Lessons From My Boudoir Photo Shoot

by Rachel on January 23, 2012

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.

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 shelby January 23, 2012 at 12:21 pm

I’m glad you got the hang of it, and I’m sure the photos will be fun! (The teaser is beautiful.)

I did a boudoir shoot before my wedding (with my wedding photographer) and never did anything with the photos from it, even though I loved how they came out. I was also like…I make this in to a book? And then give it to my fiance/husband? And then he does…what? I think in retrospect I did it more for me than for him. It was a lot of fun.

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2 Elisabeth January 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm

“Today’s lesson: once I’m being heard, I feel sexy, and so then I feel comfortable being seen.”

YES.YES.YES.

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3 Elisabeth January 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm

And these 2 photos are amazing. I love the lighting.

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4 Jacki January 23, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Very interesting – I like where you went with this and how you got there! I’m rather envious of the boudoir shoot and want to do one of my own so. bad. And that picture of you is adorable!

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5 Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie January 23, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Thank you for this post! I’ve been wanting to try this since I saw a Groupon for a boudoir shoot but I’ve been procrastinating/stalling/hiding… This was just the push I needed to finally sign up. Thanks!

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6 Rachel January 23, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Do it! Do it! Can’t wait to hear how it goes!!

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7 Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie January 24, 2012 at 8:49 am

Just got an estimate and the packages are between $1200 – $4500!!!!!!!!!!

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8 Malorie January 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm

I love the pictures! You look great!

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9 Mel January 23, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Rachel, this post is phenomenally written! I like hearing (seeing?) your voice with this novel undertone. Definitely reeled me in.

Also, it looks like pictures turned out great. I can’t get over the tattoo one – Caitlin did an awesome job with the lighting.

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10 Rachel January 23, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Thanks!! I appreciate that, especially since I feel like you “know” my writing really well. I always feel a little awkward when I slip into my writing voice…especially when I’m writing about awkward things…but I’m trying to use it more often as part of my 2012 goals!

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11 Savannah January 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Gorgeous photos Rachel. now you’ve got me thinking that a boudoir photo shoot will be ther perfect present to myself this year! What a great way to reinforce how beautiful you are to yourself!

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12 Christie F January 23, 2012 at 2:31 pm

LOL I’d love to do a shoot like that, and yeah, I would give it to my husband, but I’d also do it for myself. I also wouldnt care if he whacked off to them or porn, whatever he is in the mood for I guess. It’s his alone time not mine! Why do women get all worked up about that?

But so glad that you were able to relax. It looks like you were having fun.

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13 Rachel January 23, 2012 at 8:10 pm

I actually snorted at this comment.

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14 Melissa January 23, 2012 at 2:52 pm

I love how comfortable you are in your own skin–even if you felt a little uncomfortable with the shoot at first. That’s something I strive for, the ultimate confidence, I think. Your shots are beautiful.

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15 Louise January 23, 2012 at 3:15 pm

LOVED this post! And the photos you have shared are amazing – I especially love the one of your tattoo. I have a sonnet by Shakespeare on my back and I really want to do something similar to capture it.

And btw, your hair looks AMAZING.

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16 Rachel January 23, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Thanks!!!

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17 Jessica @ Stylish Stealthy and Healthy January 23, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Love the shots you have here, so natural and beautiful!
I would like to do a boudoir shot someday, but it’s a long way away. I don’t think I am brave enough or comfortable enough with my body. Not that I don’t like my body, I’m just one of those girls who turns away to change in the locker room and changes 7 times because I think there’s a slight chance my dress might be too short for work. I blame Catholic school.

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18 Erin January 23, 2012 at 4:17 pm

These are stunning!

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19 RAIN January 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Interesting, I like that last thought…once you are being heard you feel sexy.
Food for thought this afternoon thanks!

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20 Sarah January 23, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Rachel, you’re so beautiful and always have been. I’m so glad that you’re happy with your body. I hope this encourages other beautiful women to open their eyes:) Love love love. Thanks for sharing.

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21 Rachel January 23, 2012 at 8:10 pm

That is wonderful comment, especially coming from someone who has known me as long as you have. Thank you.

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22 Sarah Crowder January 23, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Love, love, love everything about this post! Makes me want to do a boudoir photo shoot, too. I’m 8 months pregnant and am fascinated by my body right now. Honestly, I don’t feel sexy but I’m not down on my body either, just amazed at what the human body can do. So maybe a few pictures right now would be nice, and then a sexier photo shoot when I feel like myself again.

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23 Rachel January 23, 2012 at 8:09 pm

I used to work for a maternity photographer and I really recommend having these kind of pictures taken! I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your body go through all that, and for such a higher purpose, but I feel like it’s just the sort of thing you should commemorate with photos! Especially photos taken by a great photographer who can make you feel beautiful and comfortable. I think a lot of women were surprised by how beautiful their pictures turned out!

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24 Heidi Nicole January 23, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Love the photos and the story to go with it! I seriously considered boudoir photos before our wedding but had no idea what to do with the photos once they were done. It just felt weird to make them into a photo album.

All of that being said, I think a boudoir photo shoot would be really interesting and your writing makes me want to put myself out there…if only I can find something to do with the photos!

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25 Deva @ Deva by Definition January 23, 2012 at 8:04 pm

I love the photos and the accompanying narrative. I felt nervous reading it! The photos turned out wonderfully – and yes, I totally understand analyzing the light!

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26 Jen January 23, 2012 at 8:59 pm

This is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read on a blog in a long time. Nice job putting your money (keyboard?) where your mouth regarding your goal of improving content! You’ve also inspired me to do my own shoot someday.

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27 Rachel @ Healthy Chicks January 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm

I love your smile in that picture…it’s so real! How beautiful. Great post, Rachel.

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28 Bridget January 23, 2012 at 9:21 pm

You have inspired me to call up Caitlin and see what she offers here in Austin! I have been thinking about these for a long time (just for me-no one else). It want to see my body in “third person” kind of view so I can see that my hangups are actually inside my head.

This is one of my favorite posts of yours.

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29 Katie Cummings January 23, 2012 at 9:48 pm

What an amazing idea! Way to go! I loved the post!!

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30 Megan January 23, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Great photos, you look beautiful! I wish I could find the confidence to do this!

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31 Christina January 24, 2012 at 8:06 am

I think this is absolutely gorgeous! When I say gorgeous, I want to emphasize the comfort and confidence you have with your body, not just the photos themselves. It’s the attitude behind the photos that is the most beautiful. Now you’ve got me thinking about doing a shoot like this!

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32 Rachel January 24, 2012 at 8:23 am

This comment made me feel a little emotional. Thank you! I was trying to emphasize how important comfort in your own skin is, so I really appreciate that you said that.

And you should absolutely do a shoot like this!

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33 Robyn January 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Thank you so much for this post–I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a boudoir shoot and it was good to hear about your experience. :)

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34 Rebecca January 24, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Today’s lesson: once I’m being heard, I feel sexy, and so then I feel comfortable being seen.

This really resonates with me. Content on blogs is often so shallow, but this is a really thought-provoking, valuable insight, and your description of the process of realization shows how genuine and hard-won it is. A great post.

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35 Rachel January 25, 2012 at 10:24 am

Thank you! I really appreciate the compliment.

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36 [SMASH] January 25, 2012 at 9:33 am

Rachel, this was beautifully written. Really happy that you embraced the experience and just acted like yourself. Confidence is sexy.

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37 Bess January 25, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Loved this post! Thanks for allowing your vulnerability to show through yet also reminding us that sexiness isn’t a trait someone else must bestow on ourselves, but rather a state of mind.

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38 lynne @ lgsmash January 26, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience – I bought a groupon for a boudoir shoot and have been wondering what to expect too. I think it’s probably hard for us non-models to get comfortable right away, like you said, but as soon as we relax and just be cool, the sexy comes out.

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39 Cameo February 12, 2012 at 11:28 am

Love the lesson learned. Well said!

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