So, I have a confession to make. Back in March, I decided to embark on a mission to discover how Victoria’s Secret models feel when they’re in a photo shoot wearing…not much. It started as a little oh-la-la present for my husband, who travels four days out of the week, but it turned into a full-fledged, top-priority operation [on behalf of my readers]. I sought to discover how on earth someone could feel comfortable in little more than a bikini’s worth of material, and learned way more than I bargained for. No, I’m not sharing pictures, those are for my hubby’s eyes only, but I will share the lessons learned along the way, and the ladies I encountered who are changing the world, one bikini-fearing, underwear-shopping-adverse woman at a time…
When I signed up for a photoshoot with Three Boudoir, I knew I would have to restrain myself from going crazy over the next few months. I’m the type of person who likes to have event specific goals to train for (weddings, bikini season, road races). It’s easy to be motivated by external pressures that have tangible deadlines attached. It gets us tying up our gym shoes a little faster, and choosing salmon and broccoli more often than steak and fries. But, I wanted to challenge myself to refrain from ramping up my exercise and trimming out a few hundred calories every day, in preparation for the photoshoot. I actually wanted to just feel like myself for once. I knew that if I could step into that intimidating environment, cameras flashing, feeling…normal…that I would really put myself to the test.
I have to tell you; I’m SO glad that I did. Upon signing up for the photoshoot, I anticipated that I would be plagued by major stomach cramps from pent-up anxiety and a ten-fold increase in nervous butterflies on the day of. Surpisingly, my tummy only did a small flip-flop or two.
I was grateful to the Three Boudoir girls for the encouraging emails they sent me prior to the photoshoot. I was initially worried that I may have put myself into a queue to be objectified, but when I got their first email, I understood that they were all about empowerment, and that thrilled me. They incrementally boosted my confidence and made me feel reassured about just being my natural self. Here’s a little sample of their enthusiasm: “Give yourself a huge pat on the back. You are brave and fearless. You are about to take on a super fun boudoir shoot that is going to leave you feeling sexy and ready to take on the world.”
Every single email that the company sent me was full of positive language. I’m pretty sure they used “hot,” “sexy,” “gorgeoous,” “amazing,” “brave,” and “beautiful” dozens of times each. Even though I giggled and let the comments slide off of me at first, over time, I started to feel better about myself, and was more excited than nervous. I started to believe in my bravery and beauty. What an even grander benefit than having pretty pictures!
On the day of the shoot, I was overwhelmed by the warmth of the women who helped me pose and look my best. I give myself ZERO credit for being able to strike those poses on my own; it’s hard work! They were encouraging, natural and fun. The time actually flew by. I felt my long-standing intimidation of models, and the unnatural poses they’re photographed in, begin to melt away. I might not look exactly like a lot of models, but I’m me – and that’s pretty awesome. Likewise, for you!
What made the biggest impression on me though, is that apparently lots of women are more accepting of themselves than I knew. Apparently, plenty of women prefer to leave their simple “imperfections” front and center rather than edited out of photos. The boudoir ladies told me that lots of women prefer to let birth marks and scars show in their pictures. For example, without naming names, they told me that even women who have undergone surgery following breast cancer may prefer to let their scars show, because it’s part of their identity. This fits exactly within a message, on Three Boudoir’s website, that all women can take to heart: “Every single person that comes through our studio has unique qualities that we know exactly how to draw out and capture in photos.” Oh man, I might as well be their spokeswoman with all this good PR! Haha. No, they did not ask me to write this. I prayed for the confidence to share this all on my own.
Unfortunately, positive affirmations and mood-lifting information isn’t internalized very well by women. Glamour magazine polled 1,000 women, ages 18-40, and found that body image today is actually worse than 30 years ago. Even though women have been dominating in many professional fields, proving to the world that we should have been taken more seriously long, long, long ago, we’re suffering from a lack of self-esteem more than ever. Why?!? Someone tell us why!!!
According to Glamour, modern women compare themselves more to the girl next door than celebrities. Instead of flipping through magazines a few times a month, as may have been the case 30 years ago, we’re now inundated by at least 1.8 billion, yes BILLION, new pictures posted to social media every day! Since we’re seeing a lot more normal people, we curiously scan the endless images until we find someone that looks like our “ideal body,” and then believe we should and can look like that too.
Nowadays, the thinking is a little like this:
“Oh, I know I can’t achieve a Cameron Diaz or Madonna body. It’s unrealistic because I’d have to be super rich and paying a personal chef and world-class trainer to sculpt that kind of bod. But, my friend Michelle’s recent pictures on Facebook and Instagram make her look super amazing and she’s not a celebrity. She has a child and a full-time job! If she can get a ripped stomach then I can do it. If I can’t look like her, there must be something wrong with me. I have to prove that I can be just as on-top-of-it and slim. Why not, right?”
I’m all for women feeling empowered because of other people’s successes, but comparing ourselves to others is apparently at the core of what makes us dissatisfied. Geesh. What to do?
Here are few simple steps towards feeling your best:
1) Quit comparing yourself to others. Easier said than done, I know. But, you should try anyways.
2) If looking at other people’s pictures makes you feel bad, then place a limit on yourself by monitoring your media browsing.
3) Reinforce positive language about your body whenever the urge to shame it creeps up – aka, fake it until you make it. Positive affirmations breed positive thinking.
4) Exercise – it’s a natural self-esteem, feel-good boost.
5) Give yourself some love. Think about what healthy actions make you happy and do more of them, instead of repeating negative habits or actions that lead to frustration and anxiety.
Another fun thing you can do to feel invigorated and ready for bikini season, is treat yourself to some new underwear that will make you feel great and build up your confidence! I recently met a fellow UVA alum, Katie Fritts, who started a company called UnderClub. Katie discovered that many women often don’t toss out their older pairs of underwear and are so pressed for time that they don’t have the mental energy to make a one-off trip to the mall for minor but necessary basics like underwear. Underclub offers women a way to turn this chore into a fun subscription-based service, delivering customized high-quality undies straight to their doorsteps. To accompany the cute packaging with every order, Underclub includes a personalized note for customers; a simple reminder of their beauty or a little something to make them feel good. Love it.
Whether or not you’re planning to buy chic new undies or a fun seasonal bikini, I encourage you to remember what you love most about your body, mind and soul this summer. You don’t need to be in skimpy stuff to feel worthy or attractive, and you certainly don’t need to be objectified, but you can put on a sleek, sexy, feminine, bold, fun, or classy attitude that makes you outshine the sun. YOU make any little piece of fabric look good. Don’t forget it.
Yours in health and wellness,