HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOUDOIR: WHAT I LEARNED AT 44
After my 40th birthday, I decided I'd make it a tradition to do an annual photo shoot for my birthday. Initially, the idea was to become more comfortable in front of the camera. Given that I am a boudoir photographer, not doing so was pretty hypocritical.
Simply put, I hated a camera focusing on me. This was a lifelong 'thing' of mine... and looking back at childhood and teenage photos, it was very evident. Where did this fear come from, I wondered?
One night I had insomnia and my brain was churning --as it usually does in the wee hours. I began to contemplate the genesis of this fear. And you know what? I didn't actually realize what it was until AFTER I had a few sessions under my belt (...or "garter belt" hee hee! wink, wink!)
My first boudoir photo shoot started as a self-portrait, so I could get over the phobia of being photographed. I posted it online, nervous as hell. I worried about what it would feel like to be slightly bare publicly. But also, it was a self-victorious feeling that I no longer gave a f*ck about people's opinions on what I do. That was the beginning of my liberated 40s...
MY VIRGIN VOYAGE
My second boudoir shoot was in November 2016 was in New Orleans -- and my first time being photographed by a pro, my dear friend Petra Hermmann of Kansas City. I was a deer in headlights at first but she is very zen with me and quickly relieved my fears. I still wasn't sure how I'd look. When I saw the un-photoshopped photos, I was confused. OMG! They were so beautiful. Could I *actually* look like this in person? How could this be? It felt like an optical illusion. It was instead my own lifelong DELUSION. Baggage that came from long, long conditioning that so many girls are subjected to. (And I'm going to get to that in a moment)....
INTO THE DEPTHS
Slightly over my phobia, I began to get a bit more adventurous in 2017. I did a submerged photography shoot with one of my best friends, Award winning underwater photographer Jennifer Tallerico of JT Noir Studios. We shot in a pool in Miami, but she helped me find my inner aqua goddess. I'm a Pisces, and a former competitive swimmer --and she took me back to my element. I never knew my body could move so well underwater. It was not aware of the camera but simply focused on ME - movement, breathing, and the feel of the water. I felt like a graceful ethereal creature. It was magical.
THE 44 BIRTHDAY SHOOT
In the winter of 2017, I did my 44th birthday boudoir shoot. I wanted my 44th birthday to mark my newfound comfort level in being photographed. Comfort to me is me in my everyday, me laughing, me not so fancy, me not trying to be anything -- but just existing. I chose my friend Kara Marie of Karie Marie Boudoir of Austin, Texas to help me do this. We adore and understand each other's quirks, and Kara promised me that I would see the greatest PORTRAIT (non-boudoir) of myself I had ever seen.
I had no professional hair or makeup done, no fancy clothes, just me on the patio of the South Beach Miami villa where we were staying. I just wore a bathing suit and a button down shirt on the deck and let the breeze blow. I knew what it was like to feel beautiful just BEING. What stunned me about the photos was that the woman in them looks so authentic. OMG that woman is ME? I was relaxed, at ease, carefree and felt kinda sexy just being a regular woman without effort.
Someone recently asked me how boudoir stands during the "Me Too" movement. In my work I consider the boudoir experience the opposite of objectification. In fact, the imagery we create as a giant middle finger to all those who have dented us, made us feel weak, inferior or "less than".
In a way, I consider these images a visual letter to the people who shamed me or hurt the self image of a young girl...one who was just trying to grow up.
And, it's also a nice pleasant retaliation to judgements--myself, my clients, my profession. They know who they are, and I know it too. New flash?
...This makes me smile. HARD.
Self acceptance, being happy-- or quite frankly, "Not giving a damn" anymore about what people think can be very threatening to people. People can't understand it. It unnerves them. They will judge it. But that is not a problem of mine. Nor yours. It is simply, theirs to have. They do not know your journey.
We all have something about ourselves we do not like. But, we rarely ask ourselves where it comes from. I looked at these pictures and suddenly began to realize the source of camera-shyness. I began to make a mental list. When I did, I began to realize that it goes way back and that the world can be a cruel place to girls. I will make sure my daughters are armed to repel that.
Self acceptance is a journey. For me, the Birthday Photo Shoot offers a new realization each year. I dedicate it to that personal growth and progress. I dedicate it to feeling proud to be strong and feminine. I dedicate it to my clients, to show them it is entirely OK.
But I also dedicate it to all the perpetrators who damaged a young, late-blooming girl who was simply trying to grow up inside the body she was given:
- To the visiting relatives who asked my Mom (right in front of 8 year old me!) if I was sick or anorexic because I was so petite.
- To the guy who used to repeatedly tell 9 year old Me my freckles looked like "fly poop" all over on my skin.
- To the female coach who told 10 year old Me I was "awkward" and didn't look right to stand in the cheer formation.
- To the girl who poked at 11 year old Me for being too skinny and asked if the wind would blow me away as other kids stood laughing at a birthday party.
- To the boy who sat on my front stoop and asked 12 year old Me why I was so ugly and didn't look like my super-pretty older sister.
- To the lady at the beach who stared me down and told 13 year old Me how weird it was that I looked nothing like my Mom or "beautiful sister." (true story)
- To my 16 year old neighbor who asked 14 year old Me why I was so flat chested and if I ever planned to grow a pair of boobs.
- To the guy who grabbed the new/finally grown breast of 18 year old Me's because he somehow thought "there's no way those are real!"
- To the twenty-something lifeguard who asked 18 year old me what happened to ME... because I "really let (my) body go to shit in (my) freshman year"
- To the guy who asked 25 year old me why I no longer have a six pack because I "used to be so hot"
I don't really need to go on with a laundry list of ridiculous comments -- because chances are if you're a woman, you've heard some form of this growing up.
Now listen, in the grand scheme of my life, these little digs are really no big deal. But in aggregate, this kind of cruel rhetoric is absorbed by a young girl and makes her question her worthiness. No matter who she becomes as an adult or what she looks like, those little dents stay inside her head. She becomes overly humble. She second guesses. She doubts.
She spends a lifetime trying to GROW OUT of these phrases.
Self acceptance is a journey. The world can be pretty brutal to women, but I'm happy to see it a shift. It's changing. I also teach my daughters to be proud, and not to stand by anyone who makes them feel less than great. I teach my son to treat women respectfully, equally and to be in awe of them as powerful beings.
The Boudoir experience is not objectifying you. It's designed to help you GROW INTO yourself. (and as you can see it doesn't have to be in sexy lingerie). It can be a gift to someone you love, but the real gift is for you. It is a chance to find yourself out!
Age is just a number, and it is also a rebirth. It's a marked occasion to realize and appreciate who you are, who you are becoming, who you will be. And I hope to continue these discoveries each year. I hope you consider something like this for yourself, too.
So thank you Jen, thank you Petra, thank you Kara for coming along for this ride and giving me these images. And thank you to all my clients who create their own.
Happy 44th Birthday to Me. I am totally cool with it.
xo, Cate Scaglione