To Denise Torres, the idea of a boudoir photoshoot was always just that—an idea. Stripping down in front of a stranger with a camera in the name of sexy photos was an alluring concept, but also one that never budged from the bottom of her bucket list, as a hypothetical intention. She had long struggled with body-image issues, and, she tells me, “women who take photos in lingerie typically aren’t women who look like me…they’re petite, thin, and super-fit.” But when a few health scares proved a powerful reminder of all that her body could do—and how fleeting life can be—Torres took it as a sign to finally commit to the shoot. Though the boudoir photos were intended to be a gift for her boyfriend, the biggest beneficiary, she says, was herself.
For Torres, the real gift of a boudoir shoot was in reclaiming self-confidence and self-love. “The photoshoot opened my eyes to my true self,” says Torres. Typically, she’d look at a photo of herself or see herself in the mirror, and her inner monologue of self-criticism would begin. But when she saw the boudoir pictures, that voice was nowhere to be heard. Instead, she realized what she’d always known, deep-down, to be true: “I was like, ‘Wow, I really am my own worst critic because that woman in the photos? Oh, she’s hot.’”
“It’s actually unbelievably empowering to strip it all away and to take your vulnerability and turn it into power.” —Andreea Burciu-Ballen, boudoir photographer
It wasn’t just the final product that shifted Torres's perspective, either. It was the entire process of shooting the photos—including, yes, getting nearly nude. “A lot of people look down on that and wonder, ‘What could be so empowering about taking off your clothes?’” says boudoir photographer Andreea Burciu-Ballen, who shot Torres’s boudoir photos. “But the thing is, it’s not for the male gaze or for anyone else, necessarily, beyond yourself. And it’s actually unbelievably empowering to strip it all away and to take your vulnerability and turn it into power.”
What actually happens in a boudoir session
Because boudoir is, naturally, an intimate experience, you’ll typically have a consultation with a boudoir photographer well before any camera is whipped out or piece of clothing is shed. And from that conversation onward, the focus is on how the photo session can best dial up your personal sense of self-love, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
“We discuss things like, ‘What do you love about your body, but also what do you want to love more?’” says Burciu-Ballen, “and then we figure out how we might address those things with posing, lighting, outfits, lingerie, whatever it might be.”
She also asks about any physical or emotional limitations that a prospective client might have around taking such intimate photos in order to build trust and reduce the chance of surprises on the day of the shoot. For example, are you uncomfortable putting your body in certain positions, or is there something about the process that you suspect could trigger you? “Allowing people to voice these things in advance helps assure them that this is a safe space and reminds them that the experience is ultimately for them,” says Burciu-Ballen. “Nobody has to know about anything that happens in our session, and no one will see the photos except you, unless you want them to.”
“It’s about embracing who you are and trusting the person on the other end of the camera to capture it.” —Evgenia Ribinik, boudoir photographer
The session itself is then totally customized to whatever will make you feel your most empowered and confident. You get to choose the outfits or lack thereof (going nude or donning just a sheet or other strategically placed props are options, too), as well as the setting (a place you choose or the photographer’s studio), and whether you’ll get hair and makeup done. “Boudoir is not really about how much skin you’re showing or what you’re wearing in the session,” says boudoir photographer Evgenia Ribinik. “It’s about embracing who you are and trusting the person on the other end of the camera to capture it.”
Experienced boudoir photographers will also make that process easier by guiding subjects on how to pose with poise. “I never really know what to do with my face or my body in photos, and I always feel awkward, but in Evgenia’s photos, I look great,” says Maya Tsirulnik, who took boudoir photos with Ribinik both during her second pregnancy and a few years after. “She guides you, saying things like, ‘Put your hand here,’ ‘Turn a little,’ ‘Drop your shoulder,’ and so on, and it just removes the guesswork.”
Burciu-Ballen takes a slightly different approach, calling on visual cues to disarm her clients. “If I’m telling you to close your eyes and give yourself a hug, I’ll also say to imagine tasting the best dessert you’ve ever had or to picture the sun coming down on your skin,” she says. “This way, you can take your mind off of the fact that you’re standing in front of a stranger in lingerie.”
Every boudoir subject with whom I spoke credited these kinds of personalized posing instructions as the number-one thing that helped them to embrace the process, even if it initially felt uncomfortable. “I’m a person who always has my walls up,” says Joanne Schiffres, who took boudoir photos with Burciu-Ballen before having breast reconstruction surgery while recovering from radiation for breast cancer. “I’m always very aware of how I look, how I’m presenting myself, how people are perceiving me—and yet, Andreea was able to get me to relax to the point where it was pure fun, pure joy, pure sensualism. All the walls just melted away, and what was left was just me.”
How a boudoir shoot can enhance self-love, according to boudoir photographers and people who’ve done it
By putting you up close and personal with your own body, boudoir places you in the driver’s seat of your own self-image—not society, not friends and family members, not the inner critic in your head. “While you’re taking pictures, you’re looking at your own body as you’re posing and you’re faced with the reality that certain parts of yourself you might not love are going to show up in the pictures regardless,” says Torres. “So, it’s like, ‘Let me see how I can choose to love that part of me right now, anyway.”
Making that choice is a powerful declaration of self-love and self-confidence, no matter your appearance. “Life’s natural changes, like menopause, can really put a damper on your self-esteem and libido,” says Millie Almonte, who took boudoir photos with Burciu-Ballen to celebrate her 50th birthday. “For me, doing a boudoir shoot was about reviving the sexy, naughty, and elegant side of me that has always been there, but that had been put to rest years ago amid the realities of aging.”
In that way, boudoir is about embracing a certain feeling—a personal brand of sexy to which every woman is entitled at any stage of life. “At 55, the narrative [I've often heard] is that you’re old and you’re not supposed to be sexy anymore, but I actually feel really empowered to embrace that side of myself,” says Amy Menes, who started trying on lingerie and taking her own sexy photos with the goal of regaining her confidence after losing her husband to cancer. Feeling inspired, she decided to dial it up a notch by booking a boudoir session with Ribinik, which left her feeling even more confident in her own skin.
The additional beauty of the professional boudoir session, Menes says, is that Ribinik captured the best version of her—lighting, posing, and all—no filters required. The resulting boudoir photos then become the icing on the self-love cake, says Ribinik. “Even after such a powerful experience, plenty of women will be worried about seeing the images because there’s still this tendency to think, ‘I’m not worthy’ or ‘I’m not good enough,’” she says, “and then as soon as they see them, they’re like ‘Oh my gosh, this is me, and I’m beautiful. I can finally see me how my partner sees me or how my loved ones see me.’”
Embracing your inherent beauty, inside and out, then has a powerful ripple effect: “You start to accept or embrace the things you once perceived as flaws and understand that you are enough as you are,” says Burciu-Ballen. “You are enough beautiful, you are enough sexy, you are enough confident to go after whatever it is you want in this world.”
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