A Reclamation

When I first met Melissa a couple of years ago, I was so nervous about our photoshoot. I had recently come out as genderfluid, nonbinary, and pansexual. If you don’t know what those words mean, that’s okay! The quick version is that I am neither a man nor a woman, but that my gender tends to change depending on how I’m feeling. This means that I am transgender because I’m not the gender I was assigned at birth. I operate outside of the gender binary of male and female, hence being nonbinary. As far as being pansexual? I’m not lusting after your cast iron – I just think everyone is attractive, regardless of their gender. 

When the day of our shoot came, I wasn’t sure if it was something I still wanted to do. After all, it’s so often a marker of femininity and that wasn’t always how I wanted to feel. I hadn’t been close to naked in front of anyone but my husband at that point in… gosh, a decade. Add in the intricacies of being disabled and at that point unable to work and, well, my self-esteem was pretty shot.

Without knowing about all the complex pieces of my journey, Melissa helped me feel comfortable and at home. 

I went from experiencing a large amount of gender dysphoria to starting to accept and love the feminine sides of my body while still holding space for uncomfortable feelings. Even on my most masculine days, I saw my body in a new light. I started to appreciate what I, as a sex educator, shared with others – how you can be yourself even within certain bodily constraints. Check out my work on chronicsex.org.

Naturally, when she asked me to be a part of her new project, I jumped at the chance. What I didn’t know when I said yes was just how much I was going to need this time with her to explore and enjoy myself.

Within about two months of our scheduled shoot date, my husband and partner of nearly 13 years told me he wanted a divorce.

There are many pieces to why that happened, but my gender identity and sexuality were major factors. After being out for three years with ample space for conversation and learning, he still couldn’t figure out how he felt about the new me.

By the time Melissa and I got to talking more about what we’d like to do with the shoot, she asked if I wanted to play with gender expression to see myself as I am. Knowing that me living my truth helped end my relationship somehow gave me more power to display who I truly am.

Instead of being timid and shy, I walked into our shoot incredibly confident and ready to reclaim my body and my life as my own. I was armed with my best Tyra Banks smize, some sexy outfits, and a hell of a lot of sass.

I’ve received a lot of compliments on the few sneak peaks I’ve shared with partners and friends. Even more, a ton of people noticed the change in my confidence level. Over the past month, I’ve gone from being timid about discussing gender at work or in more public spaces to speaking my truth more.

For the first time in ages, I’m getting looks at the gym and grocery store. Instead of being annoyed by them, I’m embracing them because I finally get it. Being able to see what others see when they look at me has been life changing. 

Regardless of where I fit on the gender spectrum, I know how I look – fucking hot. 

A Little Dose of Nostalgia

I picked up a 35mm film camera ( a pentax k1000) when I was sixteen, hoping it was the one thing that was going to finally give me the identity I was searching for so desperately. Something needed to define ME. I wasn’t really one of those artsy girls. I wasn’t a popular girl. I never had any patience with mean girls. I was too soft to really be a grunge girl, even though I hung on to Courtney Love’s every word (lyric) and even had to be dragged out of a mosh pit at a Hole concert once . . . who knew I would end up here, doing what I love.

I have carried the negatives from the following images among my most prized possessions. I was so proud of this work, a whole year of photography experience under my belt. It encapsulates everything I was passionate about as a hopelessly romantic, idealistic, lovestruck teenager. I was fortunate enough to grow up in England as a military brat and because of that had incredible opportunities to travel when I was younger. Here is a little peak into my beginnings as a photographer.

This is the inside and outside of the Musee D’Orsay, which I would love to visit with my girls! The architecture is just mind blowing. It used to be a train station!

This is just outside the Louvre-this guy was sitting just like the two behind him and I was drawn to the symmetry. He saw that I was pointing a camera at him and couldn’t help but giggle.

These were taken in Edinburgh, while I was tagging along on a trip with my high school sweetheart’s family (hence the lovestruck teenager bit). I was obsessed with the picture of his sister (they totally have the same nose) and of that cow! SO fuzzy!

These are from a trip to Scotland – I tagged along with my high school sweetheart’s family. The picture of his sister was a happy accident but a super important lesson in the power of well placed light. I processed it just like this too-super contrasty, not exposed exactly right, but I loved it nonetheless.

And ah yes, the 15 minutes of fame type moment. A teacher at our high school was Nate’s aunt (front right), and she got us backstage access to meet, photograph and interview the Foo Fighters. I was convinced I was going to be a Rolling Stone photographer, and made Annie Leibovitz my personal hero.

I’m sure I would have loved the life of a Rolling Stone photographer, but I am so happy I ended up where I am today-empowering women to love their bodies through boudoir photography.

xoxo

Melissa

Secret Project Update: Featured Model

I love when I can make people feel comfortable with themselves when they walk into my studio.  I am so passionate about body positivity, and when I see that in someone, it makes me feel alive, like my purpose is being fulfilled.  

Ruth is a powerhouse of a woman with whom it was a privilege to work. She was already on fire when she arrived, despite the feelings of anxiety she wrestled with the day before. After having lost over 100 pounds, she was ready not only to accept, but to show off the body she had worked hard to reclaim.

Before we got started, Ruth showed me a pair of lacy red panties that her husband had bought for her years before they were married. She really wanted to feature these, especially since her photos would be a surprise to share with him. How awesome is that?

What followed was a 2-hour show of fierce strength and beauty. She hardly needed any direction and at one point I was sure my camera was going to light on fire. The pride and confidence in her eyes was truly stunning.  

Here is what she said about why she wanted to be a part of the 2019 Secret Project:

“My name is Ruth and I’m a 35year old Puerto Rican living here in Milwaukee for 7 years now. A mom of 3, I use to be a nurse in PR but here I’m mom, exterior painter, tutor for my homeschooling kids and whatever it takes to be the person they need me to be and that makes me happy.

I’ve been struggling with my weight for many years and a year and a half ago I ended up with a surgery on my knee that left me with a mark half of the size of my leg due to a fracture, and after that I gained even more. At 301lbs my doctor said that if I can’t get down to the 180 pound goal they set for me, I can’t have the second surgery needed.  So, I decided to have a gastric sleeve surgery last November for me, for my kids for my health.

This month I reached my first goal of weighing below 200 pounds, which means loosing a little bit over 100 pounds!!! My body is changing a lot and is very hard to love it the way it looks now, to hide that excess skin, but I know this is the right way and one day everything will be in the right place.

I want to model for StudioM because I want to celebrate that no matter how your body change you still have to celebrate and see the beauty in the most perfect imperfections created. I feel I still can be pretty and sexy and sweet no matter how much skin I can see.”

As with all of my clients, the photo reveal came shortly after we finished the shoot.

Before we began the slideshow, however, I had my assistant prepare to take a video of her reaction to seeing herself on screen. The results were priceless.

Take a peek at the video and just try not to get excited with her 😍

A Beautiful Mama

I have had the honor of photographing this beautiful mama five times.  Three boudoir shoots (one of them bridal), one couples shoot with her new hubs, and now this maternity boudoir shoot.  This shoot was also part of my 2019 secret project.  I wanted to include a maternity shoot this time, because I feel like it is so important to celebrate bodies of all shapes and sizes, including the glowing figure of the expectant mama. 

I think EVERYONE that has a baby needs to capture this amazing time-when your body is literally growing another human being.  She also bravely ventured into the bathtub and it.was.glorious.  

A New Space, A Fresh Start

Moving to a new neighborhood can be daunting. What is the commute like? Will the space fit my needs? How are the restaurants in the area?

So many questions like these can flood our minds when we make the decision to move. And it can be so easy to give in to the stresses and anxieties that vie for our attention like a small child tugging at our sleeves. But when we push past the possible downsides, a new space can be thrilling. It symbolizes a reset, even as we continue to operate in much the same way we did in the space we used to occupy.

The Ladies’ Night we held at the studio last Wednesday showed me just how rewarding this new space really is. What serves as a beautiful new home for my photography by day was easily transformed into a fun, inviting venue for a party by night. Some tactful rearranging created a lounge area in the dining room, surrounded by our ever-popular tarot card reader and a featured wine selection from Spirits of Norway Vineyard. A quick jaunt brought us to our pop-up spa room, complete with face masking and skin care advice in a private nook. And finally, turning the corner led us into the studio room, repurposed as a relaxation zone with some incredible massages.

But the night was about so much more than what we were able to offer to our guests. It was about the guests themselves. Our attendees were an eclectic mix of long-time studio friends and brand new faces. I cannot express just how happy it made me to see so many amazing women commingling in one place. And it is this aspect that fills me with gratitude.

I am so proud to have come this far with my boudoir photography business. What started as a small Groupon campaign has turned into my dream of helping women love their bodies at some of their most vulnerable moments. And being able to sit and talk with them, as one of them, felt SO good. In a way, it reminded me just why I love what I do.

Running a studio is a lot of work and it can be hard to switch off the business side of me and just be myself. I’m sure at least a few of you have heard me say that I really want to find more time to go out with people or pamper myself every once and a while. And despite keeping my eyes open to make sure the night ran smoothly, I was able to take some time to just be me. Not Melissa the photographer, Melissa the mom, Melissa the business owner. Just Melissa.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE all of the roles I get to play in my life. I love the fulfillment and satisfaction I get from my family and my work. But last Wednesday reminded me how good it feels to let go of those roles every so often. I was able to put *most* of the responsibilities on hold and be one of the girls.

Thank you to everyone who came last week. Showing up to spend a few hours with friends, trying new wine, and spoiling yourselves a little was actually very meaningful. Your presence made the studio a little brighter even after the sun went down. And it reminded me that YOU are the reason I bring my A game to every shoot. You are the heart of my work, not simply the subjects of my portfolio. And I am excited for each opportunity we have to share that space together.

Woman on the Verge of a Wondrous Breakout (a guest post by Aria Stevens)

When Melissa asked if I would be interested in her secret project to feature women of all ages, sizes, and gender identities, I was excited.

Excited to pose. Excited to let go. Excited to shut my eyes, find my happy place, and be transformed into a sexy, confident, commanding woman. 

But I was also terrified. 

Terrified to say yes. Terrified to see myself. Terrified to let someone else capture me with their lens, to instruct me into positions and request my trust.

I have been living in anxiety for quite some time. Anxiety to be seen as a fraud in a conservative county of a state in which I still don’t quite feel at home. When I moved to Wisconsin from Massachusetts a little over a year ago, I was leaving behind a widely-accepting “come as you are” atmosphere. Since then, I have been hesitant to leave the house. And the few friends I’ve made are scattered, meaning a drive to yet another unfamiliar place. 

I’ve deadlocked myself into my little area of home, the grocery store, and my therapist’s office. Aside from the occasional dinner or appointment, I’ve been a homebody most of the time for the better part of a year. Which brings me back to the Facebook message from a person who  wanted to feature me in such a public way.

I hurriedly responded YES and soon found myself preparing for a fitting at Althea’s Fine Lingerie. Yet the feeling of fraudulence didn’t relent. “Are you sure you’re supposed to be doing this? Are you sure you’re allowed to be celebrate your weird body with women who are more deserving than you?” I literally shook as I entered the boutique.

But something happened in the 2+ hours I spent sifting through endless black bras, swilling wine, and making self-deprecating comments about my body under the truthful lighting.

I started to wake up.

Melissa and Althea were totally normal. I wasn’t a token. I wasn’t given sweet epithets to make me feel good or spend more money. I was genuinely accepted without hesitation. 

I belonged.

It was this sense of belonging that carried me through the next few weeks. The day before my shoot, I was wracked with anxiety. Could I really go through with this? What if I liked nothing the camera had to show me? What if this made my self-image even worse than it already was?

But I had come this far, I needed to see it through. 

I arrived at the studio with a coffee three times the size of my self-esteem. I met the stylists and before long, I was coiffed and painted. All that was needed was me. 

Nervous excitement vibrated through me as I donned the first outfit. I paused, looking over the proverbial cliff, expecting an abyss of fear and shame. I crept out and entered the studio room to find something I hadn’t expected. There, in the reflection of the oversized mirror, my purple lipstick popped, my false lashes opened, my lacy lingerie contoured. 

I saw me. 

Thrusting my right hip out, I cocked my head to the left. Suddenly, the anxiety went out like a light. 

I could tell you about the sex I naturally exuded in front of the camera. I could tell you that some of the best shots were a result of my improvisation. I could say that Melissa gushed on multiple occasions about my being a “natural.”

But instead, I’ll focus on the aspect that has started to change my life. I haven’t yet mentioned that I’m a transgender woman. My gender identity has perpetually hindered me from accepting my womanhood. Handing myself over to Melissa’s lens tore off my blinders.

I can see.

The woman.

I already am.

I have never felt so intrinsically like myself. I’ve been trying to come to terms with who I am, to find legitimacy in my body, and see beauty in my existence. But when I stopped trying and let Melissa guide me, nothing was in my way. I owned that fucking space.

The final step in this journey was the reveal. My initial reaction was not exactly positive. My eyes were drawn to the spots I found ill favor with, nitpicking and fretting over the body I had so willingly let loose. But on the second round, when I began choosing the shots I “didn’t hate,” my eyes began to focus. 

At the end of all this, I still cannot say that I love everything about myself. I will say, however, that the things I still dislike no longer make me feel like less of a woman. I no longer feel like an outsider. 

I should note that there are things about me I fell in love with. Melissa brought out the aspects of my body and my face that thrills me to see. It is a gift to know I can feel this way about me.

We all see things on ourselves that we don’t like. And if I can admit that I have this same issue, I can admit that this issue isn’t one of gender identity. It’s just a simple fact of being human. I no longer need to justify myself as a woman or that I’m supposed to make up for something. I can instead focus on embracing the woman I am, the woman I was always meant to be.

Melissa has helped me to move forward while recognizing how far I’ve already come. And now I get to work in her world, to be a part of making this happen for other women. Women who see themselves as less deserving. Women who have carried shame for a long time. Women who, like me, are starting to wake up after letting Melissa show them who they really are.

Let’s continue waking up. 

Together. 

Secret Project Update: Featured model

Miss L is the first of my 21 models for the secret project!!!  If you haven’t heard what the secret project is, check it out here

I chose L because she working every day to empower women to get in touch with their sexuality by working at the Tool Shed. If you have not been there you should definitely check it out-it is a place where people of all genders and sexual orientations can explore their sexuality in a positive environment and be treated with respect by a friendly and knowledgeable staff!! All of those things are my jam. L also runs classes and discussion groups about Polyamory, including a book discussion about The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures.

L’s amazingness does not stop there, though. She is also a burlesque dancer with the Brew City Bombshells! I absolutely LOVE the body positivity in burlesque and the confidence of the dancers is completely captivating. They have a show coming up in early August so definitely check them out as well!!!

Now for L’s beautiful photos:

Ta-ta

This beautiful babe is an absolute inspiration in every single way.  I got a text from her a few days before Mother’s Day, asking if I did boudoir parties.

OF COURSE!  I love parties!  Women hanging out, empowering each other, cheering each other on, it’s always a blast.  It’s why I started Galentine’s Day.

It turns out that E was about to undergo a double mastectomy and had to do so in pretty short order.  

She wanted to celebrate her pre-surgery body, and she wanted her friends by her side. She called it a “tata to my tatas party.”  

My heart.

She said she specifically needed to document her breasts because they were amazing, and wanted to pour a bottle of champagne over them.  

WHY have I not thought of this before?

On the day of the shoot, the time came to get the champagne out. We cleared the bed away from the wall, did some “practice” shots before popping the bottle, and had the emergency standby bottles ready.  I had to be sure we got these shots right-it was the only thing she specifically requested.  And man.  They. Are. SPECTACULAR.  

THIS is what I mean when I say I want to capture happy, giggly, laughing shots-where you let go completely.  You are alive and free, loving everything in the precise moment the picture is taken.  

For those that have worked with me, pouring a bottle of champagne over your body works WAY better than exclaiming “PENIS!” to get genuine giggles.  

Her hubby was present for her photo reveal and he just beamed. He said it made him so happy to see she had a great time during the shoot.

She might have the most grace of any woman I have ever met.  She went through this whole process with a brave smile on her face, brazenly donning her Dita Von Teese lingerie (whom she is a clone for btw if you didn’t notice), and exhibiting absolute joy during her entire shoot.  

She patiently waited while I worked on her album design through a super busy month, and is already talking about a follow up shoot after reconstructive surgery.  

Hope you are feeling well, E.  I can’t wait to photograph you again.  

New Work from Walker’s Point

I am so excited to start sharing sessions from the new studio!!! I had an absolute blast with this babe yesterday!! I’m really starting to find my groove in the new studio, and am loving how it is photographing!!! Stay tuned for a video tour of the studio and some behind the scenes peeks at our THIRD secret project – we start shooting TOMORROW! EEEEEEEEE In the meantime, enjoy these incredibly beautiful images.

4 Tips to Prepare for Your Boudoir Shoot, plus a free guide to understanding lingerie!

For a great boudoir shoot, a little bit of preparation is so important.  You want to spend your shoot feeling amazing, beautiful, confident and sexy.  Here are my top tips to get the  most out of your boudoir experience.  

Tip one:  Shop for your boudoir wardrobe at least a month before your shoot:  

The most important part of preparing for your boudoir shoot is wardrobe.  Find a few different outfits that fit you perfectly and that you love.   

The last thing you want to be worrying about is whether those straps are digging into your skin or if the push up is creating an unnatural shape or creating unwanted gaps.  

Because lingerie can be super intimidating, especially if you haven’t worn it much, all of our sessions include wardrobe styling at Althea’s Fine Lingerie!  Althea has a true gift for fitting women in amazing lingerie that flatters their figures!  She will help you shop for items that are perfect for you.  You’ll feel so much better knowing you are rocking those outfits. 

We have created a guide to lingerie for you to review before your wardrobe fitting!!  Click here to check it out.   

Tip two:  Schedule your waxing, facial, mani pedi and any hair color appointments 48 hours before your shoot.  

Take the heat factor up a notch with a Brazilian wax!!!  I absolutely love Susan at Clean Slate Spa.  Her Brazilians are quick and virtually painless and will leave you feeling amazingly sexy. Everyone’s skin is different, so you want to allow at least 48 hours between your wax and your shoot, and you want at least 4 weeks of growth before any wax.   

Schedule any hair color touch ups at least 48 hour ahead of time also.  Do not make huge color changes within a few days of your shoot-you want to be sure you are happy with the results.  

And same goes for your mani pedi-you want to schedule this 24/48 hours before your shoot to be sure you are happy with everything!  I am often asked what the best color is for a mani pedi-you can’t go wrong with the classics – red, nude, or black, but any fun color that coordinates with your outfits and compliments your skin tone will work.  If you are in doubt, ask your nail tech!

Tip three:  Stay well hydrated, exfoliate, and moisturize.  24 hours before your shoot, drink LOTS of water, exfoliate your skin and use lots of moisturizer.  This will keep your skin super soft and smooth and exfoliating will help you get a closer shave on your legs.  I LOVE the Raw Sugar line sold at target-I use their exfoliating scrub, body wash and lotion in the lemon scent.  Yummy and invigorating.  

Tip Four: The day of your shoot!!  Eat breakfast, pack a snack, and open yourself up to the process! You are going to want your strength for the poses that I will be putting you in-I promise it will not show in your photos if you have breakfast that day! Most importantly, boudoir is very much a mental game and arriving open and ready for the experience and really tuning into why you are there and your goals for the shoot will help immensely. I have tips for this too and we go over that before your shoot!!

I hope these tips have been helpful!!!

I am so grateful to be able to do what I love, and am always honored when someone chooses me for their boudoir experience. Have a great day, babes!!!