Updated: Dec 20, 2018
“Why do you do boudoir photography? It’s so degrading to women.”
The question above was received in the email inbox of a fellow boudoir photographer. The email came to her not from some random stranger, but from a personal friend. It’s not the first time I’ve heard or read someone questioning what we do in this manner, and I know it won’t be the last. But to me, it is crazy talk. Especially when I regularly receive emails like this from my clients:
“I really should be sending you a thank you. There’s more than just great pictures and good make up and hair that you are offering. You gave me the insight into my beauty, you brought out features I would never know existed if it wasn’t for your natural skill. I am glad you followed your heart and your gut to get involved with your inner calling and talent. I will be telling everyone about your talent but also about the great difference it made to my inner confidence. Its transformed how I feel about myself and I know it effects my work performance and happiness in general. I’m already thinking of another 140 shots! Lol I think this should be done at least once a month!”
The woman who sent me the email above is in her fifties, and is a PhD-holding professor of business for the past 25 years. She is intelligent, independent, strong, capable, creative, loving, quirky, funny, and amazing. Does having boudoir photos done make her any less of any of those things? Of course not. Does posing in little to no clothing, embracing (and yes, displaying) her sensual self somehow mean we are saying that is ALL there is to her, or that it is the most important aspect of who she is? NO. She has spent decades honoring all the other parts of who she is… Nobody would ever begrudge her displaying her diploma on a wall, talking openly about her career, or using the title “Doctor” in front of her name. So should she somehow feel less proud of her soft, sensual, sexual side? Should her beauty and sexuality be something that is hidden away? Does it demean her accomplishments to also enjoy and be proud of her physical attributes? Are beautiful eyes and a great pair of legs inherently less-virtuous than IQ points? (All are nature-given gifts she did not earn. Yes, she has worked on her mind, filled it with knowledge, just as she has undoubtedly nurtured and cared well for her body to still look so great at 50 plus. But her natural intellect and her genetic bone structure and build are all things she happened by chance to be born with.)
“But, isn’t this objectification?”
How so? When a woman has beautiful, sexy, alluring photos taken for herself, it is a far cry from turning her into a sex “object”. An object is inanimate, and has no control over what is done to it. On the other hand, when a woman chooses to be vulnerable and open – to explore and celebrate and elevate her beauty and sensuality – she is in complete control, and she receives far more benefit than anyone else who may be simply viewing the photos.
“Well, aren’t these women doing this for men?”
Allow me to clear up perhaps the biggest misconception about boudoir photography. (Sorry, but I’m about to break a deep dark secret wide open.) Women very rarely are REALLY doing boudoir photos for men. Oh sure, the man may be named initially as the motivation…because maybe that’s what women think they’re supposed to say…because maybe that alleviates the guilt so many women still feel about spending money or time on something just for themselves…because maybe that’s how it is marketed. But, having been a professional boudoir photographer for more than five years, I can tell you that 99% of the women who have walked through my studio doors have confessed, “Well, I’m giving them to him for his birthday…but I’m really doing this for me.”
That said, even if a woman is doing her photos for a man…SO???? Does being a liberated, independent woman mean that we’re never allowed to do something to make the men in our lives happy? Would it make a MAN less of a man if he does something purely to make his woman happy? Of course not. Honestly, I have had exactly ONE client come to me out of hundreds who initially said she was doing it just for her husband. She seemed a little uncomfortable, and I even questioned her about whether she really wanted to be here, and told her if she didn’t really want to do it, I would refund her retainer and she could just go home, no hard feelings. But she said she wanted to stay, and you know what? By the time her shoot was over and she had seen some of her photos on the back of the camera, her demeanor did a complete 180. She was so happy and thrilled she had done the shoot, because it helped her open up in a way she hadn’t been able to before. And it showed her own beauty to her in a way she had never seen it before.
But I digress. Let’s talk feminism. Or rather, let’s talk feminism’s arch-nemesis: the patriarchal ethos.
Forever and ever, the chief tool of the patriarchy in their primary directive of feminine oppression has been to vilify female sexuality (and nudity, as part of that). To make it something dark and shameful, something to be feared and hidden. Make no mistake about it: purity/modesty culture is merely the flip-side of the rape-culture coin. A woman OWNING her sexuality without shame is the scariest thing to a society which wants to oppress her.
I am well aware that many people will disagree vehemently with me, and will bring up porn and men’s magazine and strip clubs in defense of their positions. First, I do not believe that boudoir photography is, in any way, shape or form, porn. HOWEVER, I also have no problem with porn. (gasp!) It’s not what I choose to produce as an artist or involve myself in personally, but I do believe it has its place and purpose in society, and I’ve even been known to enjoy it with (or even without) my partner from time to time. TMI? Whatever. (said as a woman who has no problem owning my sexuality).
No one, male or female, should be ashamed of their sexuality or their bodies. If you choose to share it, good for you. If you choose to keep it all private, I’m cool with that too. But don’t judge others who feel differently and choose to express themselves differently. It’s pretty damn easy to simply NOT LOOK if you don’t want to see something.
I honestly could go on for days anticipating and answering all the arguments I have heard before on this subject. But I need to go play Easter Bunny right now so my kids wake up to some wonder and magic up in here. So I will leave you with a few more powerful client emails and photos:
This email comes for a single woman, a professional chef, who gave the photos to herself for her 50th birthday:
“Natalie, Thank you seems inadequate for the joy and empowerment my ‘glamour book’ has brought. The session at the studio was fun, free-ing, and healing. I was thrilled with the original proofs and absolutely awed by the finished shots. What started out as a simple gift to myself for my birthday, meant for my eyes only, has become a vehicle for self discovery and growth. Once I received the pictures, I couldn’t resist sharing them. Everyone who has viewed the book has been impressed by the professional, creative photography and all have commented on how you captured the essence of my personality. You can expect many bookings from my friends, and I will be in touch soon to order more copies. Truly you possess a talent that creates blessing for others, and I am honored to know you.”
And this, from a 26 year old mother of two:
“Thank you so much for inspiring me and making me feel beautiful. I will never be able to repay you. My life and my confidence in myself has flourished since I walked out your door. I really do believe that my boudoir experience changed my outlook on not only life, but my image of myself. Your work IS appreciated. You are an inspiration and you’re truly helping people.”
And this one, from the very loving boyfriend of a client who bought the session for her as a birthday gift. (It’s only fair to get the male perspective too):
“Natalie, we just got our book…and Linda looks stunningly beautiful! You are truly an artist. But even more than that, I am so grateful for how great you made her feel. She’s like a new woman – confident and bubbly, and just, well, happy. We can’t thank you enough.”
I ask you... Do the women above sound, or look, in any way, like they have been degraded or reduced to “objects”? Before you answer, remember that we tend to perceive things not as they truly are, but more as we truly are. So if you see objectification and degradation here, perhaps you ought to consider that maybe, just maybe, your perception says more about you than it says about what is really before you on this page.
As for me, I am a feminist. I am a wife and mother, sister, daughter, friend. I am an unapologetic sex goddess. I am an artist, singer, writer, dancer, philosopher. I am a boudoir photographer.