A bag the size of a bread box, and lighter than a single loaf, held all of the clothes I planned to wear for the photo shoot: lace boyshorts, a crop top, and a whisper-thin bodysuit with cut-outs that made it difficult to know what limb went where. I was sweating, despite the chill in the air, as I carried this bag to the front door of a stranger’s house in subdivision-dotted Loganville.
I was greeted by a woman with hippie curls and bellbottoms. This was Joni Hendricks, who with her husband, John, co-owns Edge Boudoir, a photography business that focuses on sexy shots with sensual styling touches. Think warm lights, fluffy rugs, bordello-red fainting couches, and gauzy sheets strategically placed to create an effect that’s tantalizing, not trashy.
I’m not a model. I’m a five-foot-two-inch, 47-year-old working mother. So why did I decide to be photographed half-naked by people I’d just met, in their home, in the light of day?
Formerly the domain of Marilyn Monroe and lithe 20-somethings seeking to surprise their partners with sexy images, boudoir—a word that means “private room” and a form of photography that originated in the 1920s—now draws a wider cross-section of women who are seeking more than just sultry shots that satisfy men. They are seeking empowerment.
Bombarded by reshaped and retouched images that tell us our natural corporeal forms are just not good enough, many women are looking for ways to celebrate their bodies and rewrite the negative messages in their heads. Boudoir photography can do just that.
Over the years I have struggled to love my body, despite all that it has done for me: competing in collegiate sports, getting through low-dose chemotherapy, birthing two healthy baby boys, coaching fitness classes. I’ve beat myself up with heavy HIIT classes, half-marathons, and all-night endurance events. I broke down when the gyms closed during the pandemic. Only recently have I learned to be a bit gentler with myself, letting healthy food play a bigger role in body composition, letting go of some control. All of that, plus avoiding poisonous images of celebrities with Barbie-like proportions, has helped me turn a kinder eye toward myself.
But I’ve always been more on the “cute” end of the attractiveness spectrum and have secretly longed to feel more like a smoke show. So I decided to book the boudoir shoot.
I followed Joni into a bedroom, where makeup artist Emma Rumps glammed me up. Then they left me alone to finish dressing in the lace bodysuit. I fumbled to tape it to my cleavage so there’d be no wardrobe malfunctions on set. One of my fake nails popped off. Lipstick got on my teeth.
When I stepped out in the nearly see-through lingerie and rose-gold pumps, I felt more than just physically exposed—I felt my insecurities bubble up. But Joni and John quickly set me at ease, not by cooing at my outfit, but by turning this into an efficient exercise.
Never did they ask me to “make love to the camera.” They just issued gentle commands: “Lift your chin, point your toe.” This was much appreciated; I was so focused on what to do with my body, I didn’t think about the fact that so much of it was showing. (It was actually kind of tiring. I felt my bones creak as I came out of a kneeling pose, and I had to refuse a cross-legged shot not only because it would have been obscene, but also because I can no longer sit cross-legged.).
When it came time to put on my second look, I didn’t feel at all self-conscious standing around in underwear and kneesocks, chatting while they changed the lighting scheme.
It took only a few days for Edge Boudoir to send me the proofs. I worried about how the photos would look. I’ll admit I’ve gone off the rails after seeing an unflattering picture. Would these photos amplify the mean little voices inside my head?
The answer? Hell no. The photos were divine. John hadn’t Facetuned me into someone else. There may have been soft lighting and light touch-ups involved, but the person in the pictures was me. And the shoot did exactly what I’d hoped. It made me feel powerful, and helped me to see who I really am: strong, feminine, worthy of self-love, and—dare I say?—sexy. Now, where to hang this photo of my backside . . .