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What It's Really Like to Do a Boudoir Shoot (for Yourself and No One Else)

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Karla Walsh Boudoir shoot

Whitney Warne / Ivory House Photography

The location: My pal Whitney's photo studio. The time: 1:30 p.m. on a December Saturday. The soundtrack (well, in my head at least): Lizzo. Beyonce. Janelle Monae. The apparel: A lacy crop top, a pair of boy shorts...and an invisible cloak of confidence.

Welcome to my first boudoir shoot, an occasion I decided to schedule to celebrate turning 30 and finally being at peace with my body. For the first 29 years of my life, I had a hate-hate relationship with my shape. I went from 180 pounds with DD breasts my freshman year in high school down to nearly half my size just two years later, when I reached a life-threatening 94 pounds. The two-steps-forward, one-step-back path to eating disorder recovery for the decade that followed left me with a few stretch marks and much more body baggage.

But something about turning 30 inspired me to look at my body in a new way and embrace the term "sexy" like never before. Maybe it's the fact that I finally love myself enough to let a partner into my inner circle and boost me up even more instead of running away once we went on a handful of dates. Maybe it's another long-term reverberation of the YOLO mindset I gained after being hit by a car. Regardless, I called up Whitney and our makeup artist friend Ivy and asked if I could team up with them for a boudoir shoot. Nothing scandalous. Not for a guy. For me now. And even more so for me in 50 years. (Related: Adriana Lima Says She's Done With Sexy Photo Shoots—Sort Of

As Ivy dusted brushed on mascara and gave me the full Victoria's Secret angel-treatment, I picked her brain about what it's like to be on the other side of the makeup chair for these growing-in-popularity shoots. "I've had about 50 clients to-date who asked for my services before a boudoir shoot," she says. "It's generally an add-on as part of a bride's checklist: get engaged, do a boudoir shoot, then gift it to your partner on the big day."

To Ivy's point: Search on Pinterest for "boudoir" and you'll find loads of references to "gifts for him," "pre-wedding photos," and "bridal boudoir." I'm far from tying the knot, but the trend is "definitely on the rise" outside of the wedding industry as well, Ivy says, since more women are taking ownership of their bodies, their choices, and celebrating where they are in life. 

Karla Walsh Boudoir shoot
Whitney Warne / Ivory House Photography

That afternoon, as Whitney and I talked through the concept, outfits, and poses for the 60-minute session, I couldn't help but reflect back on how much I'd grown in the past 365 days. One year ago I was full of self-doubt, fresh off a break-up and crying on the couch while watching Parks and Recreation reruns. (I know...how could I not be laughing at Ron Swanson?!) But after about a week of mourning, I set empowering, SMART goals like, "I will do 50 push-ups on my toes every day this month" or "I will set a new deadlift PR before spring."

Those strength-minded aims changed the focus from "woe is me" to "wow, where have these muscles been all my life?!" That physical strength eventually manifested itself in emotional strength—and now here I am slipping on my corset and jeans.

Despite what the name of the trend suggests, "you certainly don't need to be naked or in a thong to be sexy," Whitney told me when I booked the shoot. As we scrolled through the results four days later, I couldn't agree more. I found myself gravitating toward the images that involved a medium amount of clothing, a powerful, butt-accentuating pose, and a joyful expression. It struck me even more after I received the files—none of which I'd be too embarrassed for even my Dad to see—that after spending (okay, wasting) at least 4,000 days of my life at war with my body, a truce had been called. And that's definitely something worth celebrating.

Karla Walsh Boudoir shoot

Whitney Warne / Ivory House Photography

Because our bodies are badass and feeling strong, healthy, and confident is for everyone! Help us spread the body love and be a part of our #LoveMyShape body confidence movement: Post a photo or video on social sharing why you love your shape. And check out Movemeant Foundation, our partner in empowering women and girls to be body positive.

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