Real Women of Rochester | Ryan Shear

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Ryan Shear  | Age: 35  | Professional Fundraiser

Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: Let’s begin with the fact that my name is Ryan. I have spent my entire life correcting people who make the assumption that I am a male until they meet me in person. I can see how some girls may get upset and grow to resent the name or her parents for giving her the name. Not me. I love my name. I embrace my name. I rock my name. Who made the decision that the name Ryan had to be limited to a boy? My parents certainly did not (actually, my older sister made the final choice) and I’m thankful for that. So, that’s where my journey began – as soon as I was born! The rest of my journey through womanhood, similar to many others, has been a rollercoaster of emotions; a constant battle with myself trying to figure out who I am. I struggled with body image for several years. I never saw myself the way others did. I was, of course, my own worst critic. I had low self-esteem and it took many years for me to come to terms with it. When I became old enough to date I found myself in back-to-back relationships that were all severely unhealthy. Couple this with low self-esteem and you have yourself a recipe for disaster. I endured years of emotional (and some physical) abuse and convinced myself that this was totally normal. This is love, right? As I was trying to figure myself out I would lose what little of “me” I had and find myself molding to whatever it was that this guy needed or wanted me to be. You would think that after the first relationship like this that I would have learned a lesson, right? I finally came to my senses when I was about 26. I spent 10 years in this never-ending cycle. Thanks goodness for a supportive family and many years of therapy. It would be very easy to look back on all of this and be angry, but I would not be the woman I am today if that were the case. I truly believe that every opportunity is a learning opportunity. If I can use my past to help better another girl or woman’s future, then you best believe that I will. I am so glad that I found the strength within to walk away. Now, instead of following, I lead. I speak my mind. I stand my ground. I am woman, hear me roar!    

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Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: I’ll defer to the late, great Janis Joplin – “Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got.

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: I was surprised at how comfortable and natural it felt. There I was stripping down in front of a (then) complete stranger to be photographed. Had I completely lost my mind? Well, if I had, I’m glad I did! Natalie has an amazing ability to get people to let their guard down. If I was being hard on myself because a little bit of fat was oozing out here and there, she first assured me that I was being crazy and then made me laugh in a way that enabled her to capture incredible photos. Wow – do I really look like that? Awesome. The experience was a huge boost of confidence.

Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: Damn, girl! But seriously, I feel sexy and beautiful. I clean up well. 

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Don’t be silly. We are all beautiful in our own ways. You will look back on these photos and be so glad that you took the time to do it. The experience alone instills confidence in a way that words just cannot describe. Do it. Do it now.   

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Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: You are not alone. Stop thinking that the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Ask for and accept help from others. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: Beauty comes from within – confidence, strength and a great sense of humor are beautiful. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: Don’t rush things and take time for yourself. If you still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, that’s okay. I’m 35, a new mom and I’m still figuring it out, but you know what - I'm happy, I’m loved and that’s all that matters.  

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Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: You look great. You just got your driver’s license and you need to be having fun. You don’t need a boyfriend – you have plenty of time in life for that – you do you. 

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Be kind. Be kind to yourself and be kind to others. Stop obsessing over your outer appearance and stop allowing others to make you feel poorly for who you are. Confidence is beautiful and will take you far in life. Additionally, speak your mind. Choose your words wisely and make your words count.

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Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: I brought a tiny human into this world. Okay, so my husband helped, but I worked HARD. It still amazes me that our bodies are capable of everything that goes along with childbirth. I have a very, very low tolerance for pain and was terrified of labor and delivery. Fortunately, my body did its thing, I needed very little intervention and after one hour of pushing the hardest I have ever pushed in my life, my son arrived, which was a very surreal moment for me. I did it. My husband was beyond impressed with how well I tolerated the pain. About two weeks later I found out that he was trembling the entire time I was pushing! He was a rock for me, but it was kind of cute to hear him say that he was scared.  

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: My past self would tell my present self that I am crazy for how I am about to answer this question, but I truly feel beautiful after working out. A handful of years ago I started working out with a personal trainer. She helped me discover a physical strength that I never would have imagined. My confidence level skyrocketed as I found something that I really enjoy.  

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I am grateful to be a woman right here and right now. Our world still has work to do toward gender equality, but right now, it’s pretty cool to be a woman. I appreciate that we are emotional creatures who are able to sympathize with the pain of others or cry because we are laughing so hard. Our bodies can create and sustain another human life and then produce the nourishment needed for that baby to grow. That is pretty damn incredible. I love that I can vote, drive a car, dress how I choose…anything…I can do anything I want and I can be whatever I want to be – and that’s amazing.

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Real Women of Rochester - Tiffany

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: Wow! What a question! I guess that would have to start with what that means to me.  My whole life, I have been surrounded by strong women. My mother, my grandmother, my aunts and cousins have all shown strength emotionally and physically. To me a being a woman is, finding that strength within you to be yourself--to live freely. It is to be graceful with each challenge you face but with tenacity and confidence. It is to not cower in the shadow of a man.

 My journey starts with college. After many years of partying, and fulfilling my biology degree requirements I was left thinking what every twenty-something thinks, "What am I doing with my life? Is it even meaningful?" I had goals of being a doctor, and OB/GYN. I wanted to deliver babies and inform women about their sexual health. My passion was deep, but it was also clouded. After many attempts at standardized tests, denied applications and hours of shadow experience I had to throw in the towel. It's hard letting go, I wandered this earth pretty aimlessly. That time even though I had no career goals; I had goals of becoming the woman I have always envisioned myself, just without the job. It took work, to find my confidence, my drive, and myself. But like a strong woman, I pulled through. To be honest, I still have no clue what I am going to do for the rest of my life but that is OK. I will figure it out, or most likely it will appear in my life kicking and screaming.

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: To all the women worried about what they are "supposed" to be doing for the rest of their life:  Are you kind to yourself? Are you taking the best care of yourself? Do you leave conversations without doubt or feeling like you had to pretend to be someone? STOP with the smoke screen. Because the more we live authentically ourselves, the more we will be open to what we are actually supposed to do. And I am a firm believer in if we all do something we love, this world will be better off for it. Let your calling actually CALL you.

Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: I love it! I love that even though I was lost at that point in time, I was still figuring out who I am. It is a time marker, it reminds me all that happened and all that is still left to be. 

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Do you genuinely think that? Because even without seeing you, I know you are beautiful. Be kind to yourself, being you is what this world needs. Photographs are reminders of that. Let the world see how amazing you are. 

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Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: It's ok to be lost. It is ok to not have every detail of your life figured out. Don't rush the process, but also don't wait for things to happen to you. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen-year-old self?

A: Oh, girl! Men are not everything, you are everything and more. 

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Don't take change for granted. You are all witnesses to a lot of changes happening, politically. Don't forget all the people that have had to fight for equality before you. Do not take anything for granted. 

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Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Not knowing what my career is. I still don't, but my heart is open. I'm currently work for lululemon, and it has been such a great company to work for. Many people I work with say this company has helped them find what they are good at. So at work I take every opportunity to talk to interesting people, to do things i never would have done before. My hope is by putting myself out there and making myself uncomfortable, I will eventually find my dream career. Secretly, I would love to own a donut shop. But let's be honest, not many of them would make it into the case ;)

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Realizing my value, realizing my inner strength and my possibility. It wasn't one experience but a collection of many. A year ago my husband Andrew got matched to a program in Long Island. Let me preface, I knew no one and had no job prospects. The only thing I knew about Long Island were the Hamptons, the horrible traffic and the ice coffee was good. Being in this new situation I made a conscious decision to just put myself out there and see what happens. I set low expectations but high standards. I definitely gained self-love, learned what I am good at and became inspired. I spoke up more, did things I never would have done, talked to random strangers. I think the moment you decide to step outside your fear, is the moment you give yourself a little more out of life. 

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Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: Working out, because somehow my inner strength (my self-confidence, my lack of doubt, my fearlessness) is matched by my outer strength. It is pretty euphoric. 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Everything, my body, my mind, and my soul. The fact that I get to dress the way I want. That I get to make love to my husband. I can be a mother someday and have a special connection with another human. My strength, we are so much stronger than men. 

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Valentine's Day Inspired Boudoir Shoot!

Hand-lettered valentines, tulle, lipstick and kisses... what's not to love?! Enjoy this bright and fun little Valentine's Day inspired styled shoot that we put together for you :)

 ROSE: STACY K FLORAL | HAND-LETTERED VALENTINE: SUGAR & TYPE

ROSE: STACY K FLORAL | HAND-LETTERED VALENTINE: SUGAR & TYPE

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 HAND-LETTERED VALENTINE: SUGAR & TYPE

HAND-LETTERED VALENTINE: SUGAR & TYPE

SHOUT-OUTS TO OUR INCREDIBLE TEAM:

Model: Gina Mattice
Hair & Makeup: Special Occasion Hair Design
Nails: Sunless2Go
Rose: Stacy K Floral
Valentines: Sugar & Type
Video: Julia Hart Productions
Photography: Natalie SinisgallI Photography

VIDEO BY: JULIA HART PRODUCTIONS

Real Women of Rochester | Lisa's Shoot Reveal

In case you missed the first part of this two-part story, read our "Meet Lisa" post first, and then enjoy the grande finale of her story and finished images below! :) I've also included some great resources at the bottom - both an organization that helped Lisa and her son through their struggles with his addiction, as well as a video of Lisa presenting her story to a committee of NYS Senators in hopes to reform our government's policies that provide help for those fighting addiction.

IN HER HEAD BEFORE THE SHOOT

"While I was nervous to call originally, when I came in the studio, Natalie made me feel completely right at home. All the nerves went out the door. I was just excited.

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT

Honestly. I felt great. You feel glamorous, you feel good inside, good outside. I can’t say enough. And then when you’re showing me the pictures, I’m like ‘Wow! Let’s keep going!” I can’t explain the feeling. I felt so good. She made me feel so good! Like no one else has made me feel before, other than my husband.

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS

I love this picture. It makes me feel proud. Empowered. I can’t explain it, I don’t want to say delicate, but It’s very soft. I want to come across as soft but tough. Feminine.

I love how sexy this photo is! I wouldn’t describe myself as sexy but that’s a sexy picture!

My husband loves this photo – it's on his desk. He says I look beautiful, confident, loving, approachable. Honestly, he loves them all, and so do I.  Sometimes I’ll be doing book-work at the desk and I’ll look at it and go “wow, that was so much fun! I wanna do it again!”. I love revisiting my images for a confidence boost. It was a such a great experience, honestly, it was! I tell everybody about it.

PARTING THOUGHTS

Never underestimate what you can do. Never tell yourself you can’t. Always tell yourself you can, and do it to the best of your ability. No matter if it’s a crisis, a new job, difficulties within your family, a health issue. Just never say you can’t do something - because you really can.  Growing up I was always very shy and quiet, I hid behind my mother. As I got older and I started to experience difficult things, and I found the fight in me. I've put myself in uncomfortable positions to overcome my fear. Even though I was scared out of my wits sometimes, there were things I had to do. So I just told myself I could do them – and then I did. For example recently, I had to talk on a heroin and opiate forum, and I had senators in front of me who wanted me to share my story in a nutshell. I was scared but I thought, I’m doing this. I need to do this for other people. There was not enough help when we went through this, and it was an incredibly difficult time. Even now, there’s people that need help and they still can’t find it. And that needs to change.

Since I've started sharing my story, I’ve gotten messages from people I haven’t spoken to in years and they’ve told me that they are struggling. They ask for advice, and I offer my experiences. I never want to tell you what to do with your child but I want people to know what I did, and hopefully they can benefit from what I've been through.

I take every day as it comes. I can’t look at the whole picture because I get nervous, anxious. None of that is good. So, today is today, what do I have on my plate today? I’m going to deal with it, and tomorrow is another day. That’s how I look at things. It’s good to prepare for the future, but I have to look at each day is it comes. Like today, when I came here for my interview, I didn’t want to be nervous, so I just showed up and did it.

I did this boudoir shoot for my husband thinking only of him , but I realized after I did the shoot it was something I needed for myself as well. I spent so much time working to survive,  raising my two sons which always came first and dealing with one that was an addict - I forgot about myself. In these images I saw something in me I never saw before, a very strong, tough woman. I’m so thankful that Natalie brought that out of me during our shoot, so glad we've become friends through this new journey, it’s been a wonderful experience I'll never forget!"  - Lisa

Resources:
The group that helped her son: www.teenchallengeusa.com              
The video of Lisa speaking to Senators about her experience, lobbying for more resources to be allocated to addiction support:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECzhxzkL0no&feature=em-share_video_user > Lisa starts at 1:39:40

10 Reasons NOT To Do A Boudoir Shoot

Hello ladies! I've complied a list of the top 10 reasons (i.e. excuses!) I hear from women about why they will not / should not / or cannot do a boudoir shoot...

1. I need to lose weight first. This is the most common excuse we hear for why someone won't book a boudoir shoot. I have an entire blog post devoted to this concern, but here's the heart of it: your shoot is about so much more than just the shape of your body. It's my job to make you comfortable so I can capture your genuine laugh, the sparkle in your eyes, and all the other quirks that make you "YOU". Besides, expert posing, lighting, lens choice, wardrobe, and image composition will having you looking slimmer than you have ever thought possible! You are not defined by your size, so don't let it keep you from feeling good about the incredible woman you are.

2. I'm not young enough for that. The more years you've lived, the more you have to celebrate! I have photographed women of all ages, and quite a few of my all-time-favorite shoots have fallen into the 50+ age bracket. There is a certain sensuality and confidence that comes only with age, and even though you may not be as toned or taut as you once were - it honestly couldn't matter less. I will guide you through wardrobe selection and posing that will highlight your best assets and capture that firey spunk that has only gotten stronger with age!

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3. I shouldn't spend the money on myself. Think of it as an investment in your self-confidence. I especially hear a lot of moms feeling guilty for spending time and money on themselves instead of their kids. I'm a big believer that you can't pour from an empty cup, and that it's important for kids to have a mom that is comfortable in her own skin and loves and accepts her body. Wouldn't you want your kids to be able to love and accept their bodies without self-criticism and doubt? An investment in yourself IS an investment in your family. Not only that, but these portraits will likely be one of the only things you purchase this year that actually appreciate in value over time.

4. I don't have anything sexy to wear. Well, not wearing anything is certainly an option :) But seriously - a boudoir shoot is not about shopping or reinventing yourself into who you think you "should" be. While it can be a fun excuse to buy some new bras or panties, my favorite way to photograph a woman is in her favorite everyday outfit. Even if we deconstruct it a bit (think: your favorite leather jacket with just a bra underneath), your photos should reflect exactly who you are, and part of who you are is what you like to wear and feel comfortable in.

5. I don't do lingerie. Who said you need lingerie? As I mentioned above, the best outfits are those that are true to your identity. If lingerie isn't your thing - let's figure out what your version of "sexy" is. Maybe it's your man's oversized dress shirt and tie on your womanly figure - or maybe it's his Bills jersey. You really can't go wrong with the basics - a white cami or a black dress can be as sexy as thigh highs any day.

6. I don't want my pictures on the internet. We take your privacy very seriously, and only post images with 100% consent of our clients. We understand that doing a boudoir shoot is an incredibly personal endeavor, and you are in complete control of where your images exist after your shoot.

7. I don't have anyone to give it to /  my spouse wouldn't approve. While some women do book a shoot to give as a gift to their partner, every woman agrees after doing the shoot that it was actually a gift to herself. Our studio is a safe, comfortable judgement-free zone in which you will have the opportunity to feel beautiful and valued. This shoot is really only about one person - YOU.

8. I'm just not "sexy". Not a single woman comes into my studio knowing how to "look sexy" for their boudoir shoot. This will be the most guided experience of your life. It's not your job to know how to pose; it's my job to know how to coach you. All the women you see in our gallery are regular gals, they are not models, and they are not any different than you. If you bring me your authentic self and a few of your favorite items of clothing, I will show you how sexy you already are.

9. I have NO idea how to do my own hair and makeup. We count ourselves lucky to work with Special Occasion Hair Design on every single boudoir shoot we do. We believe having professional hair and makeup is an integral component of your shoot, which is why it is included in your session fee. Chrissy comes to our studio and will spend the first hour of your shoot styling your hair and makeup to best accentuate your features and reflect your personal style.

10. [ENTER YOUR OWN PERSONAL HANG-UP HERE]. Your fear and self-doubt can come up with endless reasons for you to not do anything outside your comfort zone. It's a biological response to anything we deem "scary". It's up to you to choose if you're going to be more loyal to your fears, or to yourself. If you'd like to learn more about doing a boudoir shoot, check out our website and give us a call. We'd love to help show your inner rockstar :)

Real Women of Rochester | Cindy's Photo Reveal

Last week Cindy shared the story of her life's journey with us, and why she wanted to be a part of the project. This week, we have her images accompanied by her thoughts during every step of the process, as well as what her images mean to her!

IN HER HEAD BEFORE THE SHOOT: I try not to have expectations so that when I go into things it’s neither good nor bad. It just is what it is. I can never know what’s going to happen, so I don’t want to have an expectation. It helps me from getting nervous or anxious, I just take it for what it is. That's been my outlook since I was 20 and went to study abroad in Scotland by myself. That prepared me for many things in life. I was completely on my own. As soon as you think things will go badly, it usually will go badly. And if you think it will go well, then you might be disappointed. Before my shoot I knew I had prepared the best I could, and therefore I felt ready for whatever it would be.

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT: How fun it was! It was exciting and freeing and I felt very comfortable during the shoot. I didn’t know what it would be like, but like I said I felt very prepared. I knew what clothing and jewelry I was going to wear, and I loved all the new things I brought - I had everything I needed. I never would’ve picked out the blue set, but the woman at Victoria's Secret (Charlie, in the Greece mall!) picked it out. And she was right. I love it! I have to write her a thank you card.

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS: It’s so hard not to compare yourself to other people, especially with bathing suit season upon us. But I look at these images and I think to myself, 'why haven’t you worn a bikini? Why haven’t you ever invested in that? You look good!' I wonder what my hesitations were – looking back now, I don’t get it. It really does make me feel very good about my body and that it’s a strong, healthy body. This body has had two kids. It makes me feel good, ya know? I’d never had my hair and makeup done so that in and of itself was great. I’ve always done spa stuff as a form of self care. I get massages every month, facials, pedicures, manicures. I consider that maintenance, and I consider that health; taking care of myself physically. This was exciting for me, because now I think maybe I will get my hair and makeup done more, and maybe I will do some more photography in the future. It opened up a whole other arena of feeling good about myself! Same with the shopping component - I had never purchased nice underwear before this. I'd always buy the exact same underwear. I thought - 'Why bother? No one sees it'. Now I see the value. Why wouldn’t you wear something pretty underneath your clothes? The whole process was so fun for me. Going into the shoot I was hoping to see myself as beautiful – and that was absolutely met. I love the proportions of my body. I love my legs, and my neck too. Sometimes I don’t realize how confident I am or how I can present myself. I forget my own strength.

PARTING THOUGHTS: I wanted to be a part of a community of women who celebrate and empower each other. It is so in line with what I do for a living as a wellness coach. I help people identify a wellness plan for their life. I love working with people in their 30s, because so many things happen in your life at that time; getting married, having kids, buying a home. We have such a healthcare issue and a savings issue in this country. If you’re not saving and you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re going to be in dire need when you’re in your 60s, and you’re not going to be able to live the lifestyle you dreamed of. If you don't have your health, all of your money will go to wellness and medical expenses. So my purpose is to educate people early enough in their life to make those changes. I help them create a plan based on their goals, and I serve as their accountability manager to help them get to where they want to be. I didn't find my purpose until later in life, but all of the information I have gathered in my twenty years of education and knowledge - including my business degree, my massage therapy degree, and me being a researcher into wellness prepared me for this- my ultimate path in life.

I would highly recommend women do this for themselves because I think stepping outside of yourself, and to be able to see yourself from another person’s perspective is a great way to change your own belief system about yourself. You rarely get to see yourself through another person’s eyes. I think this is a glimpse of that in a safe, comfortable, positive way. You get to see yourself in a different light; in a way that you never will again in your life. It’s a much more intimate experience than just having a head shot done.

And for the record, here's the head shot she originally called me for to promote her wellness business, which we did during her boudoir shoot as well ;)

Real Women of Rochester | Cindy

Cindy has many wonderful qualities, but one that really stood out to me upon meeting her is that she's very present. Authentic. She's standing in front of you, meeting you right back, and there's no where else she'd rather be. She's an incredible listener, gives the best hugs, stands tall, and for lack of a better term - really has her sh*t together :) I've enjoyed getting to know Cindy immensely, I hope you all do as well...

Cindy - 40, Residence: Rochester. Wellness Advocate, Corporate Convert and Energetic Entrepreneur (cindysessentials.com)

 Cindy | Cindysessentials.com

Cindy | Cindysessentials.com

HER WHY: My life changed completely about four and a half years ago when I went to a home class to learn about Essential Oils. At that point in my life I was working as a Human Resources Consultant. My commute was about an hour each way and just like most people I was juggling working, being a mom, wife and had lost a piece of who I was.

My initial focus for going to the class was to learn more natural ways to help my daughter who had asthma. I am also a Licensed Massage Therapist, so natural wellness has always been my passion. Little did I know that getting a membership that night would not only transform our family’s physical health, but also allow me to tune in to and follow my life’s purpose.

Fast forward 4 years and I am looking for head shots for my business, but kind of knew that Natalie also did boudoir photos. I had cut my safety net of consulting two years earlier and hopped on the entrepreneur roller coaster. When I talked with Amy, she told me Natalie doesn't focus on headshots, but she does do boudoir and that I could add on a headshot to that type of shoot if I was interested. My friend had done boudoir photos, and it was a very special experience for her. It had always been in the back of my head, (and my husbands after I mentioned it to him) and I decided that I might as well do it!

It was my way of telling myself it was okay, because I was getting headshots out of it, but ultimately it was a 40th birthday gift to myself and I knew it would be a pretty awesome Father’s Day gift!

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: I am beautiful at forty. I wouldn’t have been able to say that earlier in my life. I was known as the nice one, smart one, athletic one, but not the beautiful one. Funny how other people’s perception starts to work inside you. For the past forty years, I identified with those characteristics and didn’t really think about beauty. I didn’t wear a lot of dresses or makeup or ever buy frilly underwear and very feminine clothing. It just didn’t feel right. This past year I started a program called Dressing Your Truth with Carol Tuttle and I started to recognize that what I wore really did have a lot to say about who I am. Prior to the class, I would wear black, white, grey and navy blue. After recognizing which type I really was inside, those colors and styles actually were presenting a false picture of me. I am a Type 3. My words are Active, Reactive, Textured, Angular, Rich, Substantial, Dynamic and Swift. Interestingly enough, on the color palate, black, white, grey and navy are absent! I started shopping differently, trying new clothing and I felt so much better.

My idea of beauty is to know who you are and take care of yourself. Beauty is understanding your strengths and realizing your potential, in all areas of life. Beauty is being healthy. It takes time and effort to peel away all the layers of what society, your family, and your friends think of as beautiful. When I was younger, I thought I had to fit into a mold or prove something. I now realize, I am me, I am perfect and the more me I become, the more beautiful I am! When you take care of yourself, your outside is going to reflect it. People tend to radiate a certain glow when they are healthy. That is what I want to teach people.

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT: Being exposed. I do not wear bikinis, I rarely wear shorts. I own one pair. I don’t wear sports bras without a shirt - my stomach is never exposed. I tend to cover up. I don’t know why, I don’t think I have an awful body. I've just never thought the world needed to see it? Being exposed, in particular, is very vulnerable. I knew once it’s out there, it’s out there. Deep down I think there is also that little voice in the back of your head that says, “What will other people think?” I want to break free from that thinking all together so I decided to go for it!

HER MISSION: I saw the other women who are on the website and I was so impressed with their strength. I want to be part of a community of women who celebrate and empower each other. I think it’s very special to have your picture taken by a professional photographer first off and then even more evocative when you have on less clothes than you normally wear. I loved working with Natalie because she is an artist and for that small moment, I was her canvas. It’s very empowering. There are so many things that degrade women in our society and tell them not to be beautiful, not to express themselves fully and that shouldn’t be the case.

I want other women to see it as that, and want them to feel empowered to do it themselves. By me revealing myself, I hopefully give others that strength. I think the line from Maryanne Williamson’s poem, Our Deepest Fear sums it up pretty well, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” I want us all to recognize the power we have inside.

PARTING WORDS: I mentioned earlier that in the beginning I felt like I needed an excuse to book the session, I did it to get some headshots and as a Father’s Day gift. I now know that wasn’t the case. I wanted this experience for me. To have this experience and give it to myself is not something that most women allow themselves. It’s unfortunate because a lot of us (me included) would only book a session as a gift to their partner. What you don't realize is that once you get here, the experience is really yours. And that's a magical gift. The resulting outcome (a book) may end up being theirs, but it’s also yours. It’s a great gift to yourself and I think you realize that during and after your shoot.

 

Real Women of Rochester | Erin's Shoot Reveal

In true RWOR fashion, today we are sharing the photos from Erin's shoot and her thoughts on them! Previously you got to meet Erin and hear about why she wanted to be a part of our Real Woman of Rochester project. This is one of my favorite posts yet.... Erin really hit the nail on the head of what boudoir is all about and why we all need to appreciate ourselves and eachother as we are. 

IN HER HEAD BEFORE THE SHOOT: When I made the initial call I was terrified. I was like, “oh my gosh do I really want to do this?”. All that self-doubt. Will they even want to photograph me? I had the studio page open in my web browser for days before I even made the initial call because I just kept waffling back and forth. The day of the shoot I remember coming up the elevator thinking, “Oh crap!”. But then all of that just started to fade. I spent so much time preparing for the shoot, and I felt really well-prepared. The style guide I was given and the consultation with Natalie, helped me to feel prepared. Being able to get your hair and makeup done, which is something I don't do (I don't wear makeup to work, just special occasions)-- and I certainly don't do my hair -- that was such a special treat in itself.

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT: I just let it all go and took direction from Natalie. I knew that I was in very capable hands and I felt safe. It was really fun and what I loved the most was that no matter where we were, no matter what the backgrounds were, they were complimentary to who I was and they spoke to my style and who I am. Even after the brief consultation I feel like Natalie was able to really pick up on the spirit of who I am. So to be able to see that throughout the process of that morning just made me more excited as we were going through. 

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS: I sat down to a slideshow set to music, and I just sat there and cried. My reaction was, “Wow - I'm really pretty!”. And I thought, “gosh- other people, including my (now ex-) boyfriend in fact view me that way every day, and why don't I?”. And that's what that moment was about. It was like, “you're alright, Erin”. Having that moment, it was just amazing.

Knowing that it's me in these photos, I'm still in awe of that. Hindsight is everything, the whole shoot looks so candid and lovely. But what I love about it is that it IS me. It's overweight Erin, which is totally okay, but I don't see any of that. I just see someone who is very comfortable in this amazing moment. I will unabashedly show my pictures to anyone who is interested. I love the app Natalie made for my phone because when I'm out I can be like, “Want to see my boudoir photos? Just stand by!”. It's so fun to see some people's responses. Some people think Erin Julian would never do something like this. But everyone says, “Oh my gosh, I think these pictures are amazing! I should totally do that!”. And I tell them, of course, that they should!

PARTING THOUGHTS: A big part of the reason this was such a great experience is because of the images that I have to reflect back on and look at with a sense of pride. This is who I am. I like to share that message with folks around me, and as a result a lot of my friends have booked shoots with Natalie. Ultimately, my friends booked shoots because of how my shoot made me feel. That was more important to me (and to them) than the actual resulting photos. I think everybody should have an experience where they are proud and excited about who they are, and feel gorgeous, because we all are. This embodied all of that for me. To think that a year later I still have that feeling... it still excites me! I still want to tell people about it and encourage them to do it so they can have that experience – I think that's huge.

I originally booked the shoot as a gift to my boyfriend. I never thought a boudoir shoot was something you would do for yourself, until I did mine. After having the experience myself, I thought, “why didn't I do this sooner? Why didn't you do this for yourself?”. It's such an empowering experience. And I never could have imagined that it would be until I was in it. Gosh, if someone reads this and thinks to themselves, “I should do this for me, and not for somebody else” then that's a win, because it's an experience we should all have.

I feel like if my participation in this project can have a positive impact on someone, whether they decide do a boudoir photo shoot or something else for themselves, then that's worth everything. I am not ashamed of these pictures, there is nothing scandalous about them. That is part of this project. We have to objectify women less and realize that we are human beings, these are our bodies, and we are beautiful. If this project can do that, then it's a win. I would put all my energy in that. There is power in that. We should all be proud of who we are.

How To Buy Thigh Highs

 WIDE LACE TOP - STAY-UPS, PAIRED WITH DECORATIVE GARTER BELT

WIDE LACE TOP - STAY-UPS, PAIRED WITH DECORATIVE GARTER BELT

A lot of women prepping for their boudoir shoots tell me they have never worn thigh highs. I should mention that it's by no means mandatory to bring these to your shoot if you don't find thigh highs to be your particular brand of sexy. They are however very popular, and many women do choose to purchase a pair for their shoot. It's all fun and games until you realize exactly how many options there are... here's a little guide to your legs' new best friends!

1. TYPE (Stay Up vs. Traditional). This is the most important thing to know when in the market for thigh highs! Any given pair is either of the "stay up" variety which means that it has a silicone band inside the top to keep it up, OR they are the traditional plastic-free variety that require a garter belt.

STAY UPS (most popular)

 VICTORIA'S SECRET -  STAY UP THIGH HIGHS

VICTORIA'S SECRET -  STAY UP THIGH HIGHS

PROS: These are a great option if you don't want to wear or purchase a garter belt, it's one stop shopping! They also tend to be more useful in "real life" scenarios due to the fact that garter belts can't be worn under tight dresses without showing. They are also much more popular in our modern day hosiery market so you will likely have many more styles to choose from, including different patterns, colors and designs. Eighty percent of my clients bring these into my studio. The nice part, is that even though you don't need one, you can still wear a garter belt for photo purposes!

CONS: This is a big one - they tend to create a bulge. Think: muffin top for your thigh. While we can definitely work around this through a combination of posing, styling, and retouching, if you're self-conscious about your legs looking chubby, you're probably not going to feel very confident in these.

 


TRADITIONAL

 GERBE Traditional non-stay up thigh highs, with backseam and cuban heel

GERBE Traditional non-stay up thigh highs, with backseam and cuban heel

PROS: You can completely avoid the leg "muffin-top" bulge, as these do not squeeze your thighs at all!  Garter belts oftentimes prove to be a more secure method of keeping your hose up than the sticky plastic you'll find in modern stay ups, especially depending on the quality (cheaper pairs tend to fall down more frequently).

CONS: They tend to be a little harder to find and with considerably fewer options. The options, however, are usually classic and beautiful (backseam is a hallmark of classic thigh highs, pictured left). You MUST wear a garter belt in order to keep them up, which can limit your clothing options (no tight dresses for you!).

 

 

2. PRICE: There are several different brands to fit every style and budget! Here are a few of the most popular....

High end ($50+): For the woman who wants to wear thigh highs on the regular, you truly get what you pay for when it comes to hosiery. These are snag, rip, and tear resistant, and are incredibly luxurious to the touch. It's best to never grace your legs with these sumptuous silks if don't want to pony up $50 or more, because speaking from experience, it's very hard to go back.

  • Wolford
  • Maison Close

Mid level ($15-30): These are great brands to try out in the $15-30 range because you'll get the quality you want for semi-regular wear without the price tag you can expect from higher end brands. You'll find plenty of different styles and designs to choose from.


Low end ($8-15): Here's a great place to start if you have never worn thigh highs before and suspect you will never wear them again after your shoot. You can find these brands online and in stores like Marshall's, or at most department stores at the mall. These will definitely last the duration of your shoot and likely for a few more wears if you end up deciding you like them (or you start getting requests from your partner...).

  • Hue
  • Berkshire

 


3. FIT:  It's really important your thigh highs fit properly, so make sure to read the sizing chart provided with whichever brand you are purchasing. If you are between two sizes, try them on or just purchase both - you can always return the ones that don't fit. Too small and your legs will look like sausages in too small a casing (!), too big and they will fall down, driving you insane in the process.

4. COLOR & STYLE: For my boudoir shoots, I really recommend black or nude. Red and white tend to look costumey, so unless you've got your heart set on either, I'd opt for black or whatever nude is for your skin tone. The other styling elements are up to you! Scalloped lace tops are very popular (shown below), you can also find satin top bands if lace is not your thing. I am a fan of both sheer and fishnet materials (sheer on left, fishnet on the right). The other most common styling option you'll see is "backseam" (featured in the Gerbe package above) and is exactly what it sounds like - a seam running up the back of the stocking. It's a very vintage sexy look that will go well with most any outfit - especially something classic (think black dress or bra and panty set with pearls!).

 LEFT: NUDE SCALLOPED LACE TOPRIGHT: BLACK SCALLOPED LACE TOP FISHNETS. BOTH BY FREDERICK'S OF HOLLYWOOD (www.fredericks.com)

LEFT: NUDE SCALLOPED LACE TOPRIGHT: BLACK SCALLOPED LACE TOP FISHNETS. BOTH BY FREDERICK'S OF HOLLYWOOD (www.fredericks.com)

Now you have all the facts! So go forth and find the perfect pair(s) for you! I even have a few emergency back up pairs at my studio - but if you do decide to buy some for your shoot, I'd like you to buy a pair you feel comfortable in and will wear again, If only in the bedroom ;)

[EDITOR'S NOTE: I purchased 3 pairs while researching for this blog post... #workplacehazards]

Real Women of Rochester | Nikki's Shoot Reveal

IN HER HEAD BEFORE THE SHOOT: I was excited,  but still wondered if I had the right outfits. I fretted over what to bring for a week and a half! Natalie gave me some ideas and I was able to look at some of her other pictures, and when I got back home I was like, “okay, is this going to work?”. That’s why I brought so much stuff to my shoot!

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT: Natalie made it really easy. She put the bra, the panties, the shoes together from what I brought. She immediately knew what she wanted to work with, and I agreed. As for the makeup and hair - I had never been made up like that in my life, so it was great! Chrissy was really nice, too. It just made me feel even more beautiful and put me in the mood to have fun (the mimosa’s helped too!). I felt very comfortable during the entire process, and I felt even sexier as the shoot progressed.  Natalie gave me direction on where to look, how to look, what to do with my hands.  Some of the poses are hard to keep your balance for, I almost fell on my face! But Natalie showed me shots on the back of the camera and I thought, “these are looking good, I pulled it off!” I absolutely loved it.

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS: Natalie asked me to describe the woman (me) I saw in this photo…. I said ‘Wow, first of all, she’s beautiful. She’s rocking it. And she looks really confident and strong’. These photos reinforced the positive thoughts I’d had about myself. It was tough getting to that point. Growing up I always felt awkward and gawky and skinny and weird. My husband just makes me feel beautiful. He always gave me self-confidence. And I think, too, over the years, with having the kids, I felt better about myself. Now after the shoot, I feel even more empowered. Even more sexy. I tell everyone, ‘you know I’m a model now, don’t you? I’m a top model, now!’. My husband is worried I’m going to be impossible to live with now.

I really love my tattoo. There’s a woman in there - I’m the tree. And growing in the roots is my husband and my sons’ names because they’re my foundation -  they help me grow. Especially the boys, because of the difficulty I had to have them. They made me, they changed me. I’m a better person now. I am who I am because of them.

PARTING THOUGHTS: I have infertility issues- endometriosis. At 21 I was told I would never have children, and I felt devastated. Everybody is supposed to easily have kids and I wondered, ‘what’s wrong with me?!’. I felt alone and very isolated. The one thing that is supposed to be fun in marriage, the romance is totally gone from because here is the thermometer, here is the chart, let’s do this! The fertility process is so hard on your body, you pump you full of drugs- you go to the doctor constantly. I got pregnant a few times… and then I’d go in so they could check my levels. They’re supposed to be doubling if you’re pregnant. Then they call you one day at work, to tell you the numbers are going backwards, so you know you’re having a miscarriage. And you’re at work, like, ‘okay, thanks’. As you get older and you’ve been married for a while, there’s always that question, “When are you going to have kids?”. But you don’t want to share your problem with anyone. I never ask anyone who doesn’t have kids when they plan to have kids, because I know. It would hurt so bad if they’re trying. It’s just that question, it’s a stab in the heart.

I was told I couldn’t have children, but I did. It made me feel beautiful to have my kids. I want other women going through infertility issues to know not to give up. We knew, even if we couldn’t have kids biologically, that there was always adoption or fostering. Someway, somehow, I was going to make it happen. There’s always hope. You have to believe in yourself, build a good friend base, have someone to talk to and share with. I come from a household and family of strong females. If you get us together, watch out! That strength was instilled in me. Us young women in our family were taught that you don’t really NEED a man - do for yourself, have for yourself. If you have a man, that’s great. But don’t ever lose yourself.

Why You Shouldn't Lose 10 lbs Before Your Boudoir Shoot

Hi ladies! This is one I hear frequently - so I want to take this opportunity to set your minds at ease. You do not need to lose 10 (20, 30, ANY) lbs. in order to do a boudoir shoot. And here's why...

1. This shoot is not about the size of your body. A boudoir shoot has so much more to do with who you are than what your body looks like. It's a celebration of your femininity, inner-strength and self-love, which is not limited by the shape or size of your body. It's my job as your photographer to create a comfortable and fun environment in which you can be yourself and let your inner personality shine through. EVERY woman with every body can do a boudoir shoot and look and feel beautiful.

2. It will not really make a difference in your photos. The reality is that posing, lens choice, lighting, camera angles, (did I mention posing?!) and wardrobe will have SO much more impact on your photographs than a few lbs here or there will. I PROMISE. It your photographer's job to flatter your body, whatever shape or size it is, it's not up to you to make your body perfect for your photographer.

Mahan-Boudoir-285.jpg

3. You're punishing yourself. I think a lot of women use extra pounds as an excuse to not embrace and love themselves. They feel like because their bodies do not look how they think they should (which is a whole separate conversation...), that they are not worth treating themselves well. They are not worth loving. What if you never lose the weight? Does that mean you never deserve to feel beautiful? We've got to stop assigning so much value to the number on the scale and start caring for ourselves and each other the way we are right now.

4. You are perfect as you are. I truly believe every woman is perfect exactly how they are today. We are a product of our experiences in life, and your body has gotten you to wherever you are. Think of the incredible things your body does for you every day. You can kiss your loved ones with your lips, hug your children with your arms, prepare nourishing meals with your hands, walk anywhere on your legs. Whether you're a wife, a girlfriend, a mom, a sister, a daughter, a friend, an executive, stay at home mom, or just a general bad-ass lady - embrace yourself as a whole. "Imperfections" and all. Our differences are what makes us all beautiful, and it's time you celebrate yourself exactly as you are. You are ready and you are worth it.

Real Woman of Rochester - Nikki

When you first meet Nikki you sense a quiet confidence about her. Within 1 minute of knowing her, you know her laugh and smile can fill an entire room. For me, one of the most striking things about her is the beautiful relationship she has with her husband and sons- evidenced not only by how lovingly she speaks of them, but by her tattoos commemorating their love (but I'll save those details for the photo reveal next week!). She's the "Queen Bee" and she puts it - "even the cats are male!". It's obvious the love for the queen is well-earned and reciprocal, and her journey of gaining self-confidence is firmly rooted in her family.

Nikki - 43, Residence: Rochester, Co-Owner / Office Manager at Unified Electric

HER WHY: "I've always been interested in doing something like this. I'm in my early 40s, and I feel more comfortable in my skin than I've ever been – more so than I did in high school and in my 20s. People always told me I was too skinny, and I believed them. Friends and people at school would call me “Ethiopian” and “anorexic”. It really hurt, I always felt bad about myself. Now at 40 I feel much less pressure to look a certain way than I did back then. I've had space to grow, and between having kids and being with my husband, I feel more confident in myself.

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: Everyone always said that when I got older, I'd put on weight - but it didn't happen. It was always as if everyone was just waiting for me to get fat. When I became a mom, it changed both my body and how I felt about it. I was now a mother and a nurturer. Motherhood also physically allowed me to gain weight. I was 27 when I became pregnant with our first son, and at that time I weighed 86 lbs. I was able to gain 50 lbs – I enjoyed it! It made me feel better, even though I did end up losing all of it after I had him.

I think "sexy” comes from confidence. It’s all about being comfortable in yourself, and feeling good. My husband makes me feel sexy. Even though we've been together 20 years (and known each other for 26), he makes me feel sexy. He still looks at me like I’m the most beautiful person in the world. He’s supportive of everything I do, he's my rock.

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT: I have a baby pooch, but that's about it. I'm really just excited. I can't wait to see these sexy pictures of myself! When I first head about it I had no idea what exactly you do or don't wear! But I went to the website and I liked what I saw, and now I am just so excited. My husband said I'm going to be impossible to live with after this!

HER MISSION: I think people might hold back on commenting on someone being overweight because it's not socially acceptable to do so, but people freely will put it out there if they think you're too thin. It made me hate myself and hate my body when I was younger. I thought my arms were too skinny, so I wouldn't wear anything besides long sleeve shirts. I always felt like my boobs were too small because people said they were “egg-shell” sized. If someone calls you "anorexic", there's no good response. I would tell people “I eat all the time, I just can't gain any weight”. The response was always “oh, boo hoo... you're too skinny, must be hard”. But it was hard. I want to try to help other women who have been told they are too-thin, or too anything really. It can be hard and frustrating at time, but all you can do is healthy and happy and comfortable in who you are.

PARTING WORDS: I’m excited, and my husband is excited for me. I hope to just have fun, and end up with some sexy images of myself to give to my husband!"

Woman Crush Wednesday | Elaina Fiammi

I don't always get the pleasure of meeting my boudoir client's husbands, but since Elaina attends basically every event we have at the studio and we've since became friends - I've gotten to meet the happy recipient of Elaina's boudoir album and her partner in life. Dion is an incredibly caring and kind husband, and he jumped at the opportunity to be able to share their love story on our blog.

"Elaina and I met at work eight years ago, and I instantly knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. When we were planning our wedding, photography was extremely important to us. So important, in fact, that we actually spent our initial wedding budget on it alone. (Oops!) So when Elaina told me that as part of my wedding gift she was giving me a set of boudoir photos, my initial reaction was naturally “we’re spending more money on photos?!” She meant to keep her gift to me a surprise, but she was just so excited about the shoot that she had to tell me all about it.

On our wedding day, I had been waiting for my groomsmen to get ready practically all day. Our limo was scheduled to arrive at 3PM, and the tuxedo bags were still hanging from the closest door at 2PM. Right before we left, I opened her gift. The pictures were stunning and flawless. I got lost in the book and suddenly my friends were waiting on me. My best man had to force me to put the book down and remind me that the limo was waiting to take us to the wedding. He filmed the whole process and the ensuing video was rather hilarious. In the end, the gift was almost as much for her as it was for me. She loved how beautiful it made her feel, loved the comfortable process, and absolutely loved working with Natalie.

I will admit that this was extremely difficult to write. Not for the lack of words, but quite the opposite. How do I quickly encompass all love I have for my beautiful wife? Time and time again, I started… and no matter how I twisted the words or told the story, I always came to the same conclusion. I love my wife utterly and completely. She makes me laugh more than anyone I know. She gives me purpose and fills my life with hopes for the future and dreams to be shared. She makes me a better man. I call my wife my angel because, in so many ways, she saved my life from what it might have been without her." - Dion Robinson

[NOTE: Elaina approved her boudoir images for my website at an earlier date! This post was a surprise for her, her images being public was not :) ]

Real Women of Rochester | Keri

Hi ladies - I'd like to introduce you to our next Real Woman of Rochester: Keri! Following our RWOR format, today you will learn about Keri in her pre-shoot interview - her thoughts on womanhood, beauty, the project, and why she wanted to be involved. Next week we will share her resulting boudoir photos, and her reaction to them!

NOTE FROM NATALIE: Keri is one of the most caring, nurturing, honest, insightful and intelligent women I've met. Based on these traits, I was not surprised to find out that she is a teacher, and that she loves what she does. I have no doubt that she is a phenomenal educator. She has a unique ability to distill things down to their very core - cutting through all the nonsense. Not only that, she's incredibly quick and sharp with wit and humor, making her funny as heck. I am honored that she has decided to share her insights and experiences as a woman with us, I am sure they will hit close to home for many other women out there!

Keri: Age 39 |  Residence: Rochester, NY | Occupation: Teacher

HER WHY: "I was attracted to this this project because you were looking for women of different body types. A lot of women have a preconceived notion that you have to be a certain body type, I have to look like a model in order to do this, to feel beautiful enough to do this, or for someone to want to see these photos. I'm very atypical in the model world – my body is not what someone would think of as a model's body – and I wanted to break that stereo type. I’m not a size two, and I can still feel really beautiful, and my photos still have value and that I have value.

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: I would never say some of the horrible things I've said to myself to anyone else I know. Why is it OK to say that to ourselves? We've been taught to do that to ourselves. Women as a whole are so critical. We are our own magnifying mirror - and sometimes women try to make themselves feel better by cutting other women down. I don't think men do that. They don't criticize other men's bodies.

A lot of our physical appearance is controlled by genetics, and there are few things you can do about that. As Kumbaya as it sounds, you have to learn to love who you are. You get back from the world what you project into it – and if you're constantly concerned about how you look, people will pick up on that. I think doing a shoot like this can give you the confidence to say – Ok, I'm not perfect. But I'm pretty darn good - and just go with it. We're always our own worst critic.

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT: I've seen boudoir shoots in the past, and they’ve seemed trashy to me. I’m a teacher, and someday, I hope to be a mother - I don’t want questionable images of me out there. I agreed to do a shoot because Natalie's boudoir photos are artful and tasteful, and none of them are pornographic - in every level of disrobe. The other component is that I am also afraid of the way I look. It’s like bathing suit shopping - who wants to be in hardly any clothing, fully lit and look in the mirror? I know how to dress for my body, but how do you 'undress' for your body?

Part of me is excited by sharing my pictures, I hope other women will look at them and say “Wow – that's beautiful!” or “Wow – I could do that!”. Part of me is scared to be rejected. I'm not a size two. I hope people will see beauty and not criticize me.

HER MISSION: I want to do this shoot to be an example of a woman who isn't what we hold up as the quintessential ideal of beauty. - someone who isn't perfect; someone who is flawed.; someone has been told she wasn't pretty because she's too [ fill in the blank ]. I want to do it for those women. You don't have to be perfect to be beautiful. I want to empower other women. I don't want women to think they have to look like models to feel beautiful.

PARTING THOUGHTS: This shoot is forcing me out of my comfort zone. In real life I'm REALLY shy. Being in a social setting where I don't know anyone is terrifying to me. The idea of coming here to taking my clothes off for essentially a stranger, is also very scary. This studio feels like a brave space though, where you can be brave. I am going to be brave.

 

Real Women of Rochester | Kelly’s Shoot Reveal

In case you missed it, here's a link to last week's post on Kelly and why she chose to be a RWOR. Now, here's what she had to say about the experience of her shoot, and what she plans to do with her photos.

IN HER HEAD BEFORE THE SHOOT: "I need a drink! Haha... I was excited! I wish I had lost a little weight before it, but I'm not shy. I wasn't concerned about anyone seeing me during my shoot. I overpacked, so I felt prepared and relaxed. Everyone at Natalie's studio is lovely, plus there was wine....

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT: I'm such a plain-jane, I like to see a different side of me sometimes. I was nervous to get my makeup done, my family doesn't even recognize me when I wear makeup. I love how it turned out though, and the false eyelashes were fun. There was one shot that was crazy.... I was up against the wall, my hip hurt. I was like 'hurry up Nat'! She's super sweet though, so it was easy. The shoot was exactly what I expected, plus some additional furniture moving. Natalie moves a lot of furniture during her shoots!

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS: They show a side of me I'm not used to seeing. When you go through life it's chaotic and busy, and I'm a plain-jane kinda gal. I think especially at 41, it can be hard to look at yourself and see something sexy. It was awesome to see that. It's funny, my husband always tells me I ooze sex-appeal, but I don't feel like that at all. It's nice to see what he sees.

 "If I had to describe that woman, I'd say she looks confident and hot. She's also rocking some awesome shoes." - Kelly on her left photo

"If I had to describe that woman, I'd say she looks confident and hot. She's also rocking some awesome shoes." - Kelly on her left photo

 PARTING THOUGHTS: This shoot was exactly what I wanted it to be, I feel like it was a success. You see so many photos of women that have chosen not to be rebuilt – and it's wonderful for those women to share those images, it is very empowering for them. However, when young women diagnosed with breast cancer see only that depiction of a breast cancer survivor, it can be scary for them. I like that these images can show those women another option. I'm looking forward to posting these images on my Fight Club of Rochester facebook page for survivors and fighters, so they can see a happy and sexy survivor.

Doing a boudoir shoot is definitely something I would recommend for anyone, especially someone who's been through cancer. I know a young woman who is a survivor, and she's always very nervous about dating and what potential partners may think of her body. I think doing a boudoir shoot is an opportunity to see yourself in a different way. Having scars across your chest does not define your sexuality.

I think back to how I felt about my body at different times in my life. When I was young I was unhealthily thin, but I thought I looked fat. The thought of taking my clothes off in the locker room was absolutely mortifying. Then after having a baby, I hated the way my breasts looked - I was very insecure about them. Now after having cancer, I look back and realize I should have been happy with what I had. No woman is ever happy with who they are, and that's gotta change. So now, I look at my body and say 'This is what you have, be happy with it. Get your head out of your *ss and enjoy it".  - Kelly

Anyone who knows and loves Kelly would not have found this post complete without the closing swear :) Kelly - thank you for your honesty, your humor, and the awesome work you're doing with Fight Club of Rochester. That's it for this week Real Women of Rochester, come see us again next week!

Real Women of Rochester | Kelly

Kelly: 41 | Residence: Pittsford |  President of Fight Club of Rochester, Inc.

Kelly's personality is the first thing you notice about her. It literally precedes her by about 10 feet, hits you in the face with energy, fills the entire room you're in and then some. I remember meeting Kelly about a year before she applied to be a part of this project, at the annual Gilda's Club of Rochester Bachelor's Auction, and thinking immediately that I would photograph her some day. Or at least that I wanted to :) When she applied and told me about the work she was doing through Fight Club of Rochester and her mission of helping breast cancer survivors like herself feel beautiful again, I knew our meeting was more than chance.

HER WHY - I’m a different person than I was 6 years ago. When I got cancer, I went through chemo, lost my hair, had my breasts removed, had my hair grow back (with a little bit of grey), rebuilt my breasts twice and until recently was on the estrogen regulator Tamoxifen (imagine PMS times 100, daily). But when you have cancer, it is sometimes your job to make others feel better. I found that by not letting cancer define me in a negative way, I was able to take better care of myself. I tried to find the good in every situation, so other people could see it positively through me. I have experienced some great positives. I loved when my hair grew back in beautiful curls, and now I have bigger boobs and don’t have to wear a bra. I’ve made wonderful friends and started the Fight Club of Rochester, a non-profit organization that raises money for organizations who support cancer research and people living with cancer in the Rochester, New York area.

There is a photo going around the internet of breast cancer survivors with their shirts off. None of them are re-built. These are strong and courageous woman willing to put themselves out there. I want to offer a different perspective. I chose to rebuild my breasts. They are fake boobs, with fake nipples, but I was 34 when I lost them, and still wanted that part of my life and body back. I want to show people that you can be yourself again after cancer.

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY & BREASTS: Perhaps at a certain age there is no need to care about having boobs anymore, but I was 34 and still wanted to rock a bikini. I’ve rebuilt mine twice, initially after my mastectomy in 2010 and then again in 2014. The first doctor I went to didn’t give me a lot of options and I hated the way he reconstructed my nipples. He didn’t hire a real tattoo artist, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the shape. As I started to do more outreach, I was spending a lot of time talking to women about how they could feel whole again. At the same time, I didn’t like what I had going on under my own shirt. I went in for a consult with a new doctor, simply to discuss my nipples, but after that discussion, I decided to have them completely redone. Now, I’m really pleased with the result – my bust looks more natural under clothing, and I feel much more like myself. 

WHAT SHE'S NERVOUS ABOUT: I don't have any anxieties about doing a shoot. I like the idea of people reading about my story, I think this will be fun. I don’t frequently have any specific reason to be sexy. I've been with my husband for almost 14 years, and he thinks I'm sexy without me really having to try.  I recently turned 41. I’ve always had the mindset and sense of humor of an 18 year old, but I've definitely changed since I hit 40. I've always loved going dancing, but now I just want sit at home and drink wine in my pjs. This will be a fun opportunity to feel sexy again.

HER MISSION - It’s really easy to find the bad and scary side of cancer if your only resource is the internet. Before I was diagnosed, I had the perception that breast cancer was always a torturous process and very few survived. I didn't have much information to go on. But every time I would make it through a benchmark in the treatment process, I would think, “That wasn’t that terrible. High five to me.”  I have found that talking to someone with an upbeat attitude makes it easier for you to have an upbeat attitude yourself. I love when someone reaches out to me to talk about the process. I can take their sadness and help them knock it off the table. We say “Ok, this is now your part-time job. It’s a shitty part-time job. And you’re going to do it, and get it done with. These are the steps and the resources you need to rock this out."

PARTING WORDS: Reach out. Ask questions. In any situation, what you don’t know is the scariest part.

 

Real Women of Rochester | Shadi's Shoot Reveal

Hello Real Women of Rochester followers! Last week you got to meet Shadi and hear why she was so excited to be a part of our project. We interviewed her after her shoot when she came in to see her images for the first time. Here's what she had to say about the experience of her shoot, and what her images mean to her...

IN HER HEAD, BEFORE THE BOUDOIR SHOOT:

“I was excited, I knew it was going to be such a fun day. I got to let my real self – a side of me that doesn’t get to be shown often enough – come all out in the studio… shamelessly. It was such a welcoming environment to flaunt your womanhood. I can’t do that at work, or at the grocery store. I can do it at the salsa club, but I don’t want to be inviting to the wrong kind of attention – it can easily be judged or misunderstood, and I don’t think that’s fair. I’m intelligent, I’m deep, I have substance to me, and I’ve worked hard. I’m a credible person. I feel like society tells us you lose credibility when you exhibit your womanliness, and that’s not fair.

I think women can frequently be more judgmental of (other) women than men are. A lot of women buy into what our role as women “should” be according to our male-dominated society. We have to overcome multiple layers of restraint as a gender to unleash ourselves and each other. I think we need to build more avenues in which we can be comfortable and real. Natalie's studio was really that venue for me. I loved the feeling like myself during the entire experience.

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT:

I was so excited. I was like, ‘Let’s just let it all loose!’ I’m comfortable with this side of me, I just don’t get to enjoy it very often. It was fun having Natalie to facilitate the entire experience because we talked, we laughed, we shared the afternoon together. It was better to share this side of me with another person. Being a woman is art. Your body is part of your art form, and it is more beautiful when it’s shared. It’s like a painting or a great poem - speaking that poem theatrically or sharing that painting is valuable and should be admired. It can be a cause for inspiration and growth.

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS:

The woman I see in my images is really happy. She’s free, comfortable, relaxed. She has a lot to look forward to. She’s confident, strong, non-judgmental of herself. She’s prepared for the world. She’s shameless.

The shoot makes me feel like I have it in me to openly show this side of myself more without reservation or doubt. It’s definitely boosted my confidence in publicly displaying all aspects of myself and feeling really good about it. It makes me care even less about what people have to say about what a woman can and can’t do. Just the way I walk, or talk or stare you straight in the face - I have more confidence in doing things the way I want to.

PARTING THOUGHTS:

To publicly, shamelessly show my womanhood was a challenge at first. My career goal is to be a high school administrator. I found myself thinking about how students and other administrators would react. Now, I don’t care what anyone thinks. If you’re not going to hire me for these pictures, I don’t want to work for you anyway. I want to work for people who believe in equality for men and women and who are not going to judge me based on my true self expression. I’m so passionate and supportive of the arts, and this is an art form for me; this is a statement that I stand by. I’m not turning this off for anything - this is my victory lap. I’m coming home to myself, and I can't get lost anymore. Bring it on world."

Real Women of Rochester | Shadi

Hi ladies - I'd like to introduce you to our next Real Woman of Rochester: Shadi! Following our RWOR format, today you will learn about Shadi via her pre-shoot interview - her thoughts on womanhood, beauty, the project, and why she wanted to be involved.

Shadi: - Age 35 | Residence: Rochester | Education: Law Degree, and currently pursing an Administration Degree at U of R with a passion for Arts Integration in the classroom | Occupation: Teacher

Shadi and I met at a salsa night at Lovin' Cup, her smile and personality cut through the loud music with ease. I knew right away that this woman had a story to tell. We didn't talk about the weather or the music. We talked about being a woman, and what it meant to own that. She told me that she wanted to help inspire and empower women to love themselves – that it doesn't matter how old you are, whether you're married, have kids, that it's all about self love. She was one of the women that directly inspired me to start this project, so when she volunteered to be a part of it – I was elated.

HER WHY: Growing up as an Iranian-American, having a Middle Eastern background and parents that are conservative when it came to social conduct, how one expresses themselves and interacts with the opposite sex, my sister and I were limited in those areas by strict rules. My sister was the one who would find a way out of the rules while I was the one always trying to please my parents. I would look at her like, “Oh, I don’t have the guts to do that!” There’s always been a creative and very expressive side of me that remained dormant in the midst of following all the rules.

As we got older, my family didn’t talk about sex. We didn’t talk about dating. It was assumed that you didn’t do anything sexy. My parents placed the highest value in education, so my focus remained on academics. In the process, true womanhood and my creative side were not nurtured. Learning how to date was difficult. I ended up in unhealthy relationships and eventually realized at the core of it was not loving myself, and not being taught how to love myself entirely.

I knew I was intelligent, but I didn't know how to make healthy choices while dating. It was hard work and took a lot of self-reflection. I found that in terms of self-love and creating healthy relationships, the outside mirrors the inside. I'm finally in a really good place on the inside and I want it to vividly show on the outside.

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: I’ve had guys say, 'you’re gorgeous', 'you’re beautiful,' but I've never really internalized that. This boudoir shoot is an opportunity for me to do so. Until you feel it and you believe it, once you see it for yourself, it doesn’t matter what anyone else tells you. I want to see it and say, “Yes. That’s art. That’s beautiful.”

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT? I’m afraid of not being myself. I don’t want this experience to be theatrical; I want it to be authentic and genuine. I’m not entirely sure what authentic looks like, but I know what it feels like and I want my photos to capture that authentic feeling from the inside.

HER MISSION: I think that embracing female sexuality, being 100% confident in yourself and not feeling ashamed of any parts of our body is true womanhood. I think that today's society and messages from my upbringing, very much say that’s a bad thing. The media says our bodies are for sex, and are used to compete against one another, but I’d like to change that definition – I think that it’s wrong. I think our bodies are works of art and we should be proud of them. They’re ours. I would like to validate and experience my art by having it portrayed through a beautiful lens.

My friend was an amateur photographer and for my 30th birthday she took pictures of me. I don’t think it meant what it means to me right now. It was like, “Oh, look at me, I’m 30 and I look good.” Now it’s much more about being as complete as a person inside and valuing myself. I don’t need anyone to validate me. I want to celebrate the inside on the outside.

PARTING WORDS: The power of collaboration with people who really love you and can mirror self-love is incredible. That’s why I’m a teacher now – I do that for my high school world history students. I moved from criminal and juvenile law because teaching is more preventative: and at that point meeting me my clients were already in a really difficult situation, so I wanted to go back to teaching because I thought I could make a positive difference in students lives. I’ve had so many people in my life that have shown me great compassion and kindness to me to help me get to the point of self love in my life, I wanted to help others on their journey to getting there too.

I feel like when you accept yourself and accept your own mistakes, when you can forgive yourself and bounce back, then you can forgive others for their mistakes and not take them personally. Not everything is a personal attack; you’re not a victim anymore. I’ve made peace with all my flaws and mistakes and I’m okay talking about them. To share them with someone else can bring peace to people to know that they’re not alone. To overcome those things, trust issues especially for me, to learn that there are good people, to get closer to people, to form healthy relationships, all of that has made me who I am and I’m proud of it. I want the lens to see me as someone who has truly overcome and represent my victory lap in being a confident, expressive woman.

Thanks, Shadi! Alright, Rochester - stay tuned for the reveal of her boudoir shoot next Wednesday...

Real Women of Rochester | Katrina's Shoot Reveal

So here's the part you've all been waiting for - the photos! Last week you got to meet Katrina and hear why she was so excited to be a part of our project. We then interviewed her after her shoot when she came in see her images for the first time. Here's what she had to say about the shoot itself, and what her images mean to her...

IN HER HEAD, BEFORE THE BOUDOIR SHOOT:

“The night before the shoot, I was super terrified and stressed. I spent about 4 hrs putting things together, shopping for new clothes,  working and reworking outfits. I felt like nothing I had was fully put together. And then minute I walked in - it was completely fine. Funnily enough, the mimosa really helped me calm down. Natalie started sifting through my clothing and I was immediately whisked away to get ready. Knowing you’re in the hands of professionals eases the anxiety a lot.

After hair and makeup, I felt like a model. You know when you’re a little girl and you dream about going to a castle and getting dressed up like a princess and shown around? Doing this shoot was a lot like that! I got to be dressed up and pampered. I felt like I was exactly what I needed to be.”

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IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT:

“I felt like I was exactly what Natalie wanted in a model - like she didn’t want to be photographing anything or anyone else. I think when you get semi-naked or sexy in front of people there is a desire to be accepted. You’re putting yourself out there to be seen. It felt great to come here, be sexy, and feel immediately safe, appreciated and special. It was nice to feel like Natalie was really getting something from what I was giving.”

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS:

“That woman is sexy, confident, she’s have a blast doing whatever she’s doing and she feels like the most beautiful person in the world.  I don’t look at myself in the mirror and see that regularly. It’s still hard for me to look at these photos and see them as being myself.” 

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I love the blanket images. They feel really luxurious. I’m not wearing anything, so nothing can fit wrong. The images look really cozy and I look comfortable in my own skin. It doesn’t uncover or accent anything that I don’t like about myself. Nothing that I’m wearing is making a statement - it’s just me there.

PARTING THOUGHTS:

“People hate models because their world always looks so perfect and everything is beautiful for them. But I kind of get it now. In these images, everything is perfect, I’m the princess and this is my happy place. We don’t go through our lives living in our happy place, so it’s amazing to see it represented here. I feel like I can go to my happy place when I see these pictures. I think that if I look at these photos enough, I’ll start to think believe I can do this on my own. It’s an example of a way I can be. It’s something you want to be when you look at models, but it’s something I want to be when I see it in myself.

The point of these photos is not to tell the story of my life. It’s partially my life and partially the parts I feel like representing. I’m celebrating what’s good. We’re multifaceted people. I really believe in empowering women to be all the different parts of themselves. As a female who’s had to overcome sexual assault, I wanted to embrace my femininity and encourage other women to do so.” - Katrina

 

Real Women of Rochester | Katrina

Hello Real Women of Rochester followers! I'm excited to present to you Katrina, our very first RWOR. She was the first person to respond to my post, and the first lady to get herself into our studio for her interview, and the first shoot! Today we are sharing her pre-shoot interview -  her thoughts on womanhood, beauty, the project, and why she wanted to be involved. Katrina, I can't thank you enough for your honest and candid reflections, and am SO glad to have you be a part of this project. So without further adieu, meet Katrina....

Katrina - Age 24, Residence: Rochester, Development Associate |  Masters of Music Performance and Literature

Katrina walked into the studio after a long day at work sporting a huge grin. You would have thought she’d won the lotto. But no - she was just that excited to be a part of our Real Women of Rochester project. Katrina is a recent graduate, with a masters degree in  music performance. When she’s not at work, she runs, cooks, and performs on the weekends with her adorable violinist boyfriend.

HER WHY: I was in a relationship for four years that wore me down and made me feel like I had nothing to offer. Once I was out of that relationship, I was able to see myself clearly. I look back at photos taken during that time period and I think - wow, I was beautiful, but I didn’t realize it because I thought so little of myself. I look different now: I’ve gained weight and I’m a few years older.  Years from now I want to look back at this time and place and say, “Yes, I was beautiful.” I want to believe that about myself now, and I need some help crafting that perspective. I hope that this boudoir shoot will help me with this.”

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT? I  feel like maybe I might not have anything to give - that perhaps all the women I’ve seen on your website just showed up ready to be photographed. I consider myself a confident person but I feel pretty lost in this world of boudoir photography. I’m really looking forward to letting Natalie and her team work their magic.


HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: A few months ago I realized I was walking around sucking in my stomach all day. When I finally exhaled, I felt like I hadn’t taken a deep breath in forever. I want everyone to be able to take a deep breath, regardless of whether they feel thin enough or pretty enough. I want to be part of a movement that encourages everyone to be comfortable in their bodies.

HER MISSION: I am a survivor of rape. It took me over a year to realize what had happened to me, and more than two years after that to stop accepting blame for it. (That second part is still a daily battle.) I became inspired to run the Chicago Marathon to raise money for women in African countries who are often assaulted on their multi-mile journey to collect clean water, and in order to really make an impact in my fundraising, I shared my story. I wore a sign on my back during a half marathon in Rochester that said, “Today I run for survivors of rape like me.” I put my story on Facebook and in my alma mater’s newspaper, and that’s how everyone found out what had happened. My family and friends found out via Facebook, because that’s how I needed to tell my story. Telling other people what had happened was one way to remind myself that what happened to me was real, is not my fault, and that what someone did to my body without my consent does not total the sum of the person that I am.

PARTING WORDS: My body belongs to me and only me. Making the decision to do a boudoir shoot is one of many ways that I have chosen to own my body and to continue making empowered decisions around that ownership. I hope that by sharing my story, I can inspire other people to feel ownership of their bodies as well.  

Stay tuned for the reveal of her boudoir shoot next Wednesday...