As I stood in the small studio on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, attempting a sexy pout for the camera, I felt my fears and inhibitions melting away. Posing for boudoir photos was the most fun I’d had in months. The real me, who I’d been stifling for reasons I hadn’t even begun to understand, had started to find her way back to the surface. Any thoughts that I wasn’t cute enough for this, wasn’t confident enough for this, wasn’t anything enough for this, began to fade away. I guess I’d thought that photo shoots like this were for other people, not me. Turns out that was the biggest lie I’d ever told myself. I wasn’t about to waste any more time feeling inadequate or not being incredibly proud of the person I was.
This experience, like so many bold decisions, started with an epic breakup. A big thing I realized when that relationship ended was that I had stopped trying new things or leaving my comfort zone. I was flat-out uninspired. I felt incredibly unsexy, and not necessarily in just a physical way. My spirit, at that point, was what could only be described as gray and lumpy. My trademark giddy energy was gone because I couldn’t remember the last time I’d learned something new or exciting. I’d forgotten how many adventures life had to offer.
I was suffering from the strange animal known as Post-Breakup Syndrome (it really should have a clinical name). Sometimes the afflicted appear to be totally over their split – getting out of bed each morning, speaking in complete sentences, dressing like a functional human – until they turn around and make choices that seem nothing short of possessed. People in the throes of post-breakup insanity, no matter how fresh or how old the heartbreak is, often think they are being completely level-headed even as they proceed to do things their “normal” selves would never be cool with. It’s not until months or even years later, out of the deluded spell, that we regain our perspective and wonder what on earth we could have been thinking when we calmly went about “experimenting” with our ex’s best friend or getting a face tattoo.
On the other side of the coin, sometimes the cliches are true and in the face of a bad breakup, the clouds open and we are able to use the experience to step back and reassess where we are going in life and how much better our reality could be. Instead of uncharacteristically disastrous choices, we do things that are uncharacteristically awesome. We get a shot to have our own personal renaissance in the form of the “getting your girl-power shit together” montage every chick flick has (cue the “Legally Blonde” scene when Elle Woods storms out of a party in a bunny-costume-induced fury while “Watch Me Shine” plays in the background).
When I first saw George’s website, I was looking for new acting headshots – nothing too exciting. When I emailed him about setting up a session, he replied asking if I was familiar with the nature of his work and if I was comfortable with it. I was confused, until I remembered that his online portfolio had two distinct styles of photography – a set of headshots and band photos, and a series of boudoir photos. When I realized he thought I wanted to model for a boudoir shoot, I laughed. It was something I’d always kind of, sort of wanted to do, but had never had the courage to deliberately set up on my own. I’m a big believer in synchronicity, and that’s what made me stop and think that — hey! — maybe I should do this thing.
So, I said yes.
The morning of the shoot, I overslept, and had just a few minutes to get ready before heading out the door. My hair was dirty. My makeup from last night was still there, all smudged. I felt far from any kind of model. A part of me was looking for an excuse to cop out, but I knew I had to throw fear out the window or things were never going to change. So off I went, unwashed hair and all, completely unsure what to expect.
When I got to George’s studio, he was affable and unpretentious. He showed me more of his portfolio before we began the session, and what struck me about his work was how confident and in-control the women in his photos seemed. That was exactly who I wanted to be, even if at the time I was too emotionally scattered to muster that in real life. What hadn’t occurred to me until then was that I had to give these pictures personality. The photographer could make the lighting and the composition as perfect as possible, but he couldn’t make the pictures sparkle for me. Only I could bring the confidence. Or at least I could pretend for a day.
Katy Perry music blared in the background as he pulled out the camera. At first it felt like a Glamour Shots session at the mall as I awkwardly attempted to pose and kept nervously laughing at myself. It took about an hour before I was able to stop watching myself from the outside and have fun, but allowing myself to soak in the moment was what made the sexy happen. By the end of the shoot, I was no longer pretending.
The shoot sparked my very own Elle Woods moment, but mine was more about baby steps over many weeks than a pop-song fueled four-minute montage in which everything falls into place. Posing for the camera snapped me back into reality and made me realize how little credit I’d been giving myself. I vowed then not to apologize for being myself ever again. My “crazy” post-breakup decision lead me to slowly but surely bring my confidence back.
When George sent me photos, there were only a few that I loved, but that didn’t matter. They captured me as my most present, uninhibited self, and even though I reaped the greatest benefits of the experience long before the pictures were in my hands, it was great to have photographic evidence of what I’d learned. Cliche as it sounds, breakups have the power to be such wonderful things. Without the irrational courage mine gave me, I’d have never been brave enough to take a small leap that changed everything. I still think it was one of the better decisions I ever made. It broke me out of my uninspired rut and retaught me to own who I am, imperfections and all.
[Photo from Shutterstock]