HALE W18 Masthead

Talking body and boudoir

Josephine Walsh

Ah, teenage diaries. They’re a wonderful source of amusement and angst.

I was cleaning out my storage unit before we moved to London, and decided to re-read them whilst doing a general clean-up of old photos and keepsakes.

I kept a diary from the time I went to boarding school at the age of 12. Amidst some pretty awful bullying, homesickness and general teenage melodrama, most of the entries are pretty entertaining. But they also make for some pretty sobering reflections on my body image over the years.

Me, I think at age 14 or 15.

1/1/2003

Dear diary, 
I’m in Hobart right now. I’m doing pretty much nothing except lying in bed listening to Harry Potter audiobooks and the Moulin Rouge CD. Haha! And playing Snake, lol, how sad!

New Year’s Resolutions:

1. Find a boyfriend 


2. Exercise more and watch what I eat 


3. Try and stay at around 50 kilos

(I did include some other random relationship and friendship promises that I’ll omit here out of embarrassment and respect for childhood friends!)

What struck me going through these diaries was that at 14, I was already starting to criticise and feel negative about my body. I was already viewing it as something that had to be improved, contained, and fixed. I know that for a lot of young women, this process starts at a much earlier age.

Me around 15 years old. At this age, I was stoked to have my top braces removed. I was less thrilled with my plate, acne and that at one point, another boarder singed my shoulder-length hair whilst straightening it with an iron.

I can’t really put my finger on where these negative views about my body came from

I was raised by a loving family who didn’t overvalue or pay a disproportionate amount of attention to physical looks or beauty.

I ate well, my parents took us camping often and encouraged me to abseil, which developed my sense of adventure and reinforced that what you can do with your body is far more important than how your body appears to others. But I guess in the usual craziness of puberty and going to an all-girls high school, there is an almost inevitable reality that at some point, most women start to question and critique their body and how it aligns with social expectations of femininity.

Me sometime around Year 9. I remember feeling ‘ok’ about this photo but still felt my hips were gigantic and that I couldn’t wear bikinis because of my love handles.

I think what upset me re-reading these diaries was that unlike the high school drama, the teenage relationships and my obsession with my Nokia 3300, I never outgrew the view that my body wasn’t good enough.

I began following photographer Amanda Thorson around mid-2017

When she began shooting and sharing natural boudoir in Canberra, I was struck by how beautiful her images were – no awkward, overt posing or the feeling that any of the women were putting on a show for some external gaze. These images were empowering, authentic, relaxed and real. I loved following Amanda’s social accounts and reading her body-positive posts and insightful articles.

Throughout the latter part of last year, I toyed with the idea of booking a shoot and cheered for my girlfriends who had been brave enough to. But I kept finding excuses why it wouldn’t be appropriate, or how I wasn’t confident enough to do that sort of thing.

I’m turning 30 at the end of the year. I’m making an effort to focus my attention on the things that really matter to me, and invest in experiences that are going to have a long-term impact. And part of that is trying to come to a place of acceptance when it comes to my body and my self-image.

Credit: Amanda Thorson, Thorson Boudoir.

I feel the need to put in a disclaimer at this point to say that I fully acknowledge that my perspective on these issues is as a fairly normal-sized, able-bodied, white, middle-class woman. I do recognise that I’m exceptionally lucky to have never been discriminated against due to disability, the colour of my skin or my weight.

Yes, this is navel-gazing in both the literal and actual sense

The reason that I’m writing this is not to make you rush out and strip off for a photo shoot (although I feel that everyone would benefit from having a boudoir shoot with Amanda – she’s funny as hell and lovely as well). Nor is it a thinly disguised attempt to make you feel guilty (or smug?) that our bodies don’t look alike. I appreciate that feminism looks different for everyone, and I am not trying to push my version of it on you.

Credit: Amanda Thorson, Thorson Boudoir.

Reading my old diaries is what ultimately pushed me to reach out to Amanda and write about this experience. I was SO DONE with waiting to feel good about my body.

“We spend our lives waiting, waiting to lose weight, to get fit, to smooth out our bumpy bits, and in the process we miss out on enjoying what we have,” Amanda writes on her website. This really struck a chord with me. I figure that I’m not alone in this pursuit of enjoying and appreciating the body that you have now, not the version you long for from five years ago.

So I’m sharing these images and my experience in the hope that it makes you feel a little bit more kindly towards the body that you have, and not pushing yourself to exhaustion and seeing your body as a never-ending DIY project. I’ll admit that I wasn’t without crazy nerves and hesitation.

My family and husband worried whether I’d get deep-faced on the internet, or how the images would be viewed by people who applied their own beauty standards to my shape. I read a Guardian opinion piece a few days before my shoot about actress Jane Seymour becoming the oldest woman to do a Playboy shoot at 67. There are a lot of loaded issues in this short article, including Seymour’s #MeToo experience and why we deem the act of older women being photographed nude “liberating” when the same standards don’t apply to men.

I don’t agree with everything the author (Barbara Ellen) writes, but she does raise some interesting points for discussion about how close some shoots, such as Seymour’s, the #FreeTheNipple and Femen campaigns, come to “colluding with the very “male gaze” they aim to lampoon and defy”.

But then there were also the friends who thought the idea of a natural boudoir shoot was amazing, and empowering. There was a viral post from 2012 about how mothers are rarely in photographs. This made me realise that if I have kids one day, I want to be able to show them positive and real images of me as a woman, which are quite different from being seen as a mum, a wife, a professional. I thought about the teenager daughters of my close friends who are navigating their own paths through the minefield of self-image and peer acceptance.

And I kept looking at my teenage handwriting and thinking of the girl trying to convince herself that if she watched what she ate just a little more closely, pushed herself just a little bit harder, was just half a size smaller, that she would discover some magical key to happiness.

Credit: Amanda Thorson, Thorson Boudoir.

“Your body is good, it is great, it is excellent.

Now.”

Amanda Thorson

Amanda is all about photographing people in their homes

As I didn’t have a permanent address until about three weeks ago, on the day of the shoot I try to add some personality to the serviced apartment, ask housekeeping to come the day before, and make sure I have a bottle of wine chilled and ready in the fridge.

I’m running late as I’ve been working on a job application, haven’t quite decided what I’m going to wear and have to irritably tell my husband to stop bombarding me with texts about our tax return 15 minutes before Amanda is due to arrive (100% not kidding). I pick my regular everyday Jockeys because they’re what I’m most comfortable in, put on make-up before taking half of it off, and nervously sip my wine.

Amanda arrives and makes me feel comfortable from the get-go. We chat about our love of Canberra, her beautiful children, my move to London, and what it’s like to work as a photographer. She tells me about a raw and intensely emotional birthing shoot she did just a few days ago, and we talk about both the positive and insidious side of the mummy-blogger community. We laugh a lot and she makes me feel really good about my body.

Credit: Amanda Thorson, Thorson Boudoir.

We talk in-depth about boudoir being historically about women posing for men, which is what she’s trying to overturn with her approach to natural boudoir. Amanda’s images celebrate her female subjects as they really are, not by transforming them into hyper-real versions of themselves or taking the conventional approach to constructing male-centric fantasies.

She tells me how challenging she finds it to hear women speak about themselves so negatively, and how the experience of taking photos of women in their underwear has been an emotional process. Amanda is quite honest about her own journey towards body positivity on her Instagram, where she talks about readjusting her focus from her body’s appearance towards how awesome it is and what it enables her to do.

Ultimately, she tells me that although she can’t change the way that women think, she hopes that her work plays a role in making her subjects be a little kinder to themselves.

Credit: Amanda Thorson, Thorson Boudoir.

After two hours involving lots of laughing, disrobing and wine consumption on my part, and chasing the natural light around my apartment on Amanda’s, she says goodbye and tells me that she’ll send me the photos as soon as she can. I’m feeling much more relaxed and positive about the experience.

Late in the evening a few days later, an email lands in my inbox

The photos are beautifully composed. I’m cackling with laughter in the majority of them. The lighting is soft and gentle. I realise my fear of tuckshop lady arms is silly. My legs look strong. I feel a gentle affection for my little belly rolls.

I never thought a boudoir photo shoot would have such a big impact on how I saw myself. But it really has. In the weeks since the shoot, my tummy may be a little rounder as a result of a few English scones and pints down at the pub. But my legs are also stronger from walking every day and running through beautiful ancient woods. My hands are tired from writing and researching, and I’m stretching my brain. Every. Single. Day. I’m focusing on my future and feeling grateful for the body that I have and what it is capable of, not the body that I feel that I should have by now.

I love these images. I look happy in my own skin.

And I’m beginning to feel it too.

You can read more of Jose’s musings on her blog, mapleandmabel.com

This is not a sponsored post and all of the above is the author’s honest opinion. The author would like to thank Amanda for offering a discounted rate in exchange for using some of the images for promotional purposes.

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Josephine Walsh

Jose Walsh is a digital communications specialist who also runs her own blog, mapleandmabel.com. She has a passion for museums and the arts, a deep love of travel and more shoes than sense. Having worked in museums for the past seven years, she loves finding new ways to connect people with their cultural institutions. She loves meeting new people, hunting for a decent espresso, and planning her next adventure. More about the Author

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