The first time I posed in my bra and panties I giggled at the absurdity of standing nearly naked in front of a stranger who was taking my photo. The second time, I felt incredibly comfortable and confident wearing lingerie, even though my body was a wreck. The third and most recent time, I felt more nervous than either of the previous times – maybe it was because I had more time to think about it or maybe it was because it was the final time I would be posing like this.
In fact, this was series of images I envisioned two years ago when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
I’m a pretty conservative gal. I’m not shaped like a model, and I don’t usually wear fancy, lacy lingerie. And, of course, I never thought I’d EVER pose for boudoir photos (let alone write about it!). But right after my diagnosis, I wanted to find a way to commemorate my breast cancer journey and my body’s physical changes.
I came up with the idea of celebrating my body through a series of photos over the course of my treatments. Basically, I wanted images of my body before, during and after The Cancer. I wanted something I could look at in the future and think, “Cancer was a low point in my life, but dang, I rocked it!” I wanted something that would make me feel good about myself, and my body, no matter what.
I did my first photo shoot one week after I started chemo.
I hadn’t experienced any side effects yet – I wasn’t tired, I hadn’t lost my hair, and I felt pretty good. It felt a little weird, standing in front of a photographer like this, but these photos would be the foundation for the other photo shoots.
The photographer I chose included professional makeup and hair, so the first hour or so, I was treated to a makeover. I didn’t want the makeup to make me look different or cover up who I am – that wasn’t the point of these photos – I just wanted to enhance my features. With the photographer and makeup artist, we examined the “clothes” I brought for the shoot. Since this was my first time and I didn’t have a lot of prep time (I really wanted the photos done before chemo side effects took hold so I had about 30 hours from booking to the shoot), I didn’t know what to expect, so I brought several things from home. We settled on three looks: a bustier, a cute bra and panty set, and just panties with a turquoise scarf draped over my breasts.
To my amazement, the photographer made me feel incredibly comfortable. She gently guided me through poses, telling me how to hold my hands, how to elongate my legs, and what to do with my eyes. Her excitement came through her voice and words of encouragement when the camera captured an hourglass shape or a sexy look. I was amazed that I didn’t feel self-conscious AT ALL. She showed me a few of the images on her camera, and hot diggity, it was better than I imagined!
The second shoot took place after chemo, after my first surgery, and during radiation.
My hair started to grow back, but I still didn’t have eyebrows or eyelashes. My breasts were completely different shapes and sizes. And radiation left me with burns under my arm and on my right breast. I was tired, and I thought I looked awful.
We went through the same process of sorting through my clothes to pick out two different looks. The makeup artist took calculated efforts to emphasize my eyes, playing up their shape and framing them with thick fake lashes. She highlighted areas of my face to make me look more awake and almost glowy.
Again, the images blew me away. Even with the physical aspects that should have made me uncomfortable, I felt beautiful. My body might have not been perfect by society’s standards, but it was mine. And it was STRONG.
Recently, I completed the series with a shoot to commemorate the end of my treatments – and being cancer-free. This time, I spent more time preparing and shopping for different looks. We chose three outfits, all completely different than what we had done before. This was my celebration of my “new” body.
My body still isn’t a size 2. It doesn’t necessarily move or bend the way I want it to. It creaks and groans in weird places and my sense of balance (especially in heels) sucks. But from this experience, I learned I can feel good, and I can feel pretty, no matter what.
It’s MY body: a body that carried two healthy babies to term, a body that has served me well for 40+ years, a body that fought cancer and WON. It’s mine, scars and all.
Boudoir photos helped me accept the changes I saw in myself over the last two years. These photos empowered me. Made me feel amazing. Made me comfortable in my own skin.
Here are a few things I learned from my experience to help anyone thinking of having photos done:
- Find the right photographer for your vision. For me, these photos were FOR me, not my husband or a lover or anyone else. Me. I wanted sexy, but not sex-ayyy. I wanted the focus to be on my breasts and I wanted a feminine feel to the images.
- Give yourself over to the professional and get lost in the experience. You’re paying for this, listen to the photographer’s advice and take it. Embrace the experience. Don’t think about a little jiggle there or how your belly looks – the photographer knows his/her stuff. And they will make you look good. TRUST them!
- Have fun with it! Boudoir photos let you enjoy YOU. It’s something completely about you, not the kids or the family or your job. YOU. Buy that super fancy bra you’ve been eyeing, not that practical everyday one – that lacy number with the strappy things. Do it for you. You deserve it. You deserve to feel pretty. Because you ARE pretty.
I want to give a shout out to Jennifer Brindley Ubl of Boudoir Milwaukee and Theresa Balistreri of Clean Modern Pretty Makeup for being part of this journey and making me feel so darned pretty, and awesome, and fierce.