For my husband's 40th birthday, I wanted to give him a special gift: professionally taken boudoir photos of myself.
But before I delve into that, you need a little background.
Up until 2012, life was good: I had a part-time job while studying for a bachelor's degree in psychology. I had a happy marriage and our then 6-year-old daughter was thriving.
Up until this point, I was ok with my weight. Mind you, I had always struggled with it. I was always the slightly heavier one in my group of girlfriends. But I was hitting the gym and being pretty successful at keeping my weight where I wanted it.
And then we moved to the United States.
I had to give up my studies because the university I attended didn't support overseas students. And I had no prospects of a job in the States because my Belgian accounting degree was not recognised. So we decided I would stay at home to support our daughter's integration into her new life.
Our daughter adapted brilliantly, learned English in a heartbeat while swinging from the monkey bars, and became a true American girl with a Midwestern accent. During those early years, I volunteered extensively, searching for purpose and fulfillment.
Over time, I discovered my passion for horses and I became a horse farm girl and a horse photographer.
I also gained a lot of weight. Needless to say, I was not happy about that.
And so here we were, 2016, approaching my husband's 40th birthday, and me thinking about the perfect gift for him.
I ended up not doing the boudoir photo shoot though (I took him to the Ford factory in Detroit instead 😂).
I just could not relate to any of the photographers I found online. They all came across as very transactional, I felt they were lacking passion, lacking creativity, which made it difficult for me to connect with them. I did not realise it at that time, but looking back this lack of connection was the main reason for me to decide against the shoot.
Just as it was plain as day that the other reason I did not go through with it, was because I did not like my body. At all. Or my mind for that matter, but that's a story for another blog post.
Let's fast forward to 2021, when we moved to Switzerland.
Once again I had to give up something.
This time it was my farm, and my horses, which were basically my sanity. You see, living with a sensory processing disorder, it is essential to take certain measures to preserve your mental health. For me, being around horses helps with the anxiety. Moving to Switzerland meant I no longer had access to this coping mechanism and so I had to find another way to adapt to my new reality. This added stress did not help with my weight struggle journey.
In those early days in our new home country, I spent a lot of time on social media, browsing numerous accounts that talk about topics like mental health, self-love, and body confidence.
And somehow, I came across Mervyn, the body confidence photographer from You at Yours.
And I had a flashback to all those years ago.
So I ended up scrolling through his account, and I really liked his message.
Because of my ongoing weight issues, I started working with a health coach, and a functional medicine professional. I was starting to take a different approach concerning my health, both physical and mental.
I also started realising that society, with its crazy, unrealistic expectations for female bodies, was the problem. Not me.
And all the while I kept following Mervyn.
I started talking to my husband about it. And he became a You at Yours fan too.
Yet it would be a bit over the top to go to London, just for a photo shoot.
The more I learned about myself, the more I could see that this photography genre might actually really be therapeutic in some way. And I really, really wanted to find out if that was truly the case. And I also wanted to find out if this could be something I would be able to bring to other people as well.
But again, going to London to do a photo shoot? Spoiled brat much?
Yet, I just couldn't find a Swiss photographer whose message spoke to me like Merv's ... .
I started taking courses and doing workshops, all to learn more on how to photograph the beauty of the human body.
And then it was Christmas 2022, my turn to open a gift.
And there it was, a gift voucher for a shoot with You at Yours.
I think there might have been a tear or two (don't tell anyone)
I immediately scheduled a call with Mervyn.
We decided we would make a little family vacation out of it. Let our daughter experience London, after all, there's a London university on her list.
So, the call.
Being neurodivergent, never fully knowing how I will do in different situations, I am always rather reserved. Which is never easy for the other party in a Zoom call, yet it was surprisingly relaxed.
After the call I did start to get a bit nervous, but not too much really. I was like 'Let's just do this'. I spent two days practically naked on the table of my tattoo guy. This wouldn't be so different, right?
But as we got closer to the shoot, I became pretty anxious (the countdown widget on my phone probably wasn't helping to reduce the anxiety either 🤔).
Could I really do this?
Could I really let go of my reservations and experience what apparently every other woman who did this with Merv experiences? I started to think that I couldn't. However, it was obviously too late to back out.
So off we went to London.
I had a quick check-in call with Mervyn the evening before the shoot. I pretended I wasn't nervous at all. I think I got away with it.
Meanwhile I was also hiding my mini panic attacks from the family.
What the hell did I get myself into?!
And then the morning of.
I did some core exercises, you know, get them nice and toned. As if. Especially because that day my fickle perimenopausal period decided to show up so there was some bloating going on. Yay 😒.
After that, I tried to distract myself with the grooming ritual, taking a lot of time to make sure I got all those stray hairs.
I was done an hour too early.
Still trying to fight off those panic attacks.
And then it was show time.
Small talk is not my thing, like at all. You'll get one-word answers, a short sentence at the most. But while I was getting my make-up done, Merv took care of the small talk, sharing funny stories and making me laugh. And just like that, I forgot about being nervous.
Yes, of course, there were moments in the beginning when I felt very self-conscious about standing there in my lingerie. It didn't last long though. Merv was so respectful and thoughtful that I quickly forgot about that. And the fact that it wasn't at all about being sexy, but about being confident about me and my body, and that there was room for a lot of laughter, made the whole experience so easy. I can honestly say that by the end I wasn't at all worried about standing in the middle of the room in only my panties. Or less.
This standoffish middle-aged woman went from being all shy on the couch to telling Merv we still needed to take those photos of me butt naked on the glass dining table.
And then, just like that, it was over.
All that was left was the strawberries and the carrot cake Merv brought.
That and the feeling of accomplishment, of 'I did this and I nailed it'.
And my next thought was: 'When can I do this again?'
We did the photo reveal the next day, because we were only staying a few days and Merv is such a great guy that he fit me in.
No, my husband and daughter did not join. This was something I wanted to do alone.
And it definitely was overwhelming to see myself like that, being so at ease in my own skin. But also very much affirming. Here I am, never having liked a single photo of myself, and I had a hard time finding photos I did NOT like.
Was it the way Merv had taken the photos? Absolutely!
But more than that, it was because the experience itself had been so confidence-boosting. The way I felt during this shoot, thanks to Merv's constant encouragement, was something I had not experienced before. It was just me and my imperfect body, coming to terms. In a completely judgment-free environment. Facilitated by a man. Ask any woman and she will tell you it's practically unheard of. Seeing myself in such a positive light was truly empowering.
So the photos? Yeah, they're beautiful. But most of all, they remind me that I am beautiful just the way I am.