Twenty is an age when people are still figuring themselves out — what they want to do when they “grow up,” who they want to associate with and who they are, even sexually.
At 20, Julie Wheat felt like her identity and purpose in life had been irrevocably decided by motherhood. For a while, she could no longer see herself as Julie, but as a wife and a caretaker.
“As women we tend to lose ourselves within our children, our families, our marriages, our work,” she said. “We tend to forget who we are.”
Wanting to do something for herself, Wheat signed up for a boudoir session. Boudoir — meaning a woman’s dressing room — photography is a form of sensual portraits that are suggestive, rather than explicit, and for the subject’s own enjoyment and empowerment.
The photos changed the way Wheat viewed herself so much that, when she feels down, they serve as a reminder that she’s “still got it.” She plans to book more sessions for herself to document and appreciate the changes in her body as she ages.
“It blew me away how good it made me feel,” she said.
Now, Wheat is one of the photographers on Whidbey who share the joys of self-love and a safe space where women can feel like themselves.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, Wheat believes boudoir photos are the best gift someone can give themselves, but also to a partner. Partners can, for example, gift their photos or book a session for their loved ones. Sessions can even become dates if the partner chooses to watch and be a cheerleader.
Chelsea Belverino, who owns Chelsea B Photography, said she’s seen clients send their photos to spouses who were deployed overseas.
Whether it’s for a partner or themselves exclusively, boudoir sessions can be quite the self-esteem booster regardless of one’s weight or amount of wrinkles. Some of Wheat’s clients have included women in their late 60s.
Inci Russo, owner of Phoenix Russo Photography, said her clients tend to be nervous and point out their insecurities at the beginning of their sessions.
Often, the clients who book her sessions have gone through significant transformations, brought by pregnancy, age or a change in their weight and want to reconnect with their bodies. Some people, she said, have expressed interest in the experience but prefer to wait before they get “in shape.”
But to Russo, the time to appreciate one’s own body is now, just as it is.
“The world has told you that what you have is not enough,” said Belverino, a strong supporter of body positivity. By showing women how beautiful they are, she uplifts them, which gives her great joy.
It takes a certain degree of strength to allow oneself to be vulnerable in front of a camera, and these photographers know that very well. Hence, posing can feel somewhat awkward.
Throughout a session, Wheat, Belverino and Russo guide their clients with poses. At the same time, they chat with the client and get to know each other better, creating a sense of warmth and safety.
Wheat, who has a studio in Coupeville, likes to keep photos simple as she wants the focus to be exclusively on the client. At the price of $500 per session, clients get their hair and makeup done professionally and can choose clothing items or bring their own. Some might choose lingerie, others might feel more comfortable with a sweater or less revealing clothing.
The experience, Wheat said, feels like a fun girl’s day.
A photo session can last 90 minutes. Wheat recommends clients eat, drink water and stretch beforehand, as poses might require some flexibility and could be tiring. After a two to three-hour break, the client can choose the photos she wants. Wheat also offers albums, prints and heirlooms. For inquiries and booking, people can contact Wheat at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join her Facebook group Adorned with Jules.
Belverino, who is expecting to open her studio in Oak Harbor by mid-February, is open to ideas for photo themes. A client particularly stood out to her for choosing a horror-themed shoot, so her photos included fake blood and the iconic white mask from the “Scream” movies.
To keep her sessions affordable, Belverino gives clients the choice to show up with their hair and makeup already done, and the photos — which can be 15 to 20 — are digital-only. Clients bring their own clothes, but Belverino is expanding her closet. Sessions cost $200 plus tax and a $50 nonrefundable deposit, and last 45 minutes to an hour. To learn more and book a session, visit chelseabphoto.mypixieset.com.
Russo is open to discuss ideas over the phone or over tea or coffee. Her clients have posed under fake rain, on a swing and even on aerial silk. At the price of $450 plus tax, clients can take home six hand-edited digital images, or buy more individually or in package deals, with print options available. She also offers payment plans with zero interest. Clients can also choose props and three outfits from Russo’s closet, which includes lingerie, gowns and jewelry, like crowns. For more, visit phoenixrussophotography.com.
In the month of love, some might neglect one special valentine: themselves. Perhaps, an act of self-love is what’s needed to make one’s heart soar — with a side of flowers and chocolates.