Breaking down walls: My personal boudoir experience | Tacoma, Seattle boudoir photographer

I RAVE about boudoir sessions! I am constantly telling anyone who will listen how much fun they are and how a boudoir session can be life changing. That being said, it’s finally time to come clean. I have been shooting boudoir since 2011 and I have never done my own boudoir session. However, I can PROUDLY say, that this is no longer the case!!!

Obviously, you don't have to read this extremely long winded story. BUT.  It is my story. 

Appearance and body image is always something that I have struggled with. I vividly remember being seven years old, sitting at the kitchen table and having a full on discussion with my friend about how big my thighs were. I was SEVEN!!! Looking back, I was in no way an obese child—but I was definitely bigger than the other kids. I had a permanent spot in the back row of the class pictures (usually in the center, but not always). Towards the end of elementary school, I had to get glasses and braces. The icing on the cake was that I had crazy curly hair and I had no clue that frizz could be tamed! Remember when Chelsea Clinton went through that terribly awkward phase—that was me!!!! (and add about 15 pounds and glasses.) Needles to say, my insecurities escalated. 

I know that MOST everyone goes through some sort of “awkward” phase in our pre-teens and early teens. However, there was always a handful of girls who never did. They ALWAYS had porcelain skin, slender builds, and beautiful straight hair with perfectly feathered bangs. Of course, those are the girls I zeroed in on. Comparison became my game to play. My awkward phase continued through to 9th grade. When I slowly started to creep out of it—it was too late. I had been shaming myself for so long. It became a part of me. 

In high school, I finally managed to figure out how to control my crazy head of curls, I switched to contacts, and thankfully it was time for the braces to come off. Yet, theses “improvements”, couldn't fix me. I began to overcompensate by being an overachiever. Thinking that the more activities I did, the funnier I was, the higher my grades were, no one would notice those extra 20 pounds on my frame. I began to go through phases of dieting, going to the gym (in addition to my weekly dance classes, and cheerleading practice), waking up at 5 am to do the Abs of Steel workout tape and then coming home from school to spend some quality time with Billy Blanks (VHS Tae-bo task master!). I was taking Dexatrim and would go home for lunch to make a slim fast shake. I was in a constant battle that I would never win. 

In college, I gained the freshman 15 (x3). Towards the end of my freshman year, the extra weight was causing extreme depression. I immediately turned back to my old habits of overexercising and under eating. At one point I remember trying to eat less than 500 calories for the day. Of course, I lost the freshman 45, but quickly gained some back. This pattern continued throughout college. Each time the scale wavered, my already low self esteem, took a massive hit. 

What I thought about myself and my appearance had a death grip on me. Weeks before my wedding, I had my first ever panic attack. I sat next to my mom, breathing into the paper bag that she gave me and cried. I told her, “There are going to be so many people looking at me! I don't want that”. This statement shocked my mom (and rightly so). I have always been a performer. Dancing for hundreds at recitals, cheerleading for stadiums of thousands, and acting on stage for packed theaters. My insecurities were starting to impact my ability to function. 

That’s when I started to build a wall around me. Over the years, the wall got taller and thicker. I proceeded to gain and lose a VERY large amount of weight two more times over the next 10 years. I got better at hiding. The images I posted on Facebook were all old pictures. Anytime I saw a camera, I was making a b-line in the opposite direction! I stopped making an effort to see any of my friends. I became terrified to go out of the house, because I didn't want to run into anyone I knew. I started to despise the thought of having to give people hugs (and hugging is my favorite!). I was so ashamed.

I started to realize that I had basically shamed my self out of existence. If, god forbid, something ever happened to me, my 10 year old son would have no pictures to remember me by. And worse, no pictures of the two of us together. He would never be able to say, “This is my favorite picture of me with my mom!” because there were none. This wall that I had built was putting distance between me and those I love. I knew something had to change.

Then. It ALL changed. Talk about being at the right place at the right time! Last January, I attended a boudoir workshop with industry leader Jennifer Rozenbaum. My fear of the camera quickly became a hot topic! How could I be asking my clients to get in front of my camera, if I won’t even get in front of a camera!?!? She did an amazing job of helping me step outside of my comfort zone. On the last day of the workshop, she lovingly forced me in front of her camera for a headshot. Guess what?!?! I didn't die!!!! I didn't spontaneously combust when she released the shutter!!!! I am a photography survivor! 

Conquering that seemingly simple fear…was a total rush. I could actually feel the wall crack. A few days later when she sent me an image of myself (that I LOVE), a few more pieces of the wall chipped away. I knew that in order for the experience to be complete I would have to share the image on Facebook and my website. That also meant—I could no longer hide. Hitting the post button was one of the hardest things for me to do, but the second I did, I felt a wave of relief and a little more of the wall tumbled to the ground. 

Over the last year, I have made big changes. I feel like each change I make, and each fear I conquer…chips away at that STUPID wall. I am making conscious efforts to be nicer to myself. I even had our family photos taken this summer (which was a first for us!). It felt so amazing to be able to walk the talk! 

Then I found out that Jennifer Rozenbaum would be in Portland to do a boudoir workshop. Over the last year, Jen and I have remained close. I was ecstatic to visit with her and to have another opportunity to learn. Jen is crazy busy with her boudoir business and teaching around the globe, so my chances to see her are few and far in between. I knew that if I was ever going to do a boudoir session with Jen, this was the time to do it! I BARELY mustered up the courage to ask her—but I did! She said “of course!”. For the next few months, I tried to think of all of the ways that I could cancel the session. What in the heck was I thinking?!?! What did I sign myself up for?!?! 

In January of 2016, I did my first boudoir session. A session where IIIIII was the one in front of the camera. I was nervous for the first 3 minutes, but after that I was so focused on following directions that I barely even felt like my pictures were being taken. The time we spent FLEW by. The whole thing was a complete blur! I know I had fun, but over a month later, I still can’t believe it happened! 

Following our session, I was scheduled to stay in Portland for two more nights, but after my session, I was exhausted. I wasn't physically exhausted. I was mentally taxed. I wanted to be at home with my husband and my son. I wanted to give Jackson the biggest squeeze ever, and I wanted to snuggle on the couch and hold Gabe’s hand. I had a 3 hour drive home. Every mile I drove, felt like I was slingshotting myself back to Portland…I couldn't get home fast enough. 

During my drive I couldn't help but think how unusual it was for me to be homesick. And how strange it was for me to be so mentally drained after the session. Then. It hit me. MY WALL HAD COME CRUMBLING DOWN!!!! No wonder I was so exhausted!!!! I wanted to be near the loves of my life! I wanted to talk to them face to face. Instead of talking to them through the wall. I was excited to face the world as ME!

Breaking through my fear made me feel incredibly strong! The feeling of embracing who you are…instead of fighting it—is BEYOND powerful. By accepting myself, flaws and all, so much of my shame was instantly wiped away. Feeling powerful IS sexy! I get it now!

When I received my boudoir album in the mail, it felt like I was receiving a certificate of completion. A badge of honor, documenting my fight with fear and self acceptance. It will continue to be a reminder of how far I have come. It will help me stay on course when I doubt myself. An heirloom. 

A month after my session…I felt like I took the experience, and squeezed everything out that I possibly could. However, there was one last unexpected benefit. Gabe (my handsome hubby) didn't know that I was doing the session. I was able to give him the album as a Valentine’s Day gift. I really wasn't expecting a big reaction, but he LOVED it! He grinned from ear to ear and went forward and backward through the album SEVERAL times. He told me that I am beautiful and continued to tell me how proud he was that I conquered the fear. His shock and awe was priceless. His pride, was my pride. 

Every woman walks away from their boudoir experience with something completely different. My boudoir experience is a constant reminder to let go of unreasonable expectations. To realize that these expectations are NOT important. WHO I AM, is what is important. 

I am happy. I am in love with those around me. I love that I have the ability to capture the human spirit. I love being me! I am thankful that boudoir has allowed me to shed the negative and embrace the important. 

Being me. Facing fear in the face. For me, THAT is what boudoir is all about. 

If you think you can’t…You can. If you think you shouldn’t…You SHOULD! If you second guess yourself…DON’T! 


Erinn Hargis7 Comments