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Yes, I Stripped Down For a Photo Shoot—& I’m Glad I Did It

boudoir photo shoot boudoir photo shoot

My Instagram feed is mostly filled with lives that look pretty much like mine. Kids, parenting memes, dinners, maybe someone’s new bedroom design…you know, #momlife. But there’s also this one local photographer I’ve been following for a while. She specializes in boudoir, which means “bedroom” in French. It’s a style of photography that often features a woman partially clothed, or hanging out in some kind of lingerie. The kind of lingerie I haven’t owned in some time.

This photographer’s images are tasteful. Elegant. Powerful. Sensual. Every woman who decides to do one these shoots has her reason. Some get the shots taken as a gift for their partner. Some pose with their partner. Some just want to post a good thirst trap for an ex to stumble upon on social. And others do it purely and unapologetically for themselves.

It was only recently that I started to feel the urge to get in front of the camera. Granted, there’s something about big life transitions that can make you rethink the things you might do. And this has been, if nothing else, a year of massive transitions. I got separated from my husband of almost 10 years and am now settling, ungracefully, into being a single mother to my two young kids. During the last year or so, my body’s been changing, too. I got sad and lost weight, then put it back on. At times I felt like I didn’t know my emotional or physical self anymore.

Once things settled down into a strange but steady new normal, I started thinking about how great it would be if I could just appreciate where I was in my life. I was finally financially independent and supporting myself and my kids, taking care of my home, and feeling healthy and grounded. It all made me appreciate how far I’d come, and, for the first time, I was beginning to understand what self-acceptance could really, truly mean. For me that’d require accepting all the parts of me. My body. My insecurities. Even the deep heartbreaks that got me here.

Trying a boudoir photo shoot — something I’d never done, something that emphasized self-love — felt fitting. Of course my fear was that I’d be ridiculously nervous, maybe even too nervous for the photographer to capture any decent shots. But I realized everyone probably feels like that. I felt I owed it to myself to push my fears aside. After all, I’d gotten pretty good at that lately. I contacted the photographer and we set a date.

The night before the shoot, I picked out a few outfits. The photographer had said to pick clothes that made me feel sexy but comfortable in my skin. So I settled on a gold bodysuit that I’d purchased months ago but never had the gall to wear, with cut-off black overalls, and, for my second outfit, a bralette with black underwear.  

The next morning, I walked across the street to a neighbor’s apartment. I’d asked to borrow it for an hour because it wasn’t filled with dog hair and toys, like my own home. The photographer checked in with me about my nerves and asked how sexed up I wanted my pictures to look on a scale of one to 10. “Five, I think,” I replied. Then added, “Maybe we could push a few to six.” She smiled and nodded supportively at that. Then, the session began. She told me exactly what to do, like how to move my arm, how to arch my back or to “breathe through my mouth.” Her gentle instructions made things easy. I could follow her direction without having to feel like I also had to choreograph anything.

While at first I was overwhelmed by nerves, by the end of the shoot I was surprised by how comfortable I felt. I was actually having fun. I didn’t feel judged, or like I had to hide or cover up. I let it all hang out, even more than I expected, and it was insanely freeing. It was exactly what I had hoped for– to push myself out of my comfort zone by doing something completely out of character.

Here are 7 reasons every mom should try a boudoir photo shoot at least once:

1) To celebrate how far you’ve come.

I thought I’d feel liberated once I finally acknowledged my marriage was over. I’d be free to reinvest in so many aspects of my life! But then it all came crashing down. The transition was immensely more difficult than I thought. The financials. The solo-parenting. The dating disasters. All of it. The past year of my life was a really messy chapter. But now I can see that all those challenges strengthened me and prepared me for the next phase. A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined I’d be supporting myself, taking good care of my kids, finding time to date, or stripping half-naked in front of a camera. But it all happened. I made it happen.

2) To practice silencing your inner critic.

For a brief moment, before we began snapping away, my inner-critic was right in my ear. “What if I’m not good enough?” But then I had another thought: My vulnerabilities — and that non-professional-model, honest energy — was what brought me to be standing in the kitchen in a gold bodysuit in the first place. I actually didn’t have to bother hiding my nerves or my leg dimples. Being myself was all I had to do. Sounds simple, but it’s remarkably hard to truly believe. Getting over the fear of being flawed was a powerful lesson in that moment, and one I’m learning in just about every aspect of my life right now. So I practiced rolling my eyes at that inner critic and just following the supportive voice coming from behind the camera.

3) To embrace your sexuality.

It’s safe to say that I’m only now discovering that I’m still a sexual being. I’ll take most of the blame for the sex slowly tip-toeing out of my marriage, because the truth is, I let it. I was breastfeeding, or I was tired, or, more often than not, irritated with my husband for a thousand and one things. I’m not sure it would’ve saved the relationship altogether if I’d made a consistent effort to keep up the sex because there were a lot of issues that contributed to the attraction between us fading. Mutually. But I will say that seeing myself as a sexual person now absolutely makes me feel like a more complete, happier, healthier human being. It’s not always easy to feel that way as a parent, and making concerted efforts to tune into your sexual side, like putting on a lacy-back bra and black underwear and sprawling out on the couch while the camera goes click, click, click, can be good for the soul. You never know.

4) Because overcoming fears is energizing.

I’m not gonna lie, the night before the shoot, I was up tossing and turning and considering calling the whole thing off. Then, the next morning, I paced, obsessively, for about a solid half hour before the photographer arrived. But I was proud that I did it anyway. There was a fear and I got past it. Are there people who are more comfortable posing naked than me? 100 percent. Still, the experience ended up not being nearly as scary as I’d imagined. Partly, it was a testament to my photographer’s professionalism. She was easygoing and told me exactly what to do so I wasn’t flailing my arms around and making bugged-out eyes at the camera. But I never expected that by the end, I’d be having fun with it, coming up with my own ideas for poses or props (like a blue blazer that happened to be laying out). Jumping headlong into my fear felt amazing.

5) Because the pictures won’t look anything like you predict.

As soon as my shoot ended, my photographer let me peek briefly over her shoulder and get a glimpse of the pictures on her camera. They were perfectly lit and looked nothing like I’d imagined. I mean, they still looked like me, but more like… ultimate me: my skin glowing, my curls falling all around my face, and my curves highlighted in just the right way. “These looked way different in my head!” I laughed, in total awe of how they turned out. Now I can’t wait to get my hands on the final versions once they’re ready.

It’s nice to get your mind blown once in a while.

6) To have photos of yourself.

Honestly, how many RECENT pictures of yourself do you actually have? If you’re like me, not all that many. Like most moms, I’m always snapping pictures of my kids. Once in a while, I find my way into a shot, like the other day when my son took a 9-minute video of my feet while I did dishes. But there are literally no other professional pictures of me that exist in this world. For that reason alone, these photos feel like a gift. I’m not sure what I’ll do with them. Probably look at them when I’m getting my period and feeling bloated, tbh. Maybe share one or two on social media because if I share pics of me in sweaty workout clothes then why not a few boudoir shots as well? Either way, it was worth it.

7) Because it’s uniquely for you and no one else.

And if these photos end up in a box under my bed, never to be seen by another set of human eyes? Well, I’m OK with that. In my case, the photos weren’t done for anyone; there were no expectations beyond the fact that I was having this experience for myself. It’s nice to let go of expectations sometimes.

Chances are, you don’t do things that are uniquely for you very often. I know I don’t. And here’s the thing: Whether it’s an empowering photo shoot or something else you’re considering, I’m here to say do it, it’s worth the time and effort. The pictures themselves are something I’ll have forever. And the experience? It was a reminder to do more for myself, whether it’s to make a beautiful lunch, take myself to a movie, or just find a reason to feel good. It’s a lesson I won’t soon forget, either.



Sarah is a freelance writer and mother of two based in Baltimore, Maryland. She's contributed to Vice, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, multiple anthologies, and more. She's working on a book about motherhood, marriage, mental health and more. Keep up with her work on Facebook.