“Is this the photography studio?” she asked in a quivering voice.
It’s possible I yelled, “How can I help you today?!”
“I was wondering if you shoot …” And after a long pause, “… older women. I’mturning58soonandI’msorryifI’mwastingyourtime!”
I softened my voice, sent a virtual hug through the phone, and whispered, “Little secret for ya: I’m entering my 5-0s, too!”
A giggle danced across the line. It tickled my ear. Still, sadness seeped into my soul. Why did women in their 50s (and older) apologize for wanting to celebrate their beauty?
I spent 10 years as a women’s photographer, but way before I ever held a camera I saw beauty in everyone. Once I became a photographer, I shot women in lingerie, or nude, because I wanted them to see their beauty without the distracting outer packaging society uses to assign status and, by extension, stereotype.
Some people sneered when I told them about my photos. But I stood proud because I was clear about my purpose. My goal wasn’t controversy or exploitation. It was empowerment: helping women express themselves in ways that felt uplifting for them. I created space in which a woman can heal her mind in light of decades of negative programming about her body and identity; and make peace with her body, embracing its color, shape, and size; and show up in the world in a more powerful, soul-aligned way.
For those willing to engage, the experience was powerful. One 64-year-old woman stood before me crying happy tears.
For those willing to engage, the experience was powerful. One 64-year-old woman stood before me crying happy tears because she saw beauty in her naked body for the first time in her life.
Two other women described the experience like this:
Carrie (pictured above): Imagine — getting married at the age of 57! I’d already been through a lifetime: a teacher for 34 years, four kids, a body that showed lots of wear and tear. Yet, I found myself about to marry a man who tells me how beautiful I am every day. How I wished I could see myself through his eyes! What did he see that I couldn’t? I decided to get some photos for him. [It] was so completely out of my comfort zone, [but it] turned out to really be a gift to me, like shedding that lifetime suit of body self-doubt. I was shocked to see what my husband sees: the shine of my laughter, the warmth of my love. My husband looks at the photos often. So do I, actually, [so I can] recall the feelings I had the day of the photo shoot. I felt empowered. I felt beautiful. I still do.
Mari (pictured below): My decision to try the boudoir shoot was complex. I’d just come out of a 40-year marriage. I had no self-esteem. I was a drone. Now 60, I had to learn what I liked and didn’t like, how to date. I met a man that made me feel like a woman. A fire lit in my belly to experience the feeling of beauty. I was terrified. Was I too old? Too fat? Not photogenic? As the shoot progressed I began to relax and have fun. To feel feminine. To be me. When [I saw] the pictures, all I could think was how empowered I felt as a woman. How fulfilled I felt. I was proud of the courage I had mustered up. Some friends reacted with “Go, girl”; others not so much. Doesn’t faze me in the least. Remember the phrase ‘I am woman. Hear me roar?’ I’m roaring! Every day!
What those stories demonstrate is this: We women are beautiful and powerful. We should all feel amazing and blessed to live in the skin we’re in. The decade or more I spent shooting women — plus earning a master’s degree in psychology — taught me that learning to love yourself can feel like an impossible journey but that sometimes a magical shift can occur in the click of a shutter.