Friday, February 10, 2017

Defending Boudoir: an essay on morning light

Not long ago, a photographing genius whom I am lucky enough to be friends with texted me and asked me if I’d be willing to be part of her expanding her expertise and let her do a boudoir shoot with me as the subject. For those who don’t know, boudoir shoots are private, intimate, and usually done in lingerie or something similar. Traditionally they're taken for the purpose of brides giving them to husbands, directly prior to or on the wedding day. The male version is called dude-oir *cheering inspired by the clever pun ensues*. I’ll admit, my initial reaction was one of hesitation, embarrassment, and abstract terror. The fact that I was single, the fact that I wasn’t particularly sexy, and similar thoughts all seemed to provide ample evidence as to why I wasn’t the proper person to be asking. However, after agreeing and taking them, I firmly believe that every woman (or man, for that matter) should participate in a boudoir shoot at some point in their life, regardless of self-esteem or relationship status. Why? Well.

            Christians are notoriously bad at dealing with issues of sexuality or sensuality. Instead of taking point on the conversation, we tend to shove it under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist, thinking if we refuse to address the topic we prevent ourselves from falling into sin and temptation. Instead, the awkwardness and shame ensures that we are permanently uncomfortable with an integral, extremely significant aspect of our being. But I continue to be a sexual being, regardless of whether I acknowledge that I am or not. Now, as a single woman, I am a sexual creation. Don’t misunderstand me: that aspect of my being persists regardless of whether or not I act on it. Refusing to acknowledge or address it stunts my growth and my maturity. Marriage isn’t the switch that suddenly transforms sex from shameful to exciting. It’s the context through which sex is glorifying. But if I’ve been taught my entire life that my sexuality is a shameful thing, that is a belief I will carry into marriage with my husband even though the context is finally correct.

            In a boudoir shoot, I am able to interact with my sexuality, sensuality, and physical beauty in a glorifying way. Moreover, I’m able to interact with it in a way that brings it into the rest of my being and makes me more fully myself as a person overall. My body belongs to me and the God who created it, and I have to be comfortable in my own skin before I can ever invite anyone to be comfortable with me. The desire to feel sexy isn’t restricted to those who are married; everyone wants to feel like they’re desirable and worth wanting.

            But my beauty was never intended to be exclusively sexual. The same body that is often oversexualized or found to be offensive also sustains and nurtures life in the most miraculous of ways, yet that’s rarely a topic that’s brought up. My beauty is far more than culture says it is, because it extends beyond how I can use it sexually. Yet, as girls we’re not sure how to interact with what cultures tells us beauty is, so we assume we’re not beautiful. Boudoir allows beauty to be found, explored, demonstrated, painted. It’s an opportunity to correct lies so often believed by men and women, that something about them is off or wrong. That they’re somehow worth less just because they’re not as attractive as another individual. That they’re less valuable because they don’t line up with what culture says is aesthetically pleasing. With each photo Stephanie took of me, she handed me another reminder that I am more than I believe myself to be. That I’m not just a rejected, broken human left behind by all the stories I haven’t been able to live and the people I haven’t been able to live them with. That I am valuable because I am. I am beautiful because of the way my body, soul, personality, and mind come together to form me. She showed me, for a few seconds, a sampling of my glory as an image bearer, a clouded picture of how God sees me, and she gave me a tangible way to come back to that reminder on the days when I forget.

            Boudoir shoots aren’t vain, sinful, or immodest. Like everything else in a fallen world, they can be twisted and distorted. Sexuality can be misused. Decency can be forgotten. But my modesty will never inhibit or prevent another person’s lust. My actions are not responsible for anyone else’s actions towards me, and I’m not allowed to blame anyone else for how I interact or love them, because that’s not how Jesus acted and that’s not what God requires. On the contrary, I’m asked to be responsible with what I’m given. Should the pictures go out to everybody? No. Is there a decency limit to the photos displayed? YES. And here, yet again, I’m handed another practical aspect of my sexuality that I’m held responsible for that goes beyond the sexual do’s and don’ts I was taught in church.

            Boudoir forces me to interact with the severity of vulnerability. Before the camera I’m reminded that being bare before another human is daunting, precious, and intimate. I’m reminded of the reason that sex and sexuality demand so much respect – because being naked before another human being is never a casual task. Not in body, not in soul, and never in spirit. Being stripped to my base takes away my pretense and my protections so there is nothing left to soften the potential blow of rejection, and the moment of realization is one of the single most terrifying experiences possible. That reminder demands action, particularly in a culture that says sex is as simple as separating the body from the person it houses. Intimacy is precious and should be handled with the caution and respect that it demands. Those concepts become real, even as a single woman, when I let down my walls before a camera in preparation for when I will let them down one day (Lord willing) for the man that I marry. But I can’t distance myself from the fact that I am a sexual being until the day he appears. Because, as my beautiful photography friend says, “my body belongs to me and to the God that created it. I get the gift of inviting my husband into that. But I was as full and complete a human being before I met him as I am now.”

            So, in closing, these are my thoughts. It’s amazing that they all sprang out of a simple hour and a half photography shoot, but being introduced to oneself always brings new dimensions of the self into focus. Thank you forever and always to the beautiful Steph Bailey, who spent her time bringing light and recalling me to life from behind the camera lens. And if this blog made you even the least bit curious about thinking about being part of a shoot yourself, I’ll just leave her website right here ;)