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I Tried A Boudoir Photoshoot & It Helped Me Rediscover What It Means To Be Sexy

Every year when the clock strikes twelve on January 1, I think of all the ways I am going to be better in the upcoming year. Maybe I make a vow to eat healthier, or to spend less time binging Netflix, or maybe something a bit more deep like being kinder to others or volunteering more. And at the end of that year, I look back and notice that I really didn’t do a single thing that I thought I was going to. All of those New Years resolutions were just words because I failed to act upon them. 

As I enter 2018 and my final semester of college at NYU, I knew that I wanted to make a resolution that was actually going to stick. One that I had to work hard on every single day. One that was more than just a gym membership or signing up to be a weekly volunteer. I wanted to make a change in my life that would actually impact me in the long run. And I had just the idea. A few weeks ago my resolution hit me while I was sweating through a t-shirt in a hot yoga class because I refused to take my shirt off. I hadn’t shaved my armpits in days and although I didn’t know a single person in that room, I was ashamed of my body.

The relationship that I have had with my body has not always been a kind one. When I was in middle school, the boys in my grade would call me fat, ugly, and my favorite, “Chewbacca,” because of my hairy nature. They would make “hot lists” of all the girls in school and I would always be at the bottom, a number like 45 or 53 forever engrained in my mind next to my name. Although I was not necessarily insecure or shy, being a 14 year old with double Ds and a mustache that was never quite bleached enough, it often times got the best of me. For years I was bullied into believing that unless I was skinny, tall, and perfectly tanned like the Victoria Secret Angels, I would never be good enough.

After years of weight fluctuations between eating and not eating whatever I wanted, I still had an uneasy relationship with how I looked. By the time I got to college, I finally accepted that my body wasn’t going to change so I might as well embrace it. But because of the years of pain I inflicted upon myself to look a certain way, I had some hard habits to beat. The biggest was the internal conversation happening in my head. Whenever I looked at myself next to others in a photograph, the first thing that came to mind was how much better looking all the other people around me were. There was this competition that I was playing in that no matter how hard I tried, I could never win. 

Now, as a senior at NYU, I decided that it is time to act upon a resolution that will actually help me and that involves not just embracing my body for what it is, but loving it full heartedly. But I knew I couldn’t do it alone. A few years ago when I was working as an editorial intern at Cosmopolitan.com, I met Nomi Ellenson. She was working as a photographer for the website and we exchanged info as my internship ended. Over the last few years I have seen Ellenson’s work popping up on my feed in a way that always intrigued me. Currently, she is a photographer in New York City who runs her own business called Boudoir by Nomi, NYC’s most female-empowered and fashion-forward boudoir photography studio. According to her website, boudoir is “an intimate photographic genre that highlights the beauty of all ages, sizes and genders.” This was exactly what I needed.

Nomi Ellenson // Montelle Intimates

To me, this seemed like the perfect way to look at my body head on, in a way I would have for the rest of my life. I reached out to Ellenson about doing my own boudoir shoot and she gladly accepted. As we planned the shoot and the days crept closer, I got nervous. Although I was far from camera shy, for years I hid my stomach whenever I went to the beach and I always stayed away from wearing skin-tight outfits or low cut tops. The idea that my body was going to be on display for the whole world (well at least, my readers) to see, was terrifying yet exhilarating. But I knew that it would help me in the long run and I kept my cool. Thanks to some incredible lingerie companies including Parfait, Fleur’t With Me, and Montelle, I showed up at her studio with a few gorgeous outfits ready to go. 

I sat with Ellenson in her beautiful and bright loft studio in Brooklyn and we discussed how I wanted the shoot to go. I knew that I wanted the pictures to be tasteful yet showed off all my imperfections. As a boudoir photographer, Ellenson’s only goal is to make sure her client feels as beautiful as possible. In our current society, young women are constantly surrounded by supermodels or influencers on Instagram and it’s hard not to compare yourself to them when everything is based on likes and views. But with her photography, Ellenson hopes to make every woman who steps into her studio feel as though they are the most beautiful woman in the world. And that is exactly what she did.

Nomi Ellenson // Montelle Intimates​

While we sipped champagne and listened to pop hits, Ellenson showed me all the different poses I could do to make me feel my best. She wanted me to be comfortable so she pretty much gave me free reign to do whatever I wanted to. As I stripped down to my first outfit, a sexy one piece by Montelle as seen above, I felt free for the first time since I was a kid. I had worn lingerie before but it was always because there was a man I was trying to impress. I had never really done it for myself and I was surprised by the power of a little lace. In just that bodysuit and my favorite “bitch” necklace from Bulletin Broads, I felt beautiful, sexy, and strong. I wasn’t nervous doing the poses and taking the pictures because I knew that no matter what they looked like, how I felt in that moment was way greater than any measure of beauty. 

As we went through the next two outfits, the feeling didn’t go away. I no longer cared about the rolls on my stomach or if you could see the hair on my legs. As she snapped away on the camera, the words of the bullies calling me “butterface” or “unibrow-mustache girl” faded away. If I had known when I was younger that all I had to do to come to terms with my body was to truly embrace and accept it, I feel as though I could’ve been much happier. Although that seems incredibly simplistic to say, by baring it all on camera and stripping down to what my mother gave me (my body, not the lingerie that is,) I was able to walk away that day with a pep in my step. 

Nomi Ellenson // Montelle Intimates​

Now, heading into 2018, the year that I graduate and start my full-time job, I already feel different from last year. I now notice all the time I wasted comparing myself to other people because I didn’t look like them. Or the time I wasted putting myself down because a boy told me he preferred his woman to be tall. The only person that I need validation from regarding my body and how I look is myself, and thanks to a simple photoshoot, I feel as though I have it. 

Isabel is a currently the Evening & Weekend Editor at Her Campus and a student at New York University in the Global Liberal Studies program with a concentration in Contemporary Culture and Creative Production. When she is not watching Gilmore Girls or playing with puppies at the local pet store, she spends her time freelancing for numerous publications about celebrities and life. You can find her work on the websites of Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Seventeen, Elle, and Buzzfeed. Follow her on Instagram at @isabelcalkins.