Culture 15 February 2018
After conducting my first ever boudoir photography shoot, I knew I had discovered a medium I was truly passionate about. Boudoir allows women to step outside of their comfort zones through self-expression and embrace their unique beauty.
When I picked up my camera a few years ago, I sought out to explore the art of emotive portraiture. I wanted to tell women's stories through photography while at the same time providing them with an unforgettable experience. I'll never forget my first client because our session was full of laughter, self-discovery, and a feeling of empowerment. Since then, I knew I wanted to spread the message of self-love and encourage women everywhere to feel confident and radiant in their own skin.
That initial experience with boudoir led me to develop my portfolio, set up a studio space, spread the message of self-love, and launch VS Photography. VS Photography is a beauty and boudoir studio based in Boston. Whether commemorating a wedding, an anniversary, or a special milestone in your life, an intimate portrait shoot is the perfect way to celebrate yourself and create a memory that will last forever.
Boudoir Photography For Women
Boudoir photography is a rising movement, as it enables women of all backgrounds and body types to embrace their unique figure and feel confident in their own skin, let their guard down, and capture a moment in their lives that they can remember forever.
Portrait photography is art through storytelling. Every image captures an individual at a specific place in time and is a testament to the subject's experience in that moment. A more intimate interpretation of traditional portrait photography, boudoir photography celebrates the art of being a woman through honoring the different stages of her life. More than a trend and more than just pictures of women in lingerie, boudoir is an uplifting, empowering experience.
An Empowering Experience
Why is boudoir empowering for women? It's a medium that confronts the issue of body image in relation to beauty head on.
Unsurprisingly, body image issues affect a large pool of women. The kind of imagery that surrounds women each day--whether it be through various media channels, social networks, or pop culture and its references--can make us question our own beauty and self-worth. Comparing ourselves to others or wishing to change our bodies in order to live up to impossible beauty standards does not lead to happiness. Rather, this kind of negative thinking discourages self-love.
A healthy relationship with our bodies comes from accepting and loving all of our imperfections. Imperfections, after all, are beautiful. As a photographer, and more importantly, as a woman, I aim to conquer insecurity and self-esteem issues through art. That's precisely why boudoir photography has the power to uplift. It's more than a photo-shoot, it's an experience.
The most rewarding part of being a boudoir photographer is the opportunity to reverse body issue rhetoric and encourage women to feel confident, sexy, and comfortable in their own skin. Whether the women who walk through my doors are shy, nervous, or believe they're not ready or in the ideal shape to pull off a boudoir photography shoot, I'm there to reassure them that the present moment is the perfect time to embrace their beauty in a bold way.
Therefore boudoir photography isn't empowering simply because it requires someone to step outside of their comfort zone and in front of the camera--in lingerie no less! It's an empowering experience because of the journey required to reach a place a self-love and body positivity.
Body Positive Media
Because boudoir photography is all about empowerment and self-confidence, it challenges the stigma of traditional media's portrayal of women, women in lingerie, and yes, female nudity.
Advertisements and popular media outlets contribute to the superficial standards of what women should or should not look like through imagery that objectifies the individual. Overly photoshopped imagery, a lack of body diversity, and highly sexualized advertising campaigns are all key factors here. Therefore, it's easy to feel discouraged or misrepresented by the media.
How do we challenge such objectification? We embrace body-positive media. And I see boudoir photography as an extension of the movement.
I aim to support body-positive media through boudoir photography in a number of ways. First, though I edit my photos for consistency and style, I don't alter my client's body shape. Flattering angles and lighting? Yes. But photoshopping my client into something they're not? That practice goes against what I preach, which is to embrace what makes you uniquely beautiful.
Second, I encourage my clients to give boudoir photography a try no matter what stage of life they currently find themselves in. Brides-to-be, mothers, those commemorating a milestone event, or those who simply want to celebrate themselves for no reason at all are welcome.
Third, I also similarly encourage my clients to give boudoir photography a try no matter what stage their body is in physically. So many clients tell me how much they would love to do a session, but that they have to wait until they lose weight, get in shape, gain more confidence, etc. I want my clients (and women everywhere) to see themselves as beautiful in the present moment.
Wishing we looked a certain way or striving to live up to some unattainable ideal won't lead to happiness. We should love and respect all the parts of ourselves at all times in order to truly be happy.
This is precisely why I'm pleased to see that body-positive media is starting to become more and more relevant. Laws against photoshopping models in advertising campaigns, a call for more diversity in the fashion world, influencers posting more authentic versions of themselves onto popular social network channels, body-positive communities, and yes boudoir photography, are all significant strides towards more authentic media. As women of all backgrounds, shapes, and sizes see themselves more prevalently featured in the media, the more we inch closer towards a more all-inclusive media experience.
Self-Expression And The Individual
Women's empowerment in relation to the image projected of women in the media has always been a highly publicized and deeply discussed topic. Of course, self-empowerment is a very personal experience and everyone interprets its definition according to their own standards and beliefs. Some women feel empowered through keeping certain parts of themselves private, while others feel liberated through self-expression. There's no wrong choice! Moreover, women should support other women and their own choices--different as they may be--on this matter.
Therefore, a boudoir photography session isn't necessarily for everyone--we as women are of course empowered by different things. But, for a lot of women, boudoir photography is certainly one way to embrace body confidence, inner-beauty, sexuality, and uniquely defined femininity. Boudoir photography is a choice. It's an experience women decide to do completely by and for themselves. The resulting images are a token of that experience and can be shared with the world to spread the word of body-confidence, or kept as part of a private experience.
Boudoir Best Practices
For women interested in trying boudoir for the first time, there are some best practices to keep in mind. First, be confident. Of course, this is easier said than done. Confidence comes from within, and more important, it comes from a place of self-love. Embrace all of the unique qualities that make you, you. Second, let go of your insecurities. Ignore negative self-talk and accept the fact that you are perfectly beautiful as you are now. Third, have fun! Yes, I'm stating the obvious here, but boudoir is all about pampering yourself and indulging in an experience that celebrates who you are--enjoy it.
As a boudoir photographer, I'm not only there to capture your true beauty on camera, I'm there to take the journey of self-discovery, body confidence, and realizing inner-beauty with you.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."