Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Let's Hear it for the Girls: the reason I chose to do boudoir.

*All photos by Alana T Photography
The first time I witnessed a pair of unbridled breasts defying the ideal of small and pert, I was playing with a powder puff in my Great-Grandmother’s bathroom as she emerged from her shower.  Being six, maybe seven, I was a little more than half her size and her girls briefly occupied my entire line of vision.  Modesty at home was not a trait passed between the women in my family, so when my Grandma Nola discovered me, she laughed instead of scolded when I asked, “Does my mother know about those?” 

My Great-Aunt Velma, related by marriage on my maternal Grandfather’s side and the only woman I knew with a college degree, used to scandalize her guests with a poster of a topless woman, a string of pearls dangling between two peaks, mounted above her pink toilet. Her husband had been dead for decades, but that poster was my induction to the secret life of the “beautiful boobies” (as my Auntie would say), and they did not exist simply for the viewing pleasure of men.  I would later learn, as I grew older, that my Auntie had a breast removed due to cancer and a radical mastectomy. Her poster was her tribute to what she had lost.

When I was ten years old, I began to sprout my own pair of beauties. They grew exponentially over the next few years and I was taunted relentlessly through middle school.  I was called ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ before I could even tell you what the mechanisms of sex were.  I was jumped by girls on the way home from school because their boyfriends would talk about my body.  It was difficult to find age-appropriate clothing that fit both my narrow shoulders and my oversized chest.  I learned – quickly – our cultural double-standards for the bodies of men and women.

 As a teenager, despite attending a small Christian high school, I was exposed to punk rock and the fuck-all attitudes that accompanied it. I understood that there was power to be taken, and as a female growing up in an Evangelical church and a school that didn’t seem to take the ideas of women too seriously, I found that power in the way that I dressed.  And the more boob, the better. I don’t think I owned a pair of intact stockings or a top other than a tee shirt that made it above my collarbone or down past my belly button. But then again, it was the 90s.

Once my top-heavy form began its eventual filling-in throughout my midsection, I was in my twenties and in college. I practiced yoga and immersed myself in academia. I became self-conscious of my body again – it wasn’t lithe enough to be taken seriously in yoga and too voluptuous to be taken seriously in school. I piled on the layers and grew my hair long. I wore glasses and stopped wearing makeup except for at work.  I entangled myself in a long relationship with a person that was anti-social. While others were on their way to finding themselves in their twenties, I was totally lost.

 It wasn’t until I left California (and my relationship) and was living alone that I began to feel at home in my body again. It suddenly wasn’t hard to meet people. I was independent: making my own money, spending it on myself and anyone else I felt deserving, and using my spare time however I pleased. I had discovered real power. I was gushing with it. I suddenly cared about the way clothes made me feel as opposed to how they made me look. I didn’t want to hide. I met my life partner.  I was 26, dammit, and life was fucking amazing.

Since then, my body has been an instrument to grow and nurture two small, perfect humans. My once porn-worthy boobins have been reworked into something else. They have become post-milk, post-baby, and post-sexy.  I have gained 20 pounds since my first child more than seven years ago. I am in a loving, stable, and committed relationship and although it is ceaselessly wonderful, these beautiful, natural, and life-affirming events have been devastating to my body image.  How could this have happened? After everything I have learned?

As a person used to being behind the camera making others look beautiful for more than 15 years, and working in the cosmetics industry for most of those, I am acutely aware of how the male gaze has affected women’s perceptions of themselves, and their perceptions of other women.  We have been objectified and we have been sexified. We have been told when we’re allowed to feel comfortable in our own skin and when we’re not; what constitutes as ‘classy’ and what ‘trashy’ (mostly defined by a price tag), and most often, how we are allowed to present ourselves in public and to whom. If you are married, a mother, average or above average size, a woman of color, or a woman older than 50, these options begin to narrow significantly.

Pretty soon, you begin to feel invisible. Pretty soon, you have a hard time identifying with ‘feminine’ or ‘sexy’ or even ‘confident.’  Because that’s not what society prescribes for us. Boobs are for breastfeeding or pleasure. Legs are nice if they’re thin and long, but not short and stout. If the ass doesn’t match the tits, then sorry, you lose. If you can’t justify why you don’t spend hours each week at the gym getting strong (which is the ‘new’ beautiful, so they say) or why your diet doesn’t consist mainly of nuts and berries, then you’re not allowed a piece of the pretty pie.

Well I say fuck that. And to defy those voices competing for a say in how I present myself, I participated in a boudoir shoot with some of my closest friends.
               
I identify as a pretty radical feminist, I’m not going to lie. I believe that women have a say as to what happens or doesn’t to their body, that we are responsible for our actions and their outcomes, and that we (as does everyone else in the world) deserve equality.  And I believe that equality should extend to our definitions of beauty.

So even though I now live in a post-baby body (times two), and my legs have always defied how tall I feel, and it seems like I am committing an act of treason every time I eat a bagel, I still have the right to feel sexy, dammit.  And you get to see it in these photos that I took with some of the strongest, most beautiful women I know.

And when you do, if you find yourself tsk-ing or feeling shame for me, don’t. Instead, question those feelings and ask yourself what keeps you from feeling comfortable in your own skin. And then shed it. It will be terrifying, but totally worth it. And you’ll probably look beautiful, too.

These photos are a tribute to my Grandma Nola, and all of the Grandma Nolas of the world. They are a tribute to my Auntie Velma. And my daughter. And my beautiful friends. They are a tribute to my husband. But most importantly, they are a tribute to myself.

               



 You can view the rest of the shoot and the other lovely ladies, here.

5 comments:

  1. You are smashing! Inside and out!! xoxo

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  2. Great writing. Great point. Thank you.

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  3. breasts are like ice cream; all flavors are yummy!

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  4. Rachel, after my exit from the religious system, I felt liberated, but I also felt alone, and believed no one understood me, after reading this, I feel even more liberated, and know that I am not alone in understanding and embracing the liberty that awaited me for so long.

    Thank you,

    Yvette

    P.S. It was great seeing you at Nordstrom today!

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