A while ago I decided to do something a little special as a gift to my husband, Omar. I had the grand idea to take boudoir photos and have them compiled into a sexy little book just for him. A spank bank of sorts with me as the star. I was a bit apprehensive because of course in my 30s, after a few kids, I do mourn the twenty-something image of myself. Putting all my glory in some sexy lingerie and baring every dimple, every curve, every carb that I had consumed in front of a camera was a bit daunting, but I leaned on the saying “You regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did do.” Of course I felt sexier several pounds lighter. Of course I think I am more photogenic without the cellulite and stretch marks I’ve acquired over the years, but with my strong love of food and my love-hate relationship with exercise, I doubt things are going to get too much better from here. I know in ten years, I will miss this body I have right now and think myself foolish if I didn’t go through with it. I know this because I am hard on myself. I know this because right now wish I was the kind of fat I thought I was in my twenties.
I poured through the galleries of several local boudoir photographers to find someone whose images matched the look and feel I was going for. There are so many styles out there from ethereal sexy nature woman to bombshell pin ups. The only limit is your imagination. I was lucky enough to find a photographer whose mission, through her photography, is to capture the true beauty of every woman no matter the size or shape. Her name is Cheyenne Gil and she had me at hello. Her goal is to help women feel good about themselves, and let go of the mental struggles they have with not having the idealized model measurements. The gorgeous images of women from svelte to fluffy were exactly what I needed to see to let me know I can do this too. She brought out the beauty and sexiness of every woman featured and celebrated them for everything they are. THIS was what I needed. A photographer who would help me to feel sexy in my own skin, in whatever form it currently exists. She’s beautiful. She’s loves herself. She’s a badass. She takes AMAZING photos and I knew I had to work with her. Just check out this intro from her website:
How can you NOT want to work with this person and her camera lens?! I excitedly booked the session and started looking for outfits. I hunted for 2 months for the perfect things to wear. I took selfies in the lingerie to try to imagine how things would photograph, while discreetly keeping my phone away from my husband lest he see selfies of me in lingerie and get suspicious. A few times he caught me looking at boudoir images or lingerie on my phone.
Peering over my shoulder, “Why are you looking at half naked women?”
“Maybe I want to buy new lingerie to keep the spice alive! You ever think of THAT?!”
I’m pretty sure that my highly defensive reaction had him wondering if I might be a closeted lesbian.
The big day arrived and I felt more nervous than I ever imagined I would. In college I posed nude for an artist and had absolutely no qualms about it so it caught me off guard that I’d suddenly have reservations about lingerie shots that only my husband would see. He sees me naked all the time for crying out loud! A full frontal rendering of all my glory was on display in the Kresge Art Center on Michigan State’s campus for anyone to see, and that didn’t bother me one bit… I take that back. It was a bit awkward when I was looking at the painting on the artist’s opening night and my Art History professor walked up next to me and exclaimed with a little too much enthusiasm how great it was. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t hitting on me, but having my Professor check out an interpretation of my particular unclothed human form in that much detail was a little awkward, but I received extra credit for participating in the arts on campus so whatevs. I also had my college body. That particular shield of youth didn’t allow me to feel any fear.
The day of the photo shoot I found myself feeling anxious, and stressed, and on the verge of a panic attack before I even got to the hair salon. What happened that caused me to become so repressed and uncomfortable with my body and the idea of showing some serious skin? Of course my body isn’t the same as it was before a person came out of it. In my 30s I gain weight ten times faster than ever and lose it 100 times slower. I judge myself with a much more harsh measuring stick these days and I don’t even know when that started. I didn’t even realize how hard I’ve been on myself about my changing body until this day when I would be memorialized as I am and the record will show every mark, dimple, roll and pucker that I have accumulated in my adult life.
I put my anxieties to the back of my mind and forged ahead with getting my hair styled and makeup done before the photo shoot. My hair stylist decided to give me some extra “oomph” and pump up the volume on my hair for a more sultry look. It wasn’t MY hair. Well it was my hair in the sense that it grew out of my scalp but he changed my style. These very were minor changes, but I felt like I was wearing antlers on my head for some reason. He did a great job but I didn’t feel like me.
I headed to the photographer’s studio where I’d get my makeup done and then get to work with Cheyenne. The tiny-faced makeup artist, who seemed to have a perpetual smile slightly imbedded onto her lips, got to work right away. Again, when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see me. I saw a version of me that I wasn’t familiar with. I am not a makeup person. It just isn’t my thing. I think it’s beautiful and I can appreciate and admire job well done, which Tiny-Face delivered, but a face full of makeup that makes me look like a different person makes me feel like an imposter. It can be beautiful, and at the same time I am suffocating under a mask, resisting the urge to claw it off my face.
I couldn’t do it this way. If I was going to feel sexy in my own skin, I needed to feel like my very own self. I needed to own it as me. I didn’t even want to give my husband an altered version of me as a gift. I wanted to give him me, brave and sexy in the way he sees me in those moments where he gives me that look. You know the look. So I borrowed a mirror and mussed around with my hair until it felt more like me. Then I asked Tiny Face to tone down the makeup and just make me look like myself, just camera-ready and polished. I will take the false lashes though. Someone talked me into them for my wedding years ago and they photograph so well! Now, I was ready.
Cheyenne was everything I hoped she would be. Her energy was absolutely contagious. She made me feel so comfortable in my own skin, and there wasn’t even any alcohol! She taught me how to pose and she directed the shoot, managing to be both professional and so much fun. It made me feel like I was hanging out doing a project with an old friend. All apprehension was out the beautiful windows of her airy studio. Whenever she got a great shot she’d get so giddy and show me the image on her camera. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; I looked completely like myself but it was like me with the haze of my own self-doubt and criticism lifted. I looked great! The shoot ended and I left feeling like a million bucks. Both inside and out. I couldn’t wait to get the final images.
Less than two weeks later the files were in my inbox and I was FLOORED. Seeing myself through her lens was one of the most personally uplifting moments of my life. Dammit I looked HOT! Clothes stripped away and replaced with confidence looked fabulous on me! This was a present for Omar and yet, I think I gave myself and even bigger gift. I gave myself the gift of renewed self-confidence. I saw strength in those images. I saw a beauty that came from more than just what I looked like. I saw happiness. I saw a woman who accepted herself that day despite all of the impossible beauty standards that make women feel too fat, too flat chested, too tall, too short, too dark, too light, too old, too EVERYTHING. Moments when I am covered in baby spit up, kids’ jelly fingerprints, and God knows what else the children have put on me, I now know that woman is in there. I know where to find her now when she gets buried in the rubble of work and parenting and housekeeping. Of course Omar absolutely loved the book. It meant so much to him that I would have this created for him. Long after my hair turns gray and I am covered in wrinkles and all of the other hallmarks of age, he will still have these images to look back on. And so will I, when I need a reminder of who’s inside of me.