Photographer Melissa van Oordt explains what’s boudoir photography. How can a semi-nude or naked photoshoot help you boost your sexual confidence?
Read this interview to:
- Learn what boudoir photography and how to prepare yourself for a photoshoot.
- How to deal with shame around your body image and embrace your sensuality.
- How our lack of confidence makes it difficult to enjoy sex.
Anka Grzywacz: Today we will be talking about boudoir photography and what it means for women. And before we do that, let me just introduce my guest, Melissa Spilman van Oordt.
She’s a professional photographer, has been for over seven years now, originally from the US, from Orlando, now based in Switzerland, Basel. Check her Instagram where she showcases her beautiful work, pictures of amazing women of all ages, all shapes who have amazing, sensual, feminine photo shoots. They are all black and white. They are all very classy and very stylish.
Maybe we could just take a minute to explain what boudoir is and what it is not.
Melissa Spilman van Oordt: That’s actually a good thing to clarify. So, boudoir photography is, at its base, it’s about taking images of a woman in lingerie or nude depending on what she wants from the session.
And it’s a basically a celebration of femininity beyond shame, the way that we look physically and how that kind of is a the outward way we show who we are inside.
Is Boudoir Photography Erotic?
So, there’s lot of confusion. I think when people first see that I’m a boudoir photographer, a lot of people think that it’s more towards erotica and perhaps maybe pornographic in some way, which it generally is not. So it is definitely sensual. It is maybe erotic in some ways because it’s a woman in her underwear or nude, but really the work that I do is about celebrating confidence and self acceptance I would say is such a big part of the work that I do and the message that I want to communicate through that.
A: So if I were to ask you for your definition of kind of sexual erotic confidence in women, how would you say, what it feels like? What is it? How does a woman who is sexually confident and confident in her own femininity, how does she behave, how do you see that?
M: I think that’s such an interesting question, because that can look so different on so many different women. You know, we all have different expressions and some of us are more shy and some of us are more outgoing.
I do think that it all comes back to self acceptance, not necessarily loving the things about ourselves that we just don’t. It’s not like we’re going to completely turn around and change what it is that we think about ourselves.
But I do think that finding self acceptance is going to create a confident woman.
And I think that the way that that looks that can be so different for so many different people.
A woman who is self acceptant is not going to be living, expressing herself through shame.
I think that that’s like one of the biggest distinctions for me. I think about the work that I do is just being able to be unashamed when you are unclothed.
Are Women Ashamed of Their Bodies?
A: I hear that word shame coming back and we’ve talked about it before. Is this the biggest concern that women who come to you for taking these photos or consider having a session have, shame?
M: Honestly, it kind of depends on the country that I’m in. The US maybe have more of a touch of shame, although I think that a lot of the concerns that women have when they come in for a session can be linked back to that at the very core of them.
Like, a lot of women think that they are self-conscious of their weight or their skin condition or something like that. But what that is at its base is kind of a shame in not measuring up to this kind of imaginary made up media standard that we all compare ourselves to.
You know, I mean, I don’t know who it was who said comparison is the thief of joy, but that is the most true thing when it comes to the way that we see our bodies.
Women, I think, have a tendency to kind of come back to this shame, because they compare themselves to other people and they think that maybe that’s what they should look like, but it’s different.
And I’m going to say apples and oranges, but maybe it’s easier to say like flowers, it’s like lavender comparing itself to poppies and saying, I wish that I looked like a poppy, but you can’t. That’s not the best version of yourself. We’ll never be that. But the best version of yourself can be like a big, beautiful lavender.
And you can smell amazing and the poppy doesn’t, you know, it’s like we all have different characteristics and different things about us that make us special.
We all have our own best possible version of ourselves. That is what we should be comparing ourselves to, not to someone else. You know, that’s just completely out of our range.
How Body Shame Messes With Our Sex Lives
A: It’s true. And, you know. It’s all connected. I mean, you work with shame around body image, and I do that on a certain level as well as a sexologist, but I also work on the aftermath of what the shame around body image, what it brings into our bedroom and what it robs us of.
Because if we are so ashamed of our bodies, the way they look, we are disconnected from feeling. And from that, it’s not so easy to feel pleasure, to feel an orgasm, to really feel just joy of sex and sexuality.
I also mention sometimes to my clients that this could be one of the ways that you come back to your body and you come back to your confidence or you learn it in the first place, maybe you never had it. And from that place, you can start enjoying your sexual life more.
Not being ashamed of being naked in front of your husband of 20 years, and you are still ashamed to take off your clothes in front of him.
Is Boudoir Photography For Me?
I’m curious what kind of women come to you for photoshoots. What is this moment in life that women choose to show themselves and also memorize their bodies the way they look at this moment?
Because like women who come to me are usually in the moment of transition, like into motherhood or maybe like menopause, some decisive stages of life. So, what would that be in your case and with your clients?
M: Yeah, it’s interesting that a lot of the clients that I got, I think are kind of at a point where they have advanced in their self acceptance generally. Because they’ve come to seek out boudoir photography.
It is kind of unfortunate because I think that some of the women who could benefit the most are women who are not so advanced and so far in the self acceptance part of their journey goes, it’s like in an earlier stage. There’s so much power in seeing yourself the way that other people see you, which is what boudoir photography does. It’s basically angles that you could never see yourself from.
But, yeah, as far as the part of life that the women are in, a lot of the women that come to me are in their late 30s or late 40s. I also get women who are entering menopause or wanting to open this new chapter and see themselves differently, or women who have already had children and want to reconnect to appreciating their body even after it’s been through some changes, you know what I mean?
I get a wide variety of women, but I think that most of my clients are a little bit older than people would expect because, you know, it’s a little harder to get a model release from older women. I wish that I could show more of their photographs. So many different beautiful older women, and they’re a little bit more private with their images.
So, I think a lot of people start to kind of think that this is something that boudoir photography is for in their 20s, which for me, my favorite clients are the ones that are going to have it change them in some way and really do get a confidence boost and see like, wow, I’m in my late 30s and 40s and 50s and I can still see myself as a beautiful, confident and empowered woman in this way through these images.
A: I think I wrote about it the other day that I remember myself when I was in my teens. I was very thin and everything was in its place. Like, my boobs were not sagging yet. And, you know, I was in my prime you can say and I still felt so self-conscious.
And, you know, now after years, I’ve gained some weight and I had the baby, but this kind of inner sense of confidence came in. And now I’m much more satisfied with what I see in the mirror, even though it’s not perfect.
How Boudoir Photography Can Boost Your Confidence?
What would you say to a woman who feels very low on self-esteem? She doesn’t like her body. She cannot relax in bed, but also in everyday life, she’s just hiding behind those layers of clothes. How would you encourage her and show her the benefits of this type of work, because it’s not just about the looks and to have a nice memory. It’s so much more.
M: It’s more of a celebration. I think that it’s really important… I’m a woman and there’s things about myself… I look in the mirror and I don’t like these things. It’s very very important to be able to see the things that you like about yourself.
I read a book „Come As You Are” by Emily Nagoski. That is such a good book and has such a big, powerful impact on my life and the way that I see sexuality. And one of the things that she talks about in that book is looking in the mirror and looking at yourself naked and trying to list out the things that you like about yourself and trying to rewire your brain.
Because we live in this world, it’s just saturated with the media and people trying to sell us things to „fix us”. And we are trained to look at ourselves and only see flaws and only compare ourselves to an impossible standard that they intentionally make. It’s intentionally impossible so that you continue buying the things to make yourself closer to the standard.
So, it’s like all of this whole thing built on seeing only our flaws. And when we look in the mirror, it is so easy to just laser focus on the things you don’t like.
I think that there’s so much power in focusing on the things that you do like.
And that is a big, big part of boudoir photography.
This is highlighting. I always start my sessions by talking about the things that a woman likes about herself. And I’m alarmed, I ask it every single time in the session right before we start shooting “What do you love about yourself that we’re going to highlight today?”
And it is amazing how hard it is for women to come up with one thing or even if they do know to admit it. I can see them thinking and they’re thinking about the thing… “I have nice legs” or “I kind of like my collarbones” and they’re embarrassed to even say it.
What kind of a society have we built where we can’t even talk about the things that we like about ourselves?
I think that is wildly important, and that’s a big part of what boudoir photography is about.
Learn To Appreciate The Beauty in Other Women
A: I haven’t studied your profile in much detail. I mean, I looked at the photos, but I didn’t read the comments. Do you have many women commenting in the positive way on other women’s photos?
M: I do more in my Facebook group. It depends on the context, because it is difficult for women to get into that headspace, I think, of freely saying “you look amazing”, regardless of the standards that normally you compare a woman to and saying “You really do look beautiful in these images.”
I do feel that that’s more in a private setting somehow. And I think that it’s a shame. It’s sad that women aren’t more comfortable saying that out in the open.
A: So, if there’s anything that anyone listening today can do is just go out and browse some pictures on the Internet and give people positive feedback and say to another woman “you know, like your legs look amazing in the picture or your hair is just luscious or you look like a goddess feminine”, you know.
You cannot learn that without practicing. So we have to start with ourselves and we have to look in the mirror and, like I have a mirror here “you look like a goddess” or a fertility goddess and then go out and tell it to your friend or somebody you like and you interact with on Instagram. It is something we have to learn and practice.
Why are we shy of saying positive things to one another, it’s so crazy.
M: It’s insane. I think it all comes back to the fact that we have these impossible beauty standards and we are even don’t hold each other to them, you know, to just ourselves. So sad because it definitely robs people of a lot of joy in life, I think.
A: I love what you do with your sessions. I mean, starting with what can we enhance instead of what do you need to hide.
M: That’s what people automatically try to start with. When I ask them what they love about themselves, they say, well, I don’t like this. I’m like, you can say what you don’t like if you want to but we have to find the thing that you like, you have to say it before we started shooting.
Showing Beauty Without Retouching
A: What’s your approach to so-called imperfections? Like you say, we all have things we don’t like about our bodies. As a photographer, what is your approach to that? How do you photograph women so they don’t hide, but at the same time they feel their best?
M: In boudoir photography, from an artistic standpoint, it’s all about showing them themselves from a different angle. I don’t ever have a woman in poses where she’s hiding anything, but it’s just a matter of showing them “if you look at yourself from this angle, you look completely different and you can see your own beauty and you can see how you look to other people”.
It’s just a matter of seeing how you look from other angles. To me, it’s actually pretty simple. It’s also why I don’t do photoshopping that’s body morphing, in postproduction. You know, I of course, remove anything non-permanent like bruises and blemishes and texture. I remove those of course. But I don’t do body morphing afterwards because you don’t need it.
A: So by body morphing, you need for example, like you make my boobs bigger or my waist thinner.
M: Yes, exactly.
A: You can also have an app on your phone which would do that. It’s very strange. Like you can make yourself look like a Barbie doll.
M: Exactly. You can, I can do it in Photoshop too. But I mean, to me, it’s not the point of the photoshoot. The point is to see yourself as a whole person and know that you do not need Photoshop to be beautiful and to be groovy, you know, you are beautiful as you are.
This is a big part of why it’s not a makeover session with my makeup artist. She doesn’t do glam makeovers with women. You know, it’s an enhancement of what you look like already. And I think that that’s so important.
Celebrating The Changes in Your Body
A: I feel like it would be so nice to have these photoshoots at least once a decade, right? Like when you are in your 20s and in your30s and 40s and 60s and up to, you know, very old age. I mean, why not? This would be so amazing; such a ritual women could make with that.
M: I have women who do it every year, actually. They have like their albums on the shelf and it’s like from all the different years.
A: Oh, that’s so nice. I try to do some nude photos also every year just to see the changes and progress.
I’m wondering how much women allow themselves to be authentic in the photo session. Probably it plays out also in life and in the bedroom, how much do we allow ourselves to be naked or almost naked and authentic and real, like opening up in a way. What’s your take on it? And maybe I can comment from the sexuality point of view.
Showing Your Authentic Self
M: It’s interesting how women start the sessions, generally they’ll come out of the dressing room a little covered up. They are like “let me get into doing some things so I’m not just standing here”, and within about five minutes they’re completely comfortable.
I can see a change in a woman from the beginning to the middle to the end. You can see it in the pictures when you look at them afterwards. I can see it in their eyes, the moments when their poses kind of change a little bit and they start to look a little bit more confident.
And then they’re just kind of walking around and by the end of the session, they’re walking around, in their underwear or naked and they’re just like, “oh, whatever, it’s just us”.
And I think that a big part of that is in my commentary. I am extremely careful to be authentic and to not say anything that I don’t thoroughly believe about a woman, but when I look at someone as an artist, having worked with the female form for so long, it is beautiful and women just don’t see it.
And when I am there and I’m just like, “You look incredible. You look amazing, everything about this is just like gorgeous. You’re glowing right now”. I think that I am able, to an extent, drown out their inner monologue of how they’re thinking about “don’t show this or don’t show that”. They realize pretty quickly that they can rely on me to not only be looking at them from a favorable perspective, but also giving that positive feedback that we just don’t really hear.
You know, it’s interesting the question that you asked earlier about other women commenting on the pictures and being supportive and saying, you look incredible. We rarely hear that from other people. And so I think that that’s a big part of all of them being authentic and comfortable in the session, because I do think that they get to that point.
The number one thing that I hear from them, they say that it was so much easier than they thought it was going to be. And I think a big part of that, they say “I forgot that I was in my underwear” and that’s the point. That’s what comfort is. The definition of being comfortable in your underwear is forgetting that that’s all you’re wearing, you know.
A: One thing is this kind of layer of trust that you build. And another one would be the positive reinforcement and positive feedback and seeing yourself through the eyes of somebody else who tells you that you look amazing.
Give Compliments – Enjoy Better Sex
So here’s a hint to and partners of women out there who are listening to us – more positive feedback and not just on special occasion, but to really tell your partner that she’s a goddess every single day.
And you’ll probably see a very positive results in your own bedroom. And it goes the other way around. I mean, sometimes women complain that after many years together, their husband or partner does not give compliments, does not say anything positive about the way they look.
I like to ask when was the last time you noticed that your husband has nice biceps or he looks handsome in that suit? When was the last time you told him that? So it works both ways.
And we tend to get into this route of only picking on failures and what needs to be corrected. And if we change that mindset and really focus on the positive, it can really change the atmosphere in the relationship and in the bedroom as well.
M: Yeah, that’s such a good thing to focus on. I mean, it’s so strange when we think about things, when we’re talking to our friends and we’re saying, “I just have to say something.” It’s always about a negative thing. It’s never about a positive thing.
It is amazing how we’re wired to be, our society is wired to be so negative. Like there’s so much joy to have if we we’re just, grateful and positive and kind to ourselves and other people like it’s ridiculous. It’s a really good thing.
A: Yeah. But, you know, we’re working on that and we’re changing it woman by woman and step by step. If you are listening to that, I hope you get some, you know, golden nuggets and start building your self-confidence and loving yourself.
Maybe consider having a photoshoot like this to really see yourself in another light, because I think especially as we grow, age, whatever you name it, we kind of stop seeing ourselves with a fresh eye.
And this is also something that can help us to see us, like we are so focused on the role of a mother, on the household or being a professional woman that we kind of don’t see this feminine side, the sensual side of ourselves on a daily basis. So, this photoshoot could be like a restart, like, “oh, my God, I’m a woman”!
M: Exactly. I mean, even to help us appreciate who we are now as our bodies have changed and stop comparing ourselves to who we were when we were younger.
You know, bodies are made to change. They’re beautiful at different stages, for different reasons.
Preparing For A Boudoir Photoshoot
A: Exactly. What would you say to a woman who is considering boudoir photography, how do you even prepare for that, are there any tips that you can give?
M: It’s interesting, I think for the style of photography that I do specifically, there’s not actually a huge amount of preparation beforehand. I mean, there’s these small things like make sure your nail polish isn’t chipped because it will be in the pictures, things like that.
But otherwise, I mean, I generally encourage women to book the photoshoot sooner rather than later. Within a couple of months and not like try to wait until they’ve changed anything, you know what I mean?
A lot of people think about doing a shoot and they’re like, “I need to change some things first”. It’s not really what it’s about. I don’t encourage women to do sit ups or push ups or fasting or anything like that.
As far as preparation goes, choose some outfits that you feel good in, not just the beautiful ones. But they make you feel good. How you feel in the outfit that you wear is the most important thing about it. But yeah, I am pretty minimal and simple and the style that I do.
I do sessions where they’re just in the sheets and maybe covered or maybe uncovered. I can do an entire session like that. We do not need fancy outfits to showcase the beautiful feminine form.
But as far as preparation goes, other than that, it’s really just try to exfoliate, stay hydrated.
A: And also feeling good. I mean, I would say, the stress and the overwhelm, it also shows. I would take at least a day or two to be more chill and plan ahead.
Like you say, get a very mild facial, whatever you need. But also, really take time to relax and do something fun because it’s this energy that’s glows in the pictures. Do some dancing, something creative, make love. Just really get in the flow of femininity, sensuality. This will be in the pictures.
If you come from your job to a photoshoot like that, it will take time to change gears and feel relaxed. From my perspective, it’s the same like with the bedroom stuff. I mean, you really have to be relaxed and in a fun mood, and have good energy to enjoy sex. There’s similar recommendations that would apply to boudoir photography.
Boudoir Photoshoot As A Gift?
I hope some of you ladies who are watching us will be inspired to have a boudoir photoshoot. Do most of the women who come to you do it for themselves and out of their own initiative? Or do you also some doing it for the partner or as a gift? What do you see?
M: For me personally, with my boudoir brand, most of the women are doing it mainly for themselves. A lot of them start the conversation by saying “our anniversary is coming up, I want to give a gift to my partner” or something like that.
But generally, when I dig deeper into the reason, it’s because they want to do it for themselves and for their confidence.
This is something for you to celebrate yourself and to find acceptance with yourself. I know that’s a big part of why I attract a woman who wants to reconnect and focus on herself.
But, it is a good gift.
A: A gift to yourself.
M: Some of my favourite clients are giving it is a gift to themselves for their 30th, 40th, 50th or 60th. Birthdays are a big one. And I got a lot of ladies, they just want to celebrate a decade or, you know, a year. That was a big hard year and they got through it and it’s a new chapter this year.
A: I love it and I love the work you do. It feels like part of women’s empowerment. I mean, we can also be empowered by the way we look and the way we feel in our bodies, because it’s as much as about being in our bodies on the outside, but also feeling our bodies and feeling good in it and seeing it in the picture later.
If you are interested in booking a session, visit Melissa’s website here and get in touch with her. And I’m looking forward to seeing more of your work. And hopefully we have a conversation later about other topics. Maybe something about the changes that women come through after having a baby. This would be also a very interesting topic for me to discuss.
M: Yeah, definitely. So, have a great afternoon and thank you for being with us here. See you soon! Bye bye.