Apparently, the number of one-night stands you’ve had is actually not directly correlated to how comfortable you are taking your clothes off in the presence of a stranger. You’d think they’d be related, but they aren’t.
When I think about doing a boudoir-style photo shoot for the two years leading up to it, I don’t think, “Will I feel comfortable doing this?” I mean, of course I’ll feel comfortable doing this. Feeling comfortable is exactly why I want to do it. My body and I have a relationship like the man and woman who are enemies at the beginning of a romantic comedy. For whatever reason, we just didn’t get along for much of my life. And then I started to resent it; I blamed it for everything I didn’t like about my life and punished it accordingly. But eventually, I started to see it in a different light, and before I knew it, I was deeply in love, treating it well and then downright romanicing it. Cue the end credits! And the photo shoot!
I don’t have much time to think about my impending nudity during the week leading up to the photo shoot. I’m so busy with work, writing assignments, yoga, household chores, and puppies, getting naked is the last thing on my mind. Finally on Thursday I realize I need to get it together, that I need to clean up my apartment if I’m going to have a guest, and, oh…I should probably do something about these cuticles too, huh? So I put a little brainpower into my looks, scheduling an eyebrow appointment and a hair appointment, but really, I’m more concerned with the state of my apartment. I’m sure a lot of people would spend the week leading up to this type of photo shoot getting their hair colored or getting a bikini wax or something, but rather than worry about that, I worry about my literal carpet and drapes — and bathrooms, sheets, dishes, and laundry. Not only am I playing hostess to my friend and photographer Caitlin, but she’s shooting me at my apartment, in my guest bedroom. My apartment actually needs to look camera-ready. So I’m more worried about that than myself. I avoid pizza and beer and go to yoga as usual, but other than that, I pay very little attention to my body. When I do think about it, I just decide it’s probably too late to make any changes. My biceps are as good as they are going to get, but I can’t say the same about my bathroom. So I put my efforts there.
When I wake up on Saturday morning, it is very dark. I exfoliate, slather on body oil, and put on some lacy underwear and a robe before doing my hair and make-up more carefully than I normally would. By the time I’m ready to make breakfast at 7:30, I look a bit overdressed. Well, underdressed, I suppose. But you know — more glamorous than I think I’ve ever looked for breakfast in my entire life. As Eric and I move around the kitchen warming up a loaf of chocolate cranberry bread and making bacon, I wonder what it would be like if I always looked like this when I was making breakfast. Then I consider that if I always looked like this at 7:30 AM, I probably wouldn’t be making my own breakfast. I’d be way too high-maintenance for that.
As Eric, Caitlin, and I eat breakfast, it is hard to ignore how dark it still is outside. The sky is lightening, but it is not exactly brightening. The ground is wet and there were a lot of clouds. I don’t really think much of it — it’s not like we are all up this early because we were going on a picnic — but Caitlin is looking at the clouds like a photographer. And she is saying that we can’t shoot while it is that dark.
It hasn’t occurred to me that bad weather might throw off this whole thing, but suddenly, it’s looking like I’m all dressed up with no place to go. So…we wait. Eric heads to spin class. We wait. Eric returns home from spin, showers, and heads to a golf lesson. I wish he were staying, if only because I know he’d make me laugh during the shoot, and laughing is always good.
Everyone I’ve told about this shoot immediately asks me if I’m doing it as a surprise for Eric, and the answer is no. My boyfriend loves and appreciates my body and will appreciate the pictures, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just…different for him. He doesn’t know my body like I do. He doesn’t have a long relationship with it like I do. When I think about doing this for him, it makes me think that I would have to deny him all other times so he’d be really excited because he never gets to see me like this. And I’m not the denying type. The truth is, how Caitlin is shooting me is exactly how Eric seems me on a regular basis — happy, sexy, half-naked in the early morning light. He doesn’t need pictures. And also, I’ve always been confused about the expectations when you give a man a photo album of sexy shots of you. What is he to do with it? I feel like there’s some sort of implied, “Sooooo….I better not ever catch you looking at porn agin. Happy birthday, honey!”
We’ve been waiting for a few hours now; I do laundry and start to consider the fact that this might not happen. Much to my surprise, I’m not that upset. Hm. Well that’s weird. I thought I’d be a bit more excited than this.
When there is a subtle shift in the light, I don’t notice it, but Caitlin does, and she tells me we’re good to go. And then suddenly, I start stalling like I’ve never stalled for anything before.
I tell her I’m just going to touch up my hair and make-up, but then I realize I need to collect all the outfit changes that I might need. And oh, this shirt needs to be ironed. And I need water. And I think the dogs need to go out. And my hair just will not do what I want it to do. And I think I need some powder on my face. And where is my lip gloss? And let me just put on some music. And on and on and on. As I look in the mirror for the thousandth time, I realize…I’m stalling. That’s not really my style; usually I decide to do something and then just do it.
“You’re afraid to drop your robe, now?” my glamorous, made-up self asks me. All the lip gloss accentuates the scowl on her face. “Really? Because I’m fairly certain that you have never, ever given it this much thought when someone you had met only once before was telling you to take off your clothes and come lie down.”
“Fine,” I say, and start heading toward the bedroom. Then I stop.
“My hair doesn’t look right,” I tell her, and I plug the curling iron back in.
“STOP TOUCHING IT!” she screams at me. She narrows her eyes at me so I can see her lovely, smoky eye shadow. “It looks fine but you keep playing with it like you’re a teenage girl. Who the hell does that? When have you ever done that? Are you trying to be like…flirty? Are you practicing for the shoot? Because you look like an idiot.”
We go back and forth like this for another 10 minutes before she finally drags me out of the bathroom.
I take off my robe. For the first photos, I am wearing a thin pink ribbed tank top and black lace bottoms. You can see my nipples and my ass cheeks. It’s one of my favorite things to wear when I’m relaxing. I typically have no problems feeling sexy and comfortable when I’m dressed like this. But now? Now I walk over to the bed and assume a position that seems more appropriate for senior pictures than for this type of photo shoot, especially since I have the pasted-on fake smile to match it. Shouldn’t there be a “CLASS OF ’12” pillow on this bed or something? I imagine getting the finished photos printed as wallets; I’ll write my name on the back in big cursive letters and hand them out to all my friends.
Caitlin starts shooting and I’m still unrelaxed. I tell her that some people had recommended I have a drink first, and I figured I didn’t need one. Now I’m wishing I had one, though I know I’d turn making a drink into a 30 minute ordeal, so I decide to skip it.
Caitlin tells me to do whatever I want, that her best shots are the candid ones, but we all know “act natural” is an oxymoron. I have no idea what to do. I try smiling, but I can only imagine how my toothy, oh-this-makes-sense-in-a-snapshot-when-I’m-wearing-clothes grin will look when I’m sticking my ass out like I am at the moment. It just feels so cheesy. Should I try to act sexy? I honestly have no idea how to even do that. When models make their sexy faces, they aren’t smiling. But when I don’t smile in pictures, I don’t look sexy. I actually look my worst.
So to take the focus off my face, which doesn’t know what the hell it wants to do, I ask Caitlin to take more close-ups of my body. That was really the point of the shoot anyway. I wanted shots of my thighs, arms, tummy, back, butt…pretty much all the areas women are always complaining about. Yes, please take high-res photos of all my so-called “problem areas.” I want to be able to remind myself forever that they really aren’t problematic at all.
As I take off my shirt and move onto my stomach so Caitlin can get pictures of my tattoo, the last big thing I did to celebrate feeling happy and confident and secure with my body, I wonder if I need to acknowledge my semi-nudity. Like “Hey…nipples are incoming!” I mean, she has to know this is part of the gig, but I am her first boudoir shoot, and we are friends. I don’t really care if my friends see my nipples, but I’ve noticed other women seem to care a lot. Many times, other women turn their backs when changing so as not to expose their chests. Why is this? I always think, “Why are you so willing to go off and hook up with random frat guys but you turn your back on a girl friend when changing?” So I do the same thing, figuring if they don’t want me to see their naked body parts, they probably don’t want to see mine. I figure it’s time to break that habit so I don’t make much effort to cover my naked chest as I shift around.
Once my face is out of the picture, I’m free to talk as much as I want. I start asking Caitlin about her life and very quickly, we are chatting. And that actually has a better effect on me than a drink ever could. I don’t feel sexy when I’m posing or smiling or making “sexy” faces…I feel sexy when I’m talking and laughing and engaging with other people. When I’m not thinking about feeling sexy. With every minute that passes that we talk, I feel more like myself. By the time she’s ready to shoot my face again, my face is ready too. I’m sure she’ll have to toss many of the pictures because I’m mid-sentence in them, but that’s why I’m not a model. Looking back on one-night stands or other times when I’ve been fine with people seeing my naked parts, I realize that I probably was talking the entire time leading up to it.
Today’s lesson: once I’m being heard, I feel sexy, and so then I feel comfortable being seen.