When the advertisement for a free session with a local boudoir photographer came across my feed, I clicked it without hesitation. My reason was two-fold, a way to procrastinate the white pages I was writing for a client, and because I was trying to push myself out of my comfort zone.
As an erotic novelist by night, a boudoir session isn’t exactly outside of my comfort zone, but I’d never come close to being the subject of something so exposed before. I wrote fiction, had never starred in any sort of raunchy home video, and came into my life-long partnership before the ubiquity of the nudie pic made its rounds. The closest I ever got was a handful of photos my partner took on his camera, but when my dad needed to borrow the camera, we panicked and deleted them forever.
Now, after getting approved and setting a date with my photographer, B, I was packing a bag of props and clothes and heading out to the studio.
Even knowing I was taking this step as a way of feeling like myself again, the nerves were definitely there. I had put on a lot of weight since we moved and was still grappling with the insecurities of a new job and a new life in a city very far away from anywhere I’d been before.
B put my mind right at ease. She started holding up the clothes I had brought right away, complimenting them and showing me some of the pieces she had for models as well. Her studio was the living room of a large, lofted ceiling home. A faux fur rug lined the floor before an ornate mirror and several potted plants were staggered around the space. It looked like an amalgam of all the Instagram boho-chic photos I’d ever seen.
We started with the makeup.
I don’t wear a lot of makeup. I work out of my home office and don’t tend to see too many people during the day. But even when I do go out, it’s a little bit of eyeliner and some light mascara. I marvel at those who skillfully create new looks every single day, but I will never be one of them.
This artist, A, was definitely one of them.
The look she gave me was bold. It should have been. I sat in the chair for more than two hours, and with the passing conversation — when she moved from France to America, when I moved from New Jersey to Nashville, how I became a writer, it eased my nerves little by little.
She had been an artist before she became a makeup artist, apparent in the way she held several brushes in her hand at once, threaded through long, slender fingers, and it reminded me that what we were creating was art. It was photography and makeup and fodder for my stories. I wouldn’t point out the curve of Venus’s belly or the smooth rounded curves of a Rubens’ model, and I wasn’t going to do it for myself.
A teased my hair and smoothed it out with a straightener. And then, sparkly-eyed and bright-lipped, it was time.
We started with one of my outfits, a favorite bra and accidentally-matching set of red-purple panties that felt comfortable on my skin. Leaning against the couch. Back-arched.
Breathe through your mouth.
It helped that I had messaged my girl group chat with emergency outfit ideas and they’d offered me the support and love to do this right. Because when I was in those moments, standing behind a sheer curtain or spread out on the faux fur rug, I wanted to do it right. But B’s direction was unparalleled. She was the consummate professional, putting me at ease, praising the initiatives I took and encouraging me to try new things.
With each photo she snapped, the fear that I had been holding onto for months chipped away a bit. I could see myself through the camera lens, through the painter’s brush, a muse for the artist, a forgiving snapshot that was designed without beauty filters, not cropped to cut out patches of adult acne that cropped up when I got my IUD put in. There was nothing to compare my skin to, not the other photos on my feed, not the FitSpo models on the home page, not even myself, from when I fit into my jeans properly and felt like I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing.
There is a vulnerability that comes with taking off your clothes, but in this case, there was a freedom to it too. I was no longer confined by the thick red rings of belt buckles on my skin or adjusting dress straps or bra straps. In most cases, the bra straps came right off. In those moments, and in the photos, I was able to get back to the part of myself I had been missing, strong, confident, proud to be bare. I could embrace my own appeal, indulge in the eroticism I usually saved for the characters I wrote, and free myself from the comparisons I had been making for months.
I think we did a total of four or five outfits, a few from my collection and a few from hers. There were a couple of topless shots, but my favorites were the ones taken in a black sheer and feather robe, the kind that a scandalous rich woman would be wearing when the police call in the middle of the night to tell her that her husband died under mysterious circumstances. At some points it was silly, at most points it was erotic and sexy, and still other times I was keeping poses that reminded I did have abs under there after all.
The shoot felt long while I in it and I actually found myself getting really hungry about an hour from the end. But then, all of a sudden, I was finished, pulling the black leotard off and putting my soft peasant blouse back on.
It took a decent amount of time to wipe the makeup all away, but when I do, when I’m back to the smooth, pale skin below — my skin — it’s okay. It’s more than okay. It’s like I’ve gone through a jazzy, black and gold sparkly cocoon and come out the other side feeling like the wings aren’t what makes me me, and thank goodness for it.
I return to B’s studio a few days later for the reveal. She’s narrowed the photos, nearly six hundred of them, down to 95 edits and now we have to go through the whole list to find the ones I really love. By the time we’ve made it down to fifteen, and I’ve committed to spending a rather insane amount of money, I feel giddy and overwhelmed. It doesn’t look like me, on the screen in full technicolor, and at the same time, it does, the version of myself that I’ve been missing, the version it took another person to help me see again.
I don’t feel bad about the money. I’ll pay it off in increments and have all my photos by Christmas. As a friend said, it’s the kind of thing I’ll have for a lifetime. More than that, if I didn’t spend a decent amount, I would have walked away without any of the photos — and I couldn’t let myself do that. Not once I saw them.
Every person’s experience is going to be different because every person is different. But most of us have had that feeling, after too many pairs of pants don’t fit, after too many back-to-back rejection letters, after months of wishing you were just a little closer to home, that feeling of not quite fitting into your own skin anymore.
Maybe the trick is stripping down to see exactly how special that skin really is.