Have you ever been intimidated by something because you couldn't pronounce it? Or didn't understand what it was? What if it also had a sexual connotation that you vaguely knew about and also didn't quite understand? Welcome to the word "boudoir." Here's how it's pronounced, by the way: /ˈbuːdwɑːr/. This word and its current meaning are actually brought to you by 18th Century France - think big puffy wigs and overstated fashion trends - making "boudoir" the term for a woman's dressing room or private room. Over time, this word has become associated with the intimacy of being invited into a woman's private place. And I'm going to talk about boudoir photography - and what it isn't.
1. BOUDOIR PHOTOGRAPHY IS NOT JUST FOR WOMEN WHO HAVE A SIGNIFICANT OTHER
"The stigma with boudoir is that it is a raunchy gift for a bride to give her husband - I wouldn't have anyone to give these pictures to." - Quote from one of the 95 women who participated in our Boudoir Beliefs survey this week
"Here honey, Happy Wedding/Valentine's/Anniversary/Birthday. With great difficulty I put on crazy lingerie I never wear in real life and got photos done." This idea basically sums up what I thought boudoir photography was when I started offering it in 2011. My marketing was based around doing this shoot for a significant other and giving them the perfect gift. My clients were beautiful, terrified women who wore lingerie they thought he'd like and only ordered the photos they knew he would want. All in all, we had a fun experience and I know they were proud of the finished product, but they were very private about the entire process - I understand not wanting to share images, but many didn't even want friends to know they'd done a shoot at all - and I started to wonder if there could be more to boudoir photography.
As it turns out, when I applied the same philosophy that birthed my Luxe Portrait offering several years later, I realized that ALL women's portraiture is first and foremost about the woman. Sure, her family may cherish her magazine-style portraits, her lover may enjoy her boudoir portraits in lingerie, but in the end, if she is the one she desires to honor first through the experience, she will begin a journey that will change her forever. Boudoir photography is intimate, and sometimes the most difficult person to be honest, intimate, and real with is ourself. But when we do this, beautiful things happen.
2. BOUDOIR PHOTOGRAPHY IS NOT ALL ABOUT SEX
"The most nerve wracking thing would be coming across as sexy enough." - Quote from one of the 95 women who participated in our Boudoir Beliefs survey this week
Our culture is so quick to equate photographs of the female form to the act of sex, regardless of context or intent. Sex sells, after all. And this is objectification at its finest. So when we assume that a photograph of a woman - of her magnificent human body with its curves and wrinkles and muscles and lashes and details - would only be created or exist for another's sexual satisfaction, we are perpetuating that cycle of objectification and tarnishing what could be a pure and joyful celebration. Boudoir photography should be about celebrating a woman's beauty in such a way that she doesn't feel pressure to be "sexy enough" at all, because she acknowledges that she is enough just the way she is.
Do I think certain types of clothing can help a woman feel more beautiful? Absolutely. (Ever seen a bride put on her wedding dress and then look in the mirror?) But my point is, you can put on the most expensive, luxurious lingerie in the world and while it may help you tap into your sensuality, no garment will ever make you feel like you're "enough." You have to be open to believing that first.
3. BOUDOIR PHOTOGRAPHY IS NOT FOR ONE BODY TYPE OR AGE
The fourth question on our survey read, "If I wanted to do a boudoir shoot, the thing that would stop me would be..." Nearly three quarters of the answers were about body insecurity or the famous objection: "I need to lose weight first."
As a Women's Portrait Photographer, I run into objections around appearance every single day. And it begs the question: Why do we tend to think only certain types of bodies are worthy of being photographed? Representation in the media is definitely one reason. But here's another from a piece I wrote last year:
"Someone says, “You, woman, Be photographed. Not as a bride, not as a mother, not as a graduate, not as a product, and not “for” anyone but yourself. And suddenly what should sound awe-inspiring becomes uncomfortable and unattainable. And the images appear and the photographs we see of “women” on the newsstands and the mop commercials and the mall promotions appear in our minds, and we assign the “woman” an age, weight, income, man, and possession of self-assurance. And when our own criteria do not match up to “hers,” we hang our heads. Defeated." - from "The Problem of Women's Portraiture" by Mitzi Starkweather
I've heard every reason why a woman shouldn't be photographed. She's not thin/curvy/young/pretty/flawless/confident/ enough to be photographed. If you think you are not _________ enough, you simply believe you are not enough. But the thing is, you are! You, sitting right there reading this. In whatever you're wearing right now, with however much makeup you are wearing, regardless of how much you ate for lunch what your relationship status is or when the last time was you worked out was. You are enough. You are enough right now.
4. BOUDOIR PHOTOGRAPHY IS NOT FOR "PHOTOGENIC PEOPLE"
"I'm afraid I would be clumsy and feel embarassed." - Quote from one of the 95 women who participated in our Boudoir Beliefs survey this week
Every woman who sits down for a consultation with me warns me that they're awkward, don't know how to pose, and are "not photogenic." Guess what? If you are not a professional model, why on earth would you be comfortable in front of the camera? Also, I've studied posing for years and will refine that skill throughout my career. It's my job to coach you through posing! If you've ever paid a photographer and they have expected you to pose yourself, they didn't do their job.
To me, "photogenic" means being confident in front of the camera (even if that confidence is fake at first and helped along by a mimosa), and it's my job - my honor - to make you confident through coaching, pep talks, and creating an environment where you can feel incredible. There are no photogenic people. There are trained, professional models, and then there are normal people who good photographers transform into photogenic people!
5. BOUDOIR PHOTOGRAPHY IS NOT JUST FOR CONFIDENT WOMEN
"I still have work to do in regards to loving myself and finding myself sexy." - Quote from one of the 95 women who participated in our Boudoir Beliefs survey this week
I've photographed hundreds of women, and one thing I've learned is that when it comes to being photographed it's not so much about being confident - it's about being open. Every single woman is insecure. The other day someone called me confident and I burst out laughing. I put on a wonderful facade sometimes! The sample album I show my clients is of a woman who, when I first saw her, appeared to be one of those women who felt completely confident in her appearance. Every client who sees her in the album comments on her beauty and can't believe she's had two kids. But you know what? She said more negative things about her body during her shoot than any client I've ever worked with. (She ended up buying every image and having an empowering experience, but hey, that's not where she started!) She was open, though. And for her, doing the shoot as a gift for her husband was the push she needed to see how beautiful she really is and feel good in her own skin.
Recently, a client who booked her Luxe Boudoir shoot as a wedding gift wrote to me:
"The photos made my husband happy, not just because I looked beautiful, but because he knew it made me happy... It may sound ridiculous, but I was surprised that something as "simple" as a photo session could make me feel so confident."
Putting off scheduling a boudoir shoot because you don't feel confident enough is like putting off starting a workout plan because you're not in shape enough. It's an excuse that stems from a deeper place - a belief that you're not enough. So challenge that false belief, and honor yourself.
Do you have a body?
Great. Let's celebrate it.