Yesterday, my boyfriend pulled up his Instagram to show me a boudior photo shoot one of his high school classmates had recently done. “Love Yourself,” she had captioned it. He’d never seen anything like this before, but he remembered this particular girl being quite the tomboy when he’d known her. A straight frame, flat chest, wearing loose clothing, and paying little mind to makeup or cultivating a particularly feminine appearance. He was surprised to see her on a red velvet couch, wearing a bustier and bright lipstick. “Have you ever seen something like this?” he asked me.
Why yes, yes I had. It’s called a Self Love Shoot. Or at least, that’s the way I tend to see it.
These sexy photo shoots originated as a sort of gift that a woman could give her man. Sexy pictures, without the bad reputation or danger that a digitally-transmitted topless shot could generate. But over time, they’ve become a gift that a woman can give herself. A material reminder of self love. A process that feels empowering and provides a lasting memento of the you that you can be. No matter how you look on the worst of days, this is proof – to yourself – that you are beautiful, sexy, and totally worth it.
Little did my boyfriend know, I had my own version of this already in sight, completely unintentionally. (NOT in a sexy boudior setting, but in a natural one.) On a recent hike, I’d found the perfect little spot in the woods, and I was planning on going there to take some (hopefully) cool photos of myself for the blog/future Instagram inspiring messages. Springtime just begs to be seen, doesn’t it?
Of course, my photos came out far different from the ones he’d shown me earlier. But the gist is this: I took these photos for me. I took time to be a little obsessive, to play with angles and lighting, to pose in front of the camera, silly as it might have felt. Let it be known, I’d been feeling absolutely terrible about my body only the night before. I’d been hating on my love handles, the shape of my face, the lack of effect that I was seeing from my exercise, and generally just feeling absolutely shitty about every part of my body. But I came out of this process feeling really good about myself. Feeling renewed. Feeling powerful.
Don’t believe me? Here’s another example:
We recently hosted a yoga retreat at the colony, lead by an amazing and inspiring yogi and breast cancer survivor, Cathleen Kahn. (You can buy her book and hear more about her story here.) Cathleen warned us at the beginning of the retreat that she’d be taking a lot of pictures. For most of us, I think this caused some slight alarm. I know that I, for example, hate candid shots of myself. They usually come from the wrong angle, catch me mid-sentence or straight-faced, and cause me to secretly hate myself and some flaw that was discovered for days at a time. Taking these photos while I’m sweating/working out? God, no, please.
But Cathleen explained to us that she takes these photos because she sees the beauty in everyone. She sees the strength, she sees the potential, she sees what we might not be able to see in ourselves. And so she takes these pictures, with as much finesse as she can, to capture that and share it. And usually, she comes up with something truly great. Sure, some of the photos revealed how silly my shirt looked tucked into my leggings or how my face melts into a double chin when I start to lose balance and break out into laughter. But some of them made me feel pretty strong and beautiful, too. In a complete show of honesty & transparency, I’m showing y’all the double chin.
You see, sometimes it’s hard to justify taking the time to photograph yourself. Especially when you’d rather not play an overt role in the selfie-obsessed culture we live in. (Last week, I witnessed girls making duck faces again and again as they tried to get the perfect shot inside a small boutique in Louisville. They looked pretty ridiculous and probably fill their feeds with that kind of thing.) But for those of us who AREN’T posting photos of ourselves everyday – whose feeds are mostly made up of pictures of their feet or their food or the world around them – sometimes it’s important to bite the bullet and show up for ourselves. Actually, it’s always important to show up for ourselves, to showcase ourselves, to feel proud of who we are and how we’ve been made. Just as we are.
It’s important for us to see beauty in ourselves. It’s important for us to capture the things we like, and to look at the things we don’t like in a new light. And it’s okay to construct those circumstances, to spend time getting the right shot in a way that feels right to us. So I’m putting a call out to everyone to try this. To find an outfit, a setting, a particular “look” that makes you feel perfectly YOU. And then set the timer on your phone and take some pictures. You can share them, or you can keep them to yourself. But find something in those pictures that makes you feel beautiful, sexy, strong, and worthy. And use them as a tool to remind yourself of just how wonderful and unique you are.
Just like that photo above, we need to be BRAVE. We need to look at ourselves. We need to do our best to see ourselves the way others do – as beautiful, loved, strong women (and men).
I’m not saying I want to share every photo I took out there in the woods the other day. There are quite a few that I really don’t love, and I could still find several flaws to point out in the few I’ve shared here today. But honestly, I’m excited about these photos and what they mean. And for me to say that about any picture of myself, I mean, that only happens once every couple of months.
But there’s a power that comes in owning our appearance, just as we are. And sometimes it’s the simplicity that comes from throwing on leggings and a denim jacket that makes us feel better than we do when we’ve “gone all out” to look “perfect” that is worth capturing. Because that’s what really matters. That’s what is so hard to learn. And that’s what I wish for each and every one of us, myself included.
Try it. Seriously. It’s magic.