I almost didn’t send the email.
I was invited to join the Mad Chicken Studio | Body Acceptance and Positivity VIP Facebook group in college. I had always admired the beautiful photos and supportive attitude of the group. The possibility of doing my own photo shoot was always something I thought about as a “someday” wish. “Someday when I’m not single” “Someday when I lose weight” “Someday if I get married” In February I saw the model call for the Boudie Call Photo shoot. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, this shoot I felt was meant for me. I didn’t have to wait for “someday” I could do this for me. I nervously clicked send on my submission email.
I told Jes: “I know I have a long way to go in fully accepting my body and all of it’s wonders and flaws, but looking at your work, I believe if any photographer can help me feel more beautiful and help people see all kinds of beauty, it’s you.”
Re-reading my submission email back, post session, I can hear the hopes I had for the session and experience. I can say all of my hopes and expectations for the session were surpassed. Jes Emily and Katie were the perfect humans to make me feel like an absolute goddess. The community and photos they create redefine beauty, spread positivity, and promote acceptance.
I was born with Cerebral Palsy and primarily use a wheelchair to get around and live life independently. I have never let my disability hold me back from achieving my goals and doing the things I want to do, but like many women I’ve struggled with self-confidence and image. Admittedly it was always easier for me to focus on my academic and intellectual accomplishments, rather than my body or looks, because I didn’t see many examples of women who looked like me being thought of as “beautiful.” With a visible disability you often feel like a patient who is studied, diagnosed, and broken to be put back together again, by medical professionals and general society alike. You are left with scars. You often feel like you need to teach society that just because you look and move differently, this doesn’t make you incapable, inspirational, or any less human. As I entered my twenties all I wanted was to not have the first thing people notice about me be my disability or wheelchair. I wanted to go on dates, wear the pretty heels, make memories with friends and family, excel in my job, and make my first apartment of my own into a home. I had checked most of those boxes by twenty-five but had lost some of my spark. I knew I had to work on my self-confidence and acceptance. I don’t want my wheelchair to define me, but I also know I wouldn’t be who I am without it. I want it to become a source of power. I want to show people that just because my body may not look or move like most people doesn’t mean I can’t be sexy, beautiful, strong, sassy and smart!
I was incredibly nervous on the way to my session. Jes had assured me being nervous was completely normal and I had tried to be super specific about my concerns with my mobility and posing, but I was completely out of my comfort zone. I had let myself leap, now I had to get out of my own way and enjoy the experience.
Rolling through the door that day I was met by Emily, Katie, and Jes. I had met them prior to my session at one of their Body Positivity Book Club meetings so I felt like I was visiting old friends. I went into the closet to see what outfits they pulled for me and was amazed at the number of options I had to choose from, and felt a little overwhelmed. They started asking my favorite colors and what I typically liked to wear to narrow it down for me. Jes started going through the ridiculously large duffle bag that I had packed way too much in because I had convinced myself that over-preparedness would ease my anxiety. Jes pulled one outfit I had brought, so I was one outfit down and three to go. I was nervous it would take me too long to try on all the outfits, but my three favorite humans, as I now affectionately call them, assured me I could take as much time as I needed and they would help me if I wanted them to. Emily helped me into each outfit so I could save some energy for the shoot and it was a surprisingly easy, I had worried for nothing! The outfits we chose were not what I would have thought I’d choose going in, but I felt like each was still “me.”
Hair and make-up was next. The time spent in Emily’s chair with the easy conversation and calm unhurried glam session was just what I needed to squash any nerves or worries I had left. When I put my glasses on for my glam reveal I was amazed at how naturally glamorous Emily’s complete look was. I looked and felt incredible, but much like the outfits I didn’t feel like anything was false, over-the-top, or not who I was. Emily helped me into my first outfit and I was ready! Leaving a trail of pink sequins behind me Jes slipped on the first pair of heels and settled me into the first pose. She makes it easy telling you how to place your hands, hold your body, and even how to breathe. “Chin up, eyes down, breathe through your mouth.” You don’t feel like you have to overanalyze what you’re doing because Jes is there for you every step of the way with the technical movements, while Katie cheers you on and makes you feel like you may be the most beautiful woman she’s ever seen. Her happiness and sassy quips make a few giggles escape, and really make you feel like you might just be America’s Next Top Model.
Jes modified poses to make sure I was comfortable and was able to keep my muscles relaxed. Instead of making me shift into several poses or change positions Jes moved around me and with help from Katie we were able to pretty easily move around and have some fun between poses. I could feel my fear about not being able to physically do the poses necessary for the shoot melt away with every click of the camera. When I realized that a lot of the ultra-high heels wouldn’t work for me Jes didn’t miss a beat, “Who needs shoes anyways?” She assured me no one was going to be looking at my feet.
Jes showed me some back of camera shots and I was absolutely speechless. They were changing how I felt and thought of myself in real time. When you primarily use a wheelchair to live your best life like I do every day the positions you see your body in are very limited. I almost never see my back or my body in an upright position. Jes showed me a shot she took of me standing. (I’m subtly using the windowsill to balance) and I couldn’t help but shed a few tears. Seeing myself through the lens of Jes’ camera was like seeing the best version of me, one that had got a little lost in recent years. I felt the fire inside me that had dimmed reignite.
I left my session feeling like I could take on the world. For the first time in a long time I liked myself. Every curve and surgical scar that has caused me to second-guess myself countless times suddenly felt right and earned. For the first time ever I felt sexy! This feeling has stuck with me in the weeks since my session and when the self-doubt creeps in I just look back at my experience and think, “If I can do that I can do anything!” I think every woman should have this experience because you get so much more than a glam session and pretty pictures, you gain confidence in yourself and a new perspective that no one can take away from you.
I am so thankful to my three favorite humans Jes, Emily and Katie for giving me the opportunity to be one of their “Boudie Call” models. My hope is women like me can see my photos and know that they are beautiful and sexy. Every body is beautiful.