Lessons learned from a boudoir photoshoot

"Let's put you in poses that are more feminine."

That’s the line I remember most (apart from a bunch of chatter about how much both Nicole, the photographer, and I love the new Billie Eilish album) from my boudoir shoot. I should mention right away that there are a lot of lines spoken during a boudoir shoot that are quite memorable. It’s tricky to get comfortable posing in your underwear in a small studio without interesting conversation.

So hearing this invitation for femininity from my photographer at the second boudoir shoot I had done was a breath of fresh air. I have no doubt that there are endless poses one can do in a boudoir shoot and by no means did I expect that after one hour of shots I had exhausted them all, but the idea of more feminine poses for me, a guy, was pretty great to hear.

There has always been something about the “women are pretty and men are handsome” mindset that has bothered me. They are just words after all and why should I let words bother me so much? Why does the word handsome drum up images of tall men in suits for me? What about my upbringing has me thinking this way? My kids still reflect this language too in the way that they talk about boys or girls or men and women, until we correct them and mention that you can any child as pretty and handsome. Or, of course, you can get rid of commenting on anyone’s looks altogether but that’s a post for another time.

Hearing Nicole break free from that masculine/feminine space early on in our photo shoot jolted me a little bit—-in a good way. It made me smile, it made me reflect on how rigid we often tend to be with things men do and things men shouldn’t dare to do. Doing a boudoir shoot on its own has sometimes felt like a risky thing to do, doing a boudoir shoot while posing in a feminine way, felt super risky.

But risky in what way exactly?

It goes back to earlier about how we have this need to gender all actions. I guess, when I think about it, it’s only risky in the sense that men who are less than comfortable accepting that there are multitudes of ways to be a man, may be hostile and angry and yell and call you names. This has certainly happened to me before as someone who has talked about my journey to understand the impact I have on those around me. Men often do not like to be told they can be soft, they can be queer, they can cry, and cuddle, and pose in their underwear while wearing rainbow socks. They push back on these ideas with angry, hateful, and often homophobic, messages.

Since this photo shoot I have been a part of a few different group discussions on relationships with masculine bodies. Something that tends to come out often enough in these discussions is that while many men take issue with parts of their body, they don’t often talk about those things with others. In one particular one-on-one conversation I had with another man, we ended up getting to the idea that if you start a conversation about mental health with someone, often that will lead to issues around body image.

These photos do that too. By putting my body out there I have been able to have some pretty great conversations with guys about everything to the way they were teased for being too skinny in elementary school to how they are so uncomfortable with the hair on their back that they always wear t-shirts when swimming. These are very, very common points of discussion and there is immense value in having them with friends and strangers if it puts them at greater ease with their bodies. Not every conversation leads to enlightenment and love of their body. Actually, most of these talks don’t. But every one of them chips away a little bit at the narrative that we need to look a certain way or weigh a certain weight before our bodies are allowed to be seen. These conversations can build solidarity. For me, and for the people I talk with.

By putting my body out there though I have also been privileged to see in action the inequality between bodies like mine and the bodies of women and non binary folks. I have had great conversations with people around how I am able to show my body without fear of what the repercussions might be in my workplace, without fear of people shaming me for showing so much skin. The standards we hold different bodies too is very evident when a man likes me shows himself publicly. My nipples show, nobody cares, nobody censors them. We still sexualize other bodies too often, we still decide the value of those bodies based on how much or how little skin they are showing.

I have discussed the impact that photography has had on my relationship with my body before. Being able to look at myself in a number of different poses in a number of states of undress has helped me develop intimacy with myself. I feel great empowerment through my own photos but we don’t offer the same opportunity of empowerment to everyone. I’m not told to cover up, I’m not given diet advice, I’m not lectured on the health repercussions of obesity.

We don’t talk comfortably about fat bodies enough, we don’t talk about disabled bodies enough. We don’t portray men’s bodies outside of a gender binary enough. There is still so much failure around how we discuss bodies and beauty and how we determine someone’s real value.

I highly encourage any guys who can to use photography to build a better relationship with their own body, but more than that, I ask that men look at how we treat different bodies and work to change our relationship with them.