Traditional boudoir photography feeds a culture of consumption, generally associated with pin-up models and Playboy spreads, designed for a mostly male audience. For photographer Becca Serena and stylist Taylor Rasmussen, boudoir photography is an intimate and empowering experience that can be an avenue for individual self-exploration and body acceptance.
“We saw a lot of young women and femme identifying folks really having an interest in repairing their relationships with their bodies through body positive photography. And during my studies, I saw that people having control over their own image and representation was a big part of what gives people the confidence they need in their everyday life to go after their goals and their dreams, and to also heal from some pretty tough trauma,” said Serena.
In some cases, boudoir photography is used to heal different kinds of trauma. It helps to change the way that the individual views their own body, opening up avenues to self-love that may have been closed off or destroyed. It is a deeply personal and vulnerable experience that serves as a step on the road to recovery for those who, for whatever reason, have a rocky relationship with their body.
Industry standards for boudoir photography blur the lines between personal and professional, meaning that it can be uncomfortable for some individuals to explore their identity in a safe environment. More often than not, young models will shoot at a photographer’s home and in their bed, or the photographer will need to travel to a client’s home, which can be unsafe for the photographer. A neutral workspace at Millworks Creative District has allowed Serena and Rasmussen to ensure that everyone involved in the shoot feels comfortable and safe.
Before each session even begins, Serena and Rasmussen privately consult each of their clients to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Something that sets this duo apart is their commitment to openness, sharing their own experiences and vulnerabilities. This helps to foster a sense of trust with clients, allowing them to be more confident and at ease during the session.
“[W]e both really like to talk to people about what their intentions are with the photoshoot and the photos and what would make them feel best . . . What kind of styles are they more comfortable wearing? Are they more into modest clothing? Is there anything special that she has to think about, for example, like somebody has an insulin pump, or somebody walks with a cane,” said Serena.
By focusing on what the client wants to get out of the session, Serena and Rasmussen put the power in their hands. They are fully in control of their own image and representation. Boudoir photography provides them with the opportunity to be their authentic selves, allowing them to be the person that they want to be, rather than the one society expects them to be.
“[W]hen a person comes to the shoot we’ll have a curated wardrobe for them, like I have racks all set up with various local designers, and then it’s a process working with them [and finding] what they’re comfortable with and what they hope to see for themselves at the end of the photoshoot,” said Rasmussen. One of the local brands they work with is With Love Lingerie. You can learn more about them on page 20.
Rasmussen and Serena also make sure to check in with their clients throughout the shoot to make sure that they are still comfortable, both physically and emotionally. Boudoir photography has the potential to help clients heal from trauma, but in doing so they can be very vulnerable. By checking in and working with their clients, Rasmussen and Serena are able to create a safe environment for self-expression and growth.
Going forward, Serena and Rasmussen are looking to challenge the idea that boudoir photography and positive self-image are only for younger people. During their collaboration on POP! Tart—a magazine examining eating culture and people’s relationships to food and their bodies—they noticed that people 30 and over were not as open to having those conversations.
“I think right now our main goal is really getting this conversation going and encouraging people who haven’t given themselves permission to really think about or love their bodies or themselves,” said Serena.
In order to start this conversation about self-love, this past month Serena and Rasmussen offered a few smaller, more affordable sessions in time for Valentine’s Day, challenging the idea that Valentine’s Day is just for external relationships.
“We’re trying to take this Valentine’s Day [idea of] focusing on your relationship with others, and we’re trying to really flip that inward and look at radical self love and self acceptance instead through these sessions,” said Serena.
Serena and Rasmussen are changing the way that we perceive our bodies, one photograph at a time. Through their work, they are destigmatizing both body acceptance and sexuality and changing the public perception of boudoir photography from something that objectifies people’s bodies, to something that frees them.
This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.