I used to wear sweaters in 90-degree weather.
I was the “fat” friend. I skipped lunch from sixth grade to senior year. Comments from family members and friends still stick with me. It was, “Your thighs are almost bigger than mine,” at age 10 and, “He and his friends don’t date bigger girls,” at age 16.
But when I’d see plus-sized models like Ashley Graham on a runway or in a magazine, it gave me this little glimmer of hope—that women who looked like me could do something like that, and look that good doing it.
But whenever it came to facing myself in the mirror, I never allowed myself such grace.
Despite all of that, I found myself posing half-naked in front of a camera back in 2021.
I had always wanted to do a boudoir shoot and I was finally fed up with hating my body. So, I found a trusted photographer, treated myself to lingerie I felt comfortable in, and booked the shoot.
A life-changing experience to say the least, I went home feeling like a new person, letting that new-found confidence exude in my every-day self.
Bethany Quinn knows that rush of confidence all too well, both as a boudoir photographer and being on the other side of the camera herself.
The 37-year-old has been in Indianapolis for 12 years and began her photography business in 2013. In 2020, Bethany Quinn Studios shifted from glamor shots to black-and-white boudoir photography, and she hasn’t stopped since.
She’s photographed every body shape, every skin tone, every age. While there is plenty of stigma surrounding boudoir and the women who do it, she says it’s an experience for anyone.
“I love the idea of boudoir transitioning into this really empowering thing for women,” Quinn said.
An art form for everyone, no matter your age
When I was growing up, my mom wasn’t really one for diet culture. But I still have memories of cans of SlimFast and looking at tabloids when in line at the grocery store.
Quinn also felt that negativity energy around body image growing up from both her mother and grandmother.
“Why would anyone think badly about your arms when those are the same things that hug me? Why are you being so mean to yourself about this?” Quinn remembered. “It's like a generational thing; my mom heard that from my grandma, my grandma probably heard that from her grandma, and so on. I want to break that cycle.”
As Quinn started her boudoir venture, plenty of women in their 40s, 50s and 60s and even older began to fill her books. She saw some of that same generational trauma when learning their stories and what they wanted to get out of their sessions.
And as older generations consider doing boudoir, Quinn has found that it’s helpful to show women similar in age and body type represented in her portfolio to prove it’s all possible.
“They come from a generation of so much negativity. So many mean things have been said to them,” Quinn explained. “They've lived in a culture where women didn’t have a lot of rights. They were raised to be seen and not heard.”
There’s also plenty of misconceptions about boudoir—misconceptions that can push people away from the idea—like it’s just sexy photos and only skimpy lingerie is allowed.
While those are certainly options, they aren’t the only options. Boudoir can be anything from a full-length gown to jeans and a bra. It’s about whatever makes you feel beautiful. Having that comfort in your outfit choice only boosts your confidence, which can clearly be seen in the end result.
When working with older generations, Quinn has heard plenty empowering reasons as to why her clients turned to boudoir. For some, their kids just went to college. For others, it’s about finding themselves after divorce or death of their spouse.
“It's just like finding your own sense of identity, and I think that's just really important to the elder generations,” she said. “They've never pictured themselves doing something like this.”
A reintroduction to yourself
While the photoshoot itself can be a little nerve-wracking, waiting for your photos to be returned can be the hardest part.
After my first boudoir shoot, I spent about two weeks wondering if the photos would even look good.
Did I do that pose correctly? Was I making a weird expression? What if I hate them?
Then, the email from my photographer hit my inbox; “Charlotte Stefanski, your photos are ready.”
For anyone who just stripped down in front of a camera, those six words can be daunting. Your heart skips a beat and you try to mentally prepare yourself.
Even as a photographer, who sees her own clients react the same way, Quinn felt that same rush of nerves.
“Like, ‘Oh my God, here we go,’ or maybe it's one of those things where you're like, ‘Okay, I have to look at this later because right now I'm not ready for whatever emotions I’m going to feel.”
It can be a strangely emotional experience to open your boudoir photos. You know it’s you, but it’s a completely different side of you. Maybe you look more raw in black and white, or maybe you have an ethereal look from bold colors and lighting.
You might be thinking, “There she is. That’s her.” It might’ve been awhile since you’ve seen that side of yourself. Or maybe you’ve never seen that side.
“The thing that popped in my mind the most was like, ‘Oh, there she is. That's the girl that's been rooting for me all along.’ As soon as that came into my head, I just started bawling. It was like, “Okay, I get it,’” Quinn said. “I get a full circle view now, as opposed to seeing it from one side. It's so different when someone else is photographing you, versus doing self-portraits, because they're seeing things that maybe you don’t see or aren't touching on in your work.”
How to make your boudoir shoot a success
So, you’ve decided to take the leap. But you might be wondering how to get the most out of a boudoir experience.
First, start with the photographer and think about what style you want. There’s plenty to consider. Whether you want black and white or color photos, a more edgy or down to earth style, or maybe you want to look at a specific era, like 50s pin-ups.
There’s a photographer out there for everything, so do a little research and see whose style speaks to you. If you’re worried about doing hair and makeup, or maybe feel clueless when it comes to wardrobe, many photographers provide beauty services or a client closet when you book a shoot.
Before my first shoot, I was worried I wouldn’t nail that “model face,” or that I would feel awkward in my poses. To help with that, I began looking at portfolios and Pinterest boards to get some ideas. It might feel silly, but practicing expressions and poses in a mirror can be a big help.
An experienced photographer will also know the perfect poses for your body type and help guide you through the process too. The whole process can be incredibly daunting, but you’ll be in good hands.
“Listen to everything your photographer has for you,” Quinn added. “Ask a ton of questions.”
Most importantly, walk into your shoot with an open mind and be prepared to have fun.
Leave your insecurities behind and be prepared to see yourself in a new light.
And do it for you. Many women might see the photos as something that can be gifted to a significant other, and that’s fine. But make sure you take the time to embrace your body, your emotions and newfound confidence.
“It is so much deeper than sexy photos. It's like a reintroduction to a best friend that you've never met before. But she’s you,” Quinn said. “I love the idea that being like an empowering experience. However, I feel like it goes much deeper, because everyone has their own personal experience with a boudoir session.”