“Your skin is absolutely flawless,” she says, shooting a warm smile my way. Sitting in an apricot-colored silk chemise, nerve-induced sweat dripping between my shoulder blades and pooling at my low back, I barely manage to utter a “thank you” before attending to the sweat marks. I’m at a small, airy photography studio in the suburbs of Chicago but I’m not here for headshots or portraits—I’m here to take boudoir photos.
My husband and I are set to celebrate 10 years together soon (two of them married) and I struggled to think of what to get him for our big anniversary. I’m a modest dresser, self-conscious about my body—intimate photos were not exactly the most obvious choice. Before our wedding, I’d actually considered doing it—I knew it would both shock and thrill my husband to see his typically demure partner do something so bold—but I got too nervous to go through with it.
To say I struggle with my body image would be an understatement. I have generalized anxiety disorder, which seeps into every aspect of my life, including my appearance. In the past, I’ve weighed myself compulsively, overly focused on the number on the scale. I dieted and exercised excessively before my wedding, and have considered getting breast reduction surgery several times. I spend ample time obsessing over my curly hair being frizzy, my dry skin and scalp being flaky and my stomach being puffy. I have patches of vitiligo (pigment-less skin) under my eyes, and I’m often preoccupied with how they look. But over the two years since my wedding, I’d made significant strides in therapy; as I got a better grip on my anxiety, it translated to every area of my life—including my constant criticism of my body.
Old habits die hard though. In the weeks and days leading up to my boudoir shoot, the body image obsessions continued. I ate a diet low in sodium and high in plants to avoid bloating, cut my calorie intake way down, and did countless conditioning hair masks and moisturizing face masks. I whitened my teeth and had my eyebrows and bikini area waxed, as well as my hair colored and my nails done.
On the day of the photoshoot, it still didn’t feel like enough. I walked into the sun-soaked studio filled with a simple bed with white linens on edge. What was I thinking? But I slowly began to relax thanks to the awesome photographer, her team, and their endless stream of compliments. You have a great butt! That outfit is to die for! Your hair looks amazing! I got so confident in front of the camera that I even had the courage to put on my most risque outfit: a thong-style, black lace teddy. On the drive home, I remember looking at myself in the rearview mirror as I giddily thought, I can’t believe I just did that.
I eagerly awaited the photos over the next few weeks. When they finally came, my first reaction wasn’t, My husband is going to love these. It was: Oh my god. I love these. I didn’t look skinny or flawless, but I didn’t care. I looked healthy and beautiful and, most importantly, happy. I ordered a printed album immediately.
Seeing the photos in print had an even greater impact on me. My thighs look bigger than I’d like them to, my hair is a bit frizzier than I’d hoped for, and my armpit hair stubble shows in a few photos, but I found myself obsessing less over those things when I couldn’t zoom in on every last detail. With a mirror or digital photograph in front of me, it’s easy to home in on my perceived imperfections instead of focusing on my best traits. With a printed photograph, all you get is the big-picture view, and that’s exactly what I needed.
What these photos did, more than anything, is help me accept the bad days—the days when it’s humid and my hair is insanely frizzy, the days when I have a giant cystic pimple, and the days when I’m super bloated.
A couple of months after my boudoir shoot, my husband and I took a scenic hike on the Oregon coast. He snapped a photo of me, clad in clunky hiking boots covered in mud and a baggy zip-up hoodie. My thighs and waist look bulky and ill-defined, and I have a goofy, double-chinned smile. The photo isn’t flattering, but my smile is wide and the scenery is gorgeous.
A few months ago, I would have instantly deleted this photo, so pathological in my quest to wipe it from existence that I would have then quickly proceeded to also remove it from the “Recently Deleted” folder. But I kept this photo. Even though I don’t look my best, it’s a great memory of a wonderful day, and I don’t want to forget it.
In the weeks since I took my boudoir photos, I’ve noticed more and more moments like these. Moments where I could’ve obsessed over my body image, but didn’t. I stopped worrying so much about the number on the scale, and have instead begun to gauge my weight based on how my clothes fit—still not a perfect expression of body positivity, but it’s a start. While in Seattle, a rainstorm came out of nowhere. Instead of running for cover to protect my curls, I continued exploring the city, more focused on the moment itself than how I looked during it.
At almost 30-years-old, I feel more comfortable in my skin than I have in as long as I can remember. My husband and I are going to try to have kids soon, meaning my body will inevitably change. Being more accepting of my body now, I hope, will help me cope with the changes ahead.
What these photos did, more than anything, is help me accept the bad days—the days when it’s humid and my hair is insanely frizzy, the days when I have a giant cystic pimple, and the days when I’m super bloated. It’s easy for me to obsess over these things, and I still do at times. I’m better than I used to be, but I’m still a work in progress. After all, even though I didn’t delete the Oregon hiking photo, I still have to fight cringing every time I look at it.
Now, whenever I find myself obsessing over one of my many imperfections, I take a look at one of my boudoir photos for a little confidence boost. They serve as a reminder that my flaws are just one part of me—they don’t have to define me.
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