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!!!

“Secret” Project

I am so excited to be working on my “secret” project again. That’s what it was called the first time, because I didn’t reveal the concept until the result was complete. 

21 women, sizes 0-20. I’ve done it twice now. Once in 2012 and once in 2016. I’d been hearing women say they needed to lose 10 pounds or they were too old or they had too many babies etc etc, and I wanted to prove them wrong.

As my business grew, I was able to get a more diverse set of volunteers the second time around, including many beautiful skin tones, cancer survivors, women up to 64 years old, and a powerlifter, to name a few. We don’t have to have breasts to be sexy. We don’t have to be 20 to be sexy. We don’t have to lose the baby weight to be sexy. We can be fluid, changing, growing. 

I am working to include trans women and gender queer/nonbinary peeps this time around 🏳️‍🌈. I would love to include disabled women. I would love to include a woman in her 70 or even older (my own grandmother continues to refuse me even though she is the cutest almost 80 year old woman you’ve ever seen and full of sass at that) 😂. 

This project sets me on fire – I am so passionate in my conviction that boudoir is for everyone. We are all so beautiful in our individuality and should be empowered to embrace that beauty and our sexuality-whatever that means to us at the time.  I am so excited to see where this project takes me in 2019. Watch out for updates on my work and the project as it progresses!

Sharing nudes

Recently someone asked me if I even photographed nudes because the work shown on my social media accounts was a little more conservative than she saw by just googling “boudoir photography.” This was the final push I needed to get off my butt and get this blog going.

Lately so many beautiful boudoir images from talented photographers everywhere are being removed from social media accounts of small businesses on the basis that they show excessive skin or “violate community standards.” This forces photographers to choose carefully which images are shared to avoid having their accounts and even private groups shut down. I realize I may be biased based on the nature of my profession, but I don’t really believe in “excessive” skin.

On a happier note, this shoot was so.much.fun. and she really rocked this. I love all the gorgeous details on her lingerie, the texture of her silver bra, the lashes, and of course, the nudes. I have said it before but it is worth repeating. I am so honored when women choose me to help them in their journey of self love and rediscovery, and when they trust me enough to capture gorgeous nudes.

If you think you *might* want to try nudes during your boudoir shoot, but you are terrified (just about everyone is), that’s okay. Before we start shooting, I’ll model each pose for you and show you modifications in case a certain pose is “too much.” Say, you want to be topless but would prefer those shots be more of an “implied nude.” We can easily drape an arm, a sheet, move your hands, etc. so we can tailor your nudes to your comfort level. You will be absolutely amazed at what you are capable of once you take that first step. And you’ll have stunningly beautiful images like this to treasure in 10, 20, and even 30 years.

How did you get into this? Shooting Boudoir?

I get asked this question all the time.  You could say that I literally made it my job to help women love their bodies as a result of hating my own so much.

I always struggled with self image, was always just a little too curvy, never had that flat tummy to show off, and after having kids, things got exponentially worse for me.

I had a cervical condition that prevented me from exercising during pregnancy but we’ll be honest and say I wasn’t doing a lot exercise anyway. I had gained 30 pounds since getting married, and gained 35 more while pregnant.

I ended up with an emergency c section that left me with a floppy belly that hung over my scar. That softness, combined with stretch marks and the heartless effect of gravity left me devastated with my appearance.

At the time I hadn’t shot boudoir professionally yet. It was just becoming more popular nationwide, and a photographer friend of mine suggested photographing me to try it out.

I was maybe 3 months postpartum with my second baby, and the photographer used the equivalent of a spotlight in a dark room to light the portraits. That combined with winging the posing . . . . . to say the results were bad is definitely an understatement. I cried for DAYS.

I decided that this couldn’t ever happen to anyone again, and made the decision to start shooting boudoir myself. I didn’t want any woman to ever hate herself the way I did, and set out to create a space where all bodies could be seen for the beauty they are, and could be celebrated and loved. This is why I specialize in shooting boudoir for women of all shapes and sizes.

A lot of other happy things came out of that day-I joined a gym, started getting serious about my health, and got the confidence I needed to leave my unhappy marriage. During that journey I decided to just.be.happy. To stop fighting it and love my body and commit to loving it going forward.

It was so FREEING.

CHOOSING happiness in my body and letting go of all that angst was a ridiculous weight off my shoulders. To embrace the concept that you can love yourself while also trying to improve your heath – why these concepts are often mutually exclusive, I don’t know.

All of this said, there are still days I struggle. Days I look at my softness and stretch marks and think how I’ll never have flawless skin or an eight pack (I need my chocolate). But it doesn’t take long for me to snap out of it and refocus on the gloriousness of self love.

What is YOUR biggest struggle with loving yourself and what do you do to try to overcome that challenge?

I would love to hear all of your answers!!!

SelfLove