Photo: Sara McConnell
I’m sitting naked on a chair, tilting my head back to stare at the ceiling of the studio. The photographer asks for more “arch” in my back, but any further and I’ll be arching right out of the chair. I forgot the music. I was supposed to bring a catchy playlist—songs to put me at ease while stripping down to my birthday suit. Instead, I listen to my own thoughts, asking myself whose bright idea it was to do a boudoir session.
I’ve always tried to model a healthy body image. That’s not to say I don’t have my fair share of body hang-ups—my sagging boobs, cottage-cheese ass cheeks and wrinkly belly, to name a few. I don’t discuss these things in front of my kids, and I try to make “wellness” my goal instead of a specific weight. I eat everything in moderation, I try to do something physical every day, and I don’t own a scale. But in more private moments, I’ll admit to some full-throttle body hatred—or maybe I should say self-hatred. Under all that loathing over a sagging belly and thunder thighs is a whole lot of fear—fear that I will not be accepted, fear that I am unlovable, fear that I am not “enough.”
This self-criticism runs like a broken record through my head and, all too often, interferes with my marriage. Every time my husband looks at me with deep-hooded eyes, I want to run screaming from the room. Instead, I ask him to turn out the lights so that I don’t have to see myself. My loud-mouthed inner critic is a total mood killer.
So when an ad for a local photographer doing boudoir sessions pops up in my newsfeed, I feel a flicker of interest. “Are you ready to get in touch with your beautiful and confident self?” the ad asks. I could do that, I think. I could be sexy! Could I?
The truth is, I don’t remember the last time I felt sexy. Maybe it was my 20s, when teenage insecurity gave way to bold self-expression. As I entered my 30s with two young kids, that confident person was replaced by a high-strung mom, trying to juggle child rearing, financial woes and a career.
I start to think about the boudoir session as a search-and-rescue mission—a way to find and reclaim my former self and celebrate who I am right now. I can picture the missing person’s ad: “Have you seen this woman?” And there I am, clad in lace and sprawled over a sheepskin rug.
I penny-pinch and sweat over the budget for two months—cutting out coffee and wine helps—and find $500 to invest in a two-hour session: one hour of professional hair and makeup and one hour in the studio. I spend way too much money buying new lingerie from a twentysomething salesperson, who seems confused when I ask “How much discharge will these panties really hold?”
“But what are you going to do with the photos?” a skeptical and highly practical friend asks.
“I’m going to keep them,” I say. “When I’m 80 years old, I can take them out and show my grandkids just how hot I really was!” I sound defiant, like a rebellious teenager telling her parents to stick it. But in all honesty, I’m nervous. I’m worried that I’m about to drop a whole load of cash on a fruitless journey into self-discovery. What if I don’t get my sexy back? The day arrives, and my stomach does flip-flops.
I arrive at the studio, which is bright and airy, with white curtains hanging down around a mattress on the floor. In contrast to the bawdiness I associate with “boudoir,” this seems more like a bedroom where I’d be happy to take a long nap. I’m ushered into the studio, still fully clothed, clutching my bag of outfit choices—two bra-and-panty sets, a burlesque-style garter belt and corset, and a simple white tank top and boy-short panties—like a security blanket.
The photographer is super-professional, and she moves me through the shots with speed and skill. She knows my hang-ups but doesn’t let me hide anything. “That’s what photo editing is for,” she says, winking. For a whole hour, I twist my body into strange contortions, trying my best not to slouch, add extra rolls or fall off the chair.
I feel a bit shy and awkward at first (trying to make sure that both nipples are covered by one arm is more challenging than you might think), but then suddenly I’m channelling my inner sexpot. I feel bold and—dare I say?—sexy, and that feeling doesn’t end once the shoot is over. That night, my husband and I hit the town on a date, wearing high heels and a killer red dress.
The following week, I get the images and the fun continues as I scroll through the shots. “Can you just edit out the cellulite on my ass?” I ask the photographer. She obliges. My favourite shot doesn’t even involve nudity—I’m wearing a plain white tank top. My smile is real and natural. This is one shot that I can share on Facebook.
Some of the edited and retouched photos now grace the wall of my husband’s workshop in a pin-up calendar I gave him for Valentine’s Day (we’ve been celebrating ever since). The rest of the photos are saved in a file folder on my computer, and I love looking at them whenever our sex life takes a back seat to the realities of parenthood.
These sexy photos haven’t motivated me to join the gym—my belly is still flabby and wrinkly. On some days, my body image isn’t a positive one, and I still feel insecure about my muffin top and saggy boobs. But I’ve seen a subtle shift in my thinking about my body and sex. Where I may have avoided sex in the past because I felt “ugly,” I now ask myself “So what?” I may feel ugly, but my husband certainly doesn’t see me that way. It’s my inner critic doing the talking, and that person just needs to shut up and leave the room because this is not a threesome.
After kids, keeping that flame of passion burning isn’t easy, and it certainly doesn’t have to cost you $500. But for me, it was worth every penny. Sexy bras have made a comeback in my drawers and, although you’ll never catch me wearing lacy panties on a regular basis (because itchy), I’ll happily throw them on right before we jump in the sack.
The lamp stays on, but I’ve turned out the lights on my inner critic.