I opened the card and saw my husband looking at me with excitement and anticipation. When I read the words ‘Glamour Photoshoot’ my heart sank and I immediately felt an overwhelming feeling of shame.
It had been 10 days since the birth of my second son and not the way I had planned to spend my 30th birthday. I had hoped for a nice sandy beach, cocktails in the sun and the company of my favourite girlfriends.
My body had other ideas, and instead, I was bloated and breastfeeding, hardly the glamorous celebration I had hoped for.
My body had changed so much over the past four years, it no longer belonged to me, instead I had become a vessel for bearing and nurturing children.
The prospect of drinking champagne, taking my clothes off and posing for a stranger terrified me. I looked up at my husband who was grinning at me, clearly proud of his present, and I burst into tears. I knew he had nothing but the best intentions, hoping to get me back to a place of self love and worth, but I had no desire to see myself as a woman again, nor did I want anyone else to.
The day finally came, over a year later, I couldn’t put it off any longer. I kissed my children goodbye, gave my husband one last knowing glare, packed up my wardrobe and headed into the city.
What happened next actually surprised me. I filled out a form to determine why I was there. I circled the NATURAL option, and in the notes I added “mother of two young children, trying to accept my body again. Please, be kind.”
I was given champagne, which I would never turn down. I was told that my hair colour was straight from the catwalk (huh?), and that it was ‘natural’ for them to put more makeup on me than usual as the camera needs it.
I actually felt great.
It had been a long time since I had given myself some attention and the women that were doing my hair and makeup were so positive, by the time I walked into the studio I felt like a goddess.
The photographer was warm and comforting. She told me she wouldn’t do anything I didn’t feel OK with, and that I looked amazing.
I had three looks - casual, professional and sensual, which she said would be for my husband. I corrected her and told her that no, that would actually be for me.
I went through a lot of different emotions during the shoot. I felt nervous, excited, proud, then almost dirty and degraded. The sensual shoot should have been empowering, but it just wasn’t. It was anything but natural. I was on top of some porn like animal fur, leaning forward with my breasts pointed to the camera.
Even as I remember it now, some three years later, I cringe.
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I hoped it would come across better when viewing it, so I did what she asked, smiled falsely and got through the hour.
As I was putting my robe back on and trying to scrape my dignity back up off the floor, I was relieved to hear that the editing of the photos had already begun.
I went to the changing room and snuck a look at myself in the mirror as I put my trusty jeans and knitted top back on. ‘Ummm..’ I thought ‘that’s different’. I didn’t recognise myself, and I didn’t like what I saw. Still, I remained hopeful.
I met the photographer outside the editing room. I almost felt a little dirty and shameful when I saw her. I felt uncomfortable about the last hour we had spent together.
She welcomed me in, we sat at the computer and she pulled up the images from the shoot.
I was speechless. I was mortified. I was looking at someone else.
The photographer tried to engage me, ‘Ooh, that’s a cute one’, ‘haha, look how cheeky you look there!’, but I couldn’t give her anything. I just sat there and watched her scroll down the page hoping for at least one photograph that made me feel beautiful, or confident, or empowered, or... anything positive at all.
It never came.
When we were done she almost hesitantly asked me what I thought. I looked at her with tears welling in my eyes and said quietly ‘Why did you have to make me something I’m not?’. She bowed her head and told me she was really sorry.
I left the studio that day feeling revolting. I didn’t feel like a beautiful woman who had lovingly given birth to two children. I didn’t feel like the woman my husband fell in love with. I certainly didn’t feel like a glamorous version of myself. I just felt worthless.
It took a while to get over that day, a lot of positive affirmations from those around me, and from myself. I felt like a joke and never wanted to even consider looking at myself like that again.
It would have been a month or two after that, I was having a quick shower in between vegemite toast and a library visit, when I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. I had just put my bra on — not just any bra, but the bra I had purchased for my sexy glamour photoshoot. There was this incredible light coming in from the window next to me, and it made me stop.
What I saw was a beautiful woman, a woman who was standing tall, with all her imperfections. I saw myself the way I was so desperate to have captured that day at the studio. I grabbed my camera, looked at myself straight in the eyes and took the photo.
I took that photo for myself and have looked at it a number of times since that day. What a wonderful reminder of the beauty in being myself and being proud of the skin I am in, rather than trying to be someone I am definitely not.