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  • Writer's pictureErin

Everyone Deserves to Feel Confident

“To love yourself right now, just as you are, is to give yourself heaven. Don’t wait until you die. If you wait, you die now. If you love, you live now.”

- Alan Cohen


Photo - By: Rachel Middleton

Author's Note//Trigger Warning: the following article touches on body image, self-hatred, and unhealthy habits pertaining to weight. Proceed with caution. I will tell you that though this article contains those topics, it isn't a negative read. This isn't a painful story, but a story of growth. This is how I went from hating my body, to letting go of that voice in my head telling me all the things it hates. This is how a Boudoir shoot changed my perspective.


Last month, on a random Thursday, I got up early and drove over an hour to Delaware, Ohio to meet a photographer, Rachel Middleton. A few weeks before, while laying in bed after a really bad day at work, she sent out an email about openings for a Valentine's Day shoot at her studio. The things the email explained: there were ten open slots, hair and makeup was included, and so were digitals of the edited photos. It was nearly three in the morning and without hesitating, I emailed her back. I had done a few shoots before with friends that were working their way into the industry, but I hadn't done one like this before. I signed up to do a boudoir shoot. I was excited, intrigued, but most importantly, scared shitless.


Me, age 16/17, struggling with body image issues

The thing to know about me is though I am very confident about my body and how I look, I was not always like this. I grew up a ballet dancer, a track runner, and an athlete, which gave me a body that was strong, small, and in the eyes of society, "perfect." I had a body I should have loved. In most instances, I did love my body, however, that little voice in your head telling you there are other girls that are more attractive than you always creeps its way in. That's what happened to me. I noticed other girls were maturing at a faster rate than me. I started to think maybe, just maybe, my body wasn't perfect anymore. And I know what you're thinking, "Erin, you were 110 pounds soaking wet, you didn't have to struggle with body issues like other girls," and yeah, I get it. That's true. I was "the ideal image" of what the world wanted in a girl. You can't help the things your brain says though. Or the things girls said about you in the hallways of school because their hatred for you was a reflection of how they felt about themselves.


Me, age 18, struggling with body image

When I finally began to love my body, I was around eighteen years old. I accepted that this was my body and I was perfect no matter what. I was happy. Then my body began changing before my eyes, so slightly I didn't even realize it until it was too late. I had gotten into my first real, toxic relationship and one thing that time in my life revolved around was food. He and I spent nearly everyday together after months of being apart and 99% of that time was spent eating. Snacking all the time, random ice cream trips, Chinese, large pizzas. They say you gain a few pounds when you're in a relationship, well, a few is putting it lightly. I gained a whole thirty pounds in less than a few months. For a long time after ending the relationship, moving away to college, and losing the weight, I looked at the photos from that year and cried. I hated myself. I thought I was so big and disgusting. I wasn't though. Those photos of my body weren't painful because of the way I looked, but because of the way I remember feeling in them. I was blinded by love, but still, deep down hated myself. I recalled hateful words about how I looked that spilled out of my lovers mouth - ones that would haunt me for years. I swore to never let a man's opinion of my body impact the love I had for it.


I spent nearly four years working as hard as I could to never look the way I did at eighteen. I went on an all sushi diet, I ran six miles a day, I did whatever it took. I lost all the weight and got back down to around 120 pounds. I was so excited to finally step on the scale and see a number that wasn't "too much." Then all of a sudden I was stepping on the scale twice a day, everyday and getting upset that the number wasn't falling anymore. It hurt. I was angry and miserable. Even though my body was in a better spot and I was back to being considered "perfect" based on societal standards, I wasn't enough. It sent me into a very long, dark time in my life where I got so consumed with the way I looked, I didn't care about other things. I wasn't creative anymore because my main focus was running. I wasn't fun to go out with because I didn't eat much, or was too busy counting calories. In the same light, I was miserable to be around because when the scale did move, I was arrogant and showed off my progress in a distasteful way. I wasn't myself. I needed to get my old self back. I wanted the negative things a boy said to me to escape my brain, so much so, that I sought out validation in the "positive," yet disgusting things men said to me.


In 2020, around the time the pandemic hit, I stopped working out completely. I'm not saying you should give up working out, but the way I was doing it was more harmful than it was helpful. I needed a break. I needed to stop counting calories and hurting my mental health just for my physical appearance. They go hand in hand and at that point, I needed to help myself. I still went out and walked in the park, or around town, or on trails, but it finally became a positive routine - a way for me to spend time with myself in the beautiful world around me. I allowed myself to eat foods that made me happy or that I enjoyed without the fear of gaining weight or changing my body. It was truly freeing.


The last two years, I have lived a life where issues with eating or body image come and go. I've managed to spend more time being positive about the way I look than I do hating it. Do I still have those thoughts on how little things about me need to change? Yes. Of course I do. I'm human. Do I sometimes think, "oh, I ate a lot today, tomorrow I'll skip breakfast or not allow myself a snack?" Yes! I do. I will probably always have those thoughts and feelings in that back of my mind, no matter what. That just means I have to be extra kind and loving to myself: mind, body, and soul. I needed to show myself love. I didn't deserve all the things I said about myself when I looked in the mirror, so I made it my goal this year to make it up to myself. That is why I emailed Rachel back and purchased a Boudoir pack as a birthday gift to myself.


The week leading up the shoot I was over the moon. I had the same nervous and excited feeling in my stomach as I did when I first moved to college, or when I meet a cute guy. The idea of this shoot gave me butterflies. If you ask any of my friends, I was annoying that week. It was all could talk about. I took every chance I had to tell people about it and spent my free time preparing outfits. It had to be perfect. If you know me then you know photos are my favorite things in the entire world. I'm always taking photos for my instagram of my outfits, or at events so I can remember them forever. I was obsessed. However, the nerves started to creep their way into my thoughts and that meant the negative ones came walking in right after them. Nerves and negativity were a power couple ready to ruin this day for me. I even went as far as to almost cancel after telling a friend that the photos would probably end up being awful. (Nothing to do with the photographer, since I've seen Rachel's work and she's amazing, more of I'd ruin the photos.). Of course, my friends told me not to back out.


Thursday morning came quicker than I anticipated and before I knew it, I was parking my car outside Rachel's studio. Luckily, the long car ride there consisted of my hot girl summer playlist to try to hype me up. You know, Saweetie, Nicki Minaj, and Olivia Rodrigo. The ladies that make me feel good. I gathered all my outfits and met Rachel at her door. Let me tell you about first meeting Rachel: that woman is a bright light. All the nerves that took home inside my chest dissolved the moment she came downstairs. It was only thirty seconds into the morning, we were still outside on the sidewalk, and I was still wearing my leggings, but that moment I knew it was worth it. She walked me upstairs and sat me down in front of the makeup artist, Sheree - who by the way, was equally as welcoming and amazing.


Before and After of Makeup

Sitting down in the chair sparked the nervous feeling again. Oh my gosh, my acne is worse than yesterday. What if my outfits don't fit? (Even though I tried them on multiple times the night before). Luckily, Rachel was so excited about the shoot that her energy, once again, calmed me down and made me equally as excited. I sat in the chair drinking champagne and we discussed the vibe for the shoot: Punk Rock, Avril Lavigne style. I picked out my signature colors, black and red, and an AC/DC shirt since my style is band-tees, always. I had never had my makeup done by a professional before, so even that part made my heart swell. I felt beautiful. The more we talked, the more I wanted to do it. It was going to be a good day.



The first outfit we tried on was the black body suit. Rachel talked me through how she wanted me to pose and even demonstrated the poses herself for me to have an idea of what we were doing. I can't describe what happened in that moment, but all I can say is once she snapped the first couple photos, everything washed away. All the images of perfect women that sit in the back of my head disappeared. I no longer heard the voice of girls telling me I was too skinny. I couldn't hear my ex telling me, "you'd look better if you lost weight." I didn't see a number on a scale. I forgot about the disgusting things men messaged me about my body, or the hurtful things they spat back when I rejected them. In that moment, the only thing that mattered to me was how I felt about myself. And God, did I love myself.


Photo - By: Rachel Middleton

The nicer the thoughts became, the easier the poses were coming. I was into it and it showed. After each pose and outfit, Rachel would show me the photos on her lens. She was always giving helpful tips and sweet comments about the photos she was getting. The first set she showed me actually made my heart swell and I felt as though I could cry. It's silly, I know, but looking at the first photo, one that hadn't even been edited yet clicked something inside me. I thought I was beautiful throughout my life, but in that moment, I knew I was beautiful. I didn't need anyone to tell me. I didn't need validation. I knew I was beautiful because I was looking at a picture of a woman who felt confident. I felt strong. I looked happy. I glowed.


I've gone on social media many times over the years and seen women post Boudoir style photos that they loved. And I know they loved them because why would you post a photo of yourself you hated? Sometimes, you love something enough to want the world to see it. I've also seen women post their Boudoir photos and get negative comments, whether online, or by people I knew bringing it up in conversation: "She looks trashy." "Boudoir is pretty much porn." "Why would you post that for people to see?" "Only sluts and whores do lingerie photos." As a woman who has clearly paid money for a Boudoir shoot and posted them on social media, as well as a public platform that is this website, those comments hurt. In fact, I'd rather you make a mean comment about something I can't very well change like the stretch marks on my hips, or the way my lips are crooked when I smile. Why does society make women feel like they have to be perfect, with this perfect body, perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect outfit, yet belittle women when they showcase those things? Looking at other women post their photos is what made me want to sign up for my own shoot. I wanted to have photographic evidence of the woman I am today.


I grew up with so much self hatred. I grew up unable to love the body I was given and put way too much time and energy into being miserable. Want to know what I see when I look at the pictures Rachel took? I see a beautiful woman - a woman who took so much time to learn to love herself. I see a confident woman - a woman who finally appreciates herself enough to want to look at the curves of her body or the way her skin shines in certain lighting. I see a strong woman - a woman who's been through so much shit over the years and is finally taking her life back. Say what you want about Boudoir photography. Say what you want about the women like me who took time to pose for risqué photos and the ones who want to share them with the world. You can't take back the feeling of seeing the first photo. You can't take back the laughter that came out of me in the studio with Rachel. You can't take back the feeling of being on cloud nine when I drove home that day. And you sure as hell cannot take back the absolute happiness, love, and peace I feel when I look at any of the photos taken.


Boudoir photographers are a gift to this world. Rachel is a gift. The world needs more women like her, spreading love and helping grow self acceptance. I've made a lot of bad decisions in this lifetime, but doing this photoshoot was not one of them. In fact, it was probably one of the greatest decisions I've made so far. I'm grateful I was able to start my 24th year loving myself. If you want to do one of these photoshoots, but you're too scared, let yourself leap. Allow yourself to take the time to fall in love with yourself. Give yourself the gift of capturing photos of your beauty, confidence, and shine.


I hope you leap.


All the love,

Erin.


Follow Rachel & Untamed Boudoir here: https://www.instagram.com/_untamedboudoir_/



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