spend money on myself."

"I've been meaning to get with you for months but my job just takes everything out of me!"

And yes, there can be seasons of life that are truly "crazy" and we don't even have time for a bubble bath. But more often than not, I think it's an attitude and a belief system. I get it! I run a business, have a spouse and social life, have to cook every day due to food allergies, I volunteer, etc. But it always comes back to the old saying I learned from my dad, "You have time for what you have time for."

Friend, I get it. Sometimes it's easier to take care of everyone else and neglect yourself because then you don't have to LOOK at yourself. You can listen to harmful self-talk and you can hide. Sometimes, when you don't feel like you're pretty or worthy or important it's easier to decide you're none of those things, keep your head down, and trudge through life. But I want more than that for you. It's difficult to recognize your value, forgive people who have confirmed your worst fears, and decide to push forward. But it's always SO worth it.

Maybe today, working toward doing things for yourself means you ask for help. Maybe it means canceling that thing you didn't even want to go to and taking an hour to read that book you've been dying to finish. Maybe it means scheduling that photoshoot with me (because YOU want to do it), or maybe it means expressing yourself creatively for nobody but you!

Remember, you are worthy of the time, money, and gifts that you so eagerly give to others.

You are worthy.

Love,

Mitzi

I hope you enjoy some of my favorite frames from London! If you’d like to learn more about a Luxe Portrait shoot, reach out here.

StPancras-40.jpg
StPancras-50.jpg
LondonV-10.jpg
LondonV-30.jpg
LondonV-104.jpg
LondonV-118.jpg
LondonV-8.jpg
LondonV-215.jpg
LondonV-175.jpg

Unstoppable

Merjenblog.jpg

On December 31st, the sun will go down, and when it rises we will all begin a new year. We are the ones who attach meaning to that - I don't think the sun can tell a difference.

"Next year I will _______."

We all have numerous ways to fill in that blank, behaviors we want to change and addictions we want to curb.  It's like a fresh start, complete with a closet purge and resolution to "lose ten pounds." 

I used to wonder why my resolutions never stuck. Not for more than a few weeks, anyway. Before I knew it, I'd have a drawer of new workout clothes that became lounge wear and a pantry full of "healthy food" that I’d replaced with takeout. 

Throughout this journey of building a business the only reliable truth I've come to count on is that change is hard. And here's the hardest part: Changing behavior does not work without changing your belief system first.

Beliefs about ourselves are weird, aren't they? Usually they're so close to us that we don't even realize they're there - let alone that they could ever change. They burrow little pathways in our brains and the longer we believe them, the harder they become to challenge. The past couple years have held a lot of belief challenging for me. It's been difficult, but now I can appreciate it.

So what do you believe about yourself?

You don’t even have to tell me. The answer is in your behavior, your actions. I mean, if my husband asked me what I believed about his value as a person and I said something really nice but then I never spent time with him, listened to him, or helped him when he needed it, he certainly wouldn't believe me.

So what do your ACTIONS say you believe about yourself?

I once believed that a woman's goal should be to take up as little physical space as possible. Sure, I never uttered those words, but the way I constantly obsessed over my weight and heaped on guilt when my pants were too tight proved that was my belief. 

Ugh. No wonder I was miserable.

I write about body image so much because I photograph women. We are obsessed with our bodies! It's intense. I struggle with it too. We say things like, "Well, I just want to get healthy!!" But you know what is the most unhealthy belief? The belief that you're not ENOUGH exactly as you are. Right now. (And if we talked even half as much about mental health as we do about physical health... don't get me started.) Good luck changing your eating, exercising, drinking, TV watching, or any habit if you hold a foundational belief that who you are is worthy of your own hatred and dissatisfaction. 

You know, it's like photographing children.

I get warned by mom ahead of time, and apologized to in advance. But when the kids show up at the shoot, I treat them as though they will behave perfectly. I trust them, I encourage them, and I affirm their good behaviors. If a tantrum happens, I stay calm. And you know what? They always rise to the occasion. And what happens when I make them feel valued and important? They become their best selves.

And what happens when you treat yourself like that? You become unstoppable. When you treat your mental health like it's important and stop feeling guilty for not "being okay," you get help. When you treat your body with respect and view physical activity and food as a privilege, the guilt disappears. When you can look in the mirror and say, “Even if I make zero dollars, friends, efforts, or home cooked meals today, I am enough. I am valuable,” you stop trying to prove yourself and you start living.

If nothing else, I hope I LIVE in 2019. I'm done not being good enough for myself or anyone else. And I know that if I live, I will shine because I will offer what only I can give to the world. Whether I'm wearing sweat pants or a pants suit, I'll expect the best for myself. I’ll expect the best for you too.

-Mitzi

Ready to feel unstoppable?
Reach out here and I'll give you everything you need.
Only 3 spots remaining in time for Valentine’s Day 2019!

WebsiteHeader3Merjen.jpg

Celebration

Dear You,

How have you been? Can you believe it’s going to be Thanksgiving next week! It caught me by surprise too. And then before you know it Christmas will be here and then New Year’s and then… *sigh.* I wrote 2017 on a check the other day - that’s where I’m at these days.

But I’m writing to you because I want to remind you of something. You know what, I’m proud of you. I’m proud of all you’ve been and done. I think it’s amazing that you faced trials and challenges and even though you felt like you were drowning, I’m amazed at how well you stayed afloat. You learned things. You didn’t give up. You fought hard and you tried. And through it all, you encouraged others to do the same.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking: “But there’s so much more I should have done! There’s so much more I should have been. I did so many things so wrong.” So I’ll remind you once again that you are human. And not only are you enough just as you are, you are also worth celebrating.

There is no number on the scale or income level or number of friends that will make you “enough.” One of the biggest secrets to satisfaction in life is simply giving yourself a break. People like you and me - we set the bar way too high and then feel like failures when we don’t measure up to our wildest goals. But all the while we were fighting and doing and learning and growing. So let’s focus on THAT truth for once: that every day that we wake up and get up and love again and fight again we are ENOUGH and we are where we’re supposed to be.

So here’s my question for you now: What do you need to celebrate? It’s probably you. My favorite thing is when I post one of your portraits on social media and your friends comment, “What was the occasion?” and we can remind them that being alive and being who we are is plenty of reason to celebrate.

I hope this encourages you and reminds you how much I care.

All my love,

Mitzi


While we're booked for 2018, you can get first dibs on 2019 sessions plus a $155 bonus when you purchase our holiday promotion here.

(Want a boudoir shoot in time for Valentine's day? We have three sessions available for January! Reach out here.)



Show and Tell

It’s kind of my “thing:” telling people to value themselves and make time for themselves and LOVE themselves. I’ve built a photography business around it, people pay me to travel and speak about it, and goodness knows I write about it every chance I get. Every client who walks into our studio gets the pep talk before, during, and after their photo shoot. “You’re good enough exactly as you are! Showing up for yourself is the ultimate form of self-love, since love is proven by action.”

And all along the way I tell myself I love myself too. Of course I practice what I preach, and I never waiver! How could a woman who’s built a business from reminding other women of their inherent beauty and value FORGET that she also must show herself love?

The answer is, I don’t know but forgetting to love myself is all too easy. The worst part is, I don’t notice it until I start to hurt.

Have you ever taken a relationship for granted? Maybe it’s your best friend, your parent, your spouse, your sibling - One day you wake up and you realize you’ve done nothing to show them you love them in AGES. Maybe you’re like me - you struggle with depression so you don’t realize that you haven’t talked to this or that friend in months, and when you realize it the guilt is crippling. Or maybe you’re really really busy. Work, life, and responsibilities take over. You tell the people close to you that you love them, but maybe they don’t believe you because you don’t show it.

Likewise, have you ever taken your relationship with your SELF for granted? Goodness. Welcome to my TED talk: “How to neglect yourself, ignore yourself, and run yourself ragged in order to prove something to “everyone” (?) and then lose sight of your purpose in the process.” I joke about this - because it’s such a struggle for me. It’s easy to TELL myself, and everyone else, that I love myself. But it’s another thing entirely to SHOW it.

Life as a creative is not linear. There isn’t a ladder you climb - instead there are mountains and valleys. I usually don’t realize I’m out of a valley until it’s a month or so behind me. And when I left for vacation two weeks ago, I was nearly burnt out. I had nothing left. I ran away for a week, and that helped. But it wasn’t until I returned and started to actively SHOW myself I care about ME that I started to feel alive again. I’m not just talking about face masks and pints of ice cream. Honestly, for me, ice cream is not self-care. Ice cream makes me bloated and tired and cranky.

For me, self-care is making time for myself. It’s getting the massage I need so my shoulder doesn’t go numb from the hours I spend each week at the computer. It’s planning parties for those who are dear to me. It’s asking for help from people who are happy to help me. It’s driving an hour to see a beautiful film that will inspire and refresh me. It’s making time for people who fill up my heart, and spending intentional time with them. It’s choosing what’s best over what’s easiest.

It’s SHOWING myself I love myself. After all, showing is much harder than telling.

One of my favorite things to tell my clients when they arrive for their photo shoot is, “You did it. You showed yourself love today. Just by carving out three hours to be pampered and have fun, you showed yourself love. And you’re going to feel better for having done it.”

So when you feel tired, depleted, and empty, ask yourself what you need - just like you do when your spouse, child, or friends are upset. Then LISTEN. Finally, act. Show yourself you’re worthy of whatever you’re trying to believe - and friend, eventually you’ll believe it.

-Mitzi


Book your photo shoot or request information here. I’d truly love to photograph you.

Talking About What You Love

I started to cry.

We were almost finished recording the new Luxe Portraits promotional video, and we'd planned every detail of the script. But in that moment, as we sat inside the changing room at the studio to minimize echoes and record my voiceover, she told me to try speaking my lines from memory while I looked her in the eyes. (The "her" was my sister Natalie. If you've followed my work for any amount of time, you've seen her portraits. She's been my muse since before I knew that word existed.) And when I looked at her and spoke my first line - this was when I started to cry. So she hit record on my phone and said gently, "How's it feel? Talking about what you love?" I took a sip of water and said, "It's scary!" then immediately laughed and said, "No, I love it."

I've watched that video a dozen times. My reaction is so transparent, and I cringe each time I see my emotional mask go back on. Because I felt safe with her, I said my honest answer first: "It's scary!" But then I was so quick to nervously laugh and detract that, saying what I felt I should say: "No, I love it." Both things were true, but it wasn't until that moment that I verbally acknowledged the fear.

For me, talking about what I love (in this case, it's photographing women and helping them see their beauty and value) has always been scary. I mean, look at our culture: The dominant message is that we, women especially, are not good enough. 99% of the time, if you tell a woman she is beautiful and valuable just the way she is, she will disagree.

As a teenager, I hesitated talking about why I loved writing screenplays and listening to new age music. As a college student, I didn't want to talk about how much I preferred spending time alone reading and writing while my friends went to bars and sports games. As the wife of a midwest Christian pastor, I was afraid to talk about how much I love things like the Oscars, egalitarian marriage, and wine. 

It's one of the best and worst parts of being a human: The fact that we want so badly to fit in because we desire community, that we allow our insecurity to twist that into acting a certain way just to belong... even if that belonging is false because it's a false version of us. 

I used to blame those institutions for their incorrect expectations, but now I see the large part my own insecurities played. Sure, society and family and friends and peers could place unfair and even cruel expectations on me. But at the end of the day, I only went to bed feeling afraid and wrong and weird and alone because I couldn't accept who I was.

So what's worse: False belonging, or not belonging at all? I used to think it was better to lay low and not ruffle any feathers, but over the years I've seen the damage that comes from trying to wedge a star-shaped block into a circular hole. At first it just sits on top, but over time the edges wear down and by the time it fits, it isn't a star anymore. (And you know, it isn't a sphere either.)

And now, at the age of 28 with a career and a husband and a house and a beautiful studio in which I can create art everyday, do I feel like I belong? Not even close. But I'm realizing more with each person I am blessed to meet that we are all insecure and feel/have felt that we don't belong. So maybe instead of judging each other out of our own insecurities we could let this common thread, this fear of talking proudly about what we believe in because it may be rejected, unite us. It's scary to be different, but in the end it's the only way anything ever changes. There's room for each of us.

After all, stars aren't meant to fit into holes. They're meant to glimmer in the sky.

-Mitzi

 

Special thanks to Bekka Ross for her vintage hair and styling expertise, and Mckaela Armstrong for doing makeup for this beautiful shoot.