A jaw-dropping outfit. Flashbulbs popping. A photographer capturing every curve and angle. Sounds like a day in the life of a celebrity—or any of the growing number of people who have indulged in a boudoir session.
“It was originally a gift for my husband, but became a gift for myself,” says Debbie Gardiner, a North Vancouver–based substitute teacher and mother of two. “I came out of it feeling confident and sexy.” Although she was nervous before the shoot, Debbie said she quickly relaxed and had fun with the guidance of the photographer—and a mimosa.
“Boudoir photography allows people to capture their confidence, sensuality and self-expression in a powerful and empowering way,” says Dave Abreu, owner and lead photographer at Parlour Boudoir in Toronto. “It’s a beautiful way to capture and cherish moments of self-expression and empowerment.”
This particular mode of self-expression is steadily gaining popularity, with many boudoir photographers adding on the service due to customer demand. In Vancouver, photographer Jennifer Williams and makeup artist Kelly Trerise are the women behind Gloss Boudoir Studio. “We started Gloss as a way to reach more people,” explains Trerise. “Beforehand, it was just the two of us, and we couldn’t shoot as many clients as were requesting to shoot with us.” As far as clientele, they say they get a “huge range” that includes women of all ages, and non-binary sessions with trans women.
It’s difficult to pin down the reasons behind boudoir’s meteoric rise in popularity, but Trerise suggests larger cultural changes may contribute. “For many years, showing your skin or being a sexual being was frowned upon. And we really are coming into this new movement of women taking that back and being who they want to be.”
Changes in the ways we interact may also play a part. “With the rise of social media there has been a shift in societal standards of beauty and a growing emphasis on self-love, body positivity and empowerment,” says Abreu. It’s his belief that the ease with which we now share photos and experiences creates a ripple effect. Boudoir photography “resonates with many individuals seeking a positive and affirming experience,” he says.
Photographers describe boudoir sessions as a safe space for clients to empower themselves and build confidence—but also as a slice of luxury or escape from the everyday. Many studios have professional makeup artists—plus a good playlist, lots of encouragement from the photographer and a few costume changes ensure their clients feel like a bombshell.
Artist and content creator Kaitlin Hargreaves recently did a boudoir session as a wedding-slash-birthday gift for her husband. “I actually felt super-sexy during the photoshoot, which surprised me a little,” she says. “I expected to see the photos and love them, but didn’t realize how empowering and confidence-boosting doing the actual shoot would be.”
Hargreaves also has a unique outsider’s perspective, since she’s been the makeup artist on many boudoir shoots. “Over the years of being involved … I’ve heard women say they’ve never felt so beautiful, or they never imagined they could look like that. That they’re so happy they did it. Having now done it myself, I understand that feeling.”
Boudoir can go beyond just feeling sexy, as Shawna Coates, owner of Tease Boudoir in Calgary explains. “We have quite a few clients who come in and they’re recovering from emotional and physical trauma. We’ll actually get some referrals from therapists to help them heal,” she says. “Women come in to celebrate weight loss. They come in because they want to accept their body as it is. Sometimes women come in because they have cancer and they’re getting mastectomy, and they want to document their body before and after surgery.” She recently had a client that had tremors and difficulties moving due to MS and Parkinson’s. “If she can do a boudoir session, anyone can,” Coates says.
Even if your reasons for trying boudoir aren’t as profound as documenting a cancer journey, there’s a lot to be gained by getting vulnerable with yourself and the camera. “It’s really important for people to be able to look at themselves and see themselves how others see them,” says Trerise. “We don’t look at someone else and stare at their cellulite. You see the glow in their eyes, their personality, their vivaciousness, their fun energy. That’s what we try to capture.”
In the end, it’s meant to be fun, whether it’s a gift for themselves or someone else—or both. “I always joke with my clients that they’re coming in to give a gift to their other half,” says Coates. “But really, it’s just for you, right?” —Jill Von Sprecken
Photos for All
An important piece of the modern boudoir puzzle is inclusivity, and no one knows that better than Stephanie Tostowaryk of Toastography Boutique Boudoir in Edmonton, where the focus is firmly on “empowering portraiture through boudoir and glamour for all body types and genders.” One of Tostowaryk’s aims is to clear up a common misconception around the practice, “that boudoir is about wearing lingerie or nothing at all. But what makes a person attractive is being true to who they are and what makes them comfortable and confident. We want to showcase authentic portraits that relate to who a person is, not turn them into someone else.”
Boudoir, she says, is a relatively young genre of photography that started as a gift in “traditional marriages” from a wife to her husband. “Because of this, boudoir through the years has had a heavy focus on CIS female clientele,” Tostowaryk explains. “Only over the last few years has the inclusive changes of allowing CIS men, trans men and women, non-binary and others to enjoy the experience. As well, with the recent surge in body positivity we are seeing an increase in all body shapes and sizes opposed to the classic ‘perfect model body’ being portrayed as the requirement for boudoir portraiture.”
Whether you are skinny with no curves or plus-sized with all curves, “everyone deserves the chance to challenge their insecurities and empower themselves to feel perfect in their body,” Tostowaryk says, adding that, when it comes to hair and makeup application, inclusivity can play a big role on whether someone feels comfortable booking. “Hair and makeup requirements can be different for many races and genders so finding a photographer team that has experience or understanding of your needs is an important part of the empowerment experience.”
These days, she is delighted to see many walks of life stepping into her studio. “Boudoir photography is for anyone who wants to challenge their personal insecurities, celebrate themselves in aging and changing bodies, seeking personal empowerment, struggling to regain self after divorce or separation, or just as a reminder of how beautiful you are.”
As such, she has some advice for those seeking the best boudoir photographer for them. “Never settle for a photographer that you aren’t confident about. If their work doesn’t reflect who you are then they may not be the right fit for you. Ask questions and reach out if you are hesitant. Don’t take such a personal session so lightly—your experience is so important to the outcome.” —Noa Nichol