In the Name of Love | Bridal Boudoir : Sylvia

I remember taking an online photography course years back, and a piece of advice that has always stuck out in my mind was, “Your ideal client is someone who you’d want to be friends with.” While every session is special, and I actually do find connection with all of my clients, meeting and photographing Sylvia seemed serendipitous.

Sylvia initially contacted Sigala Photography, our wedding and portrait photography business, run by my husband, Yehoshua, and I, about photographing her wedding. We immediately fell in love with her and her fiance, Paul. Not long after, Sylvia and I began talking about her bridal boudoir session. At first she went back and forth, with the time and expenses dedicated to wedding planning, she wasn’t sure she could make it happen. As we spoke more, it was clear how much doing a boudoir session meant to her, and since Paul was usually the one designing elaborate surprises, this was going to be a surprise for him!

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After the session happened and the afterglow of her beautiful wedding died down, I was able to ask Sylvia a little bit about her boudoir experience, and believe me, you’re going to want to read this…

Why did you decide to do a boudoir session, and what were you hoping to get out of it?

The original "trigger" that made me want to do a boudoir session, was wanting to do something special for my fiance as a gift on the night before our wedding.  Paul is the first man I was ever with that truly respected and admired my body, and persisted every single day of our relationship to make me love my body too.  As myself and many other women know, this is not a guarantee when it comes to significant others! Past boyfriends would tell me they preferred if I straightened my hair, or would ask me to put more make up on before going out.  I was also in one very abusive relationship when I was younger that basically destroyed my self-esteem.  When I met Paul, I couldn't even believe him at first when he would encourage me to leave my hair natural or beg me to not put any make up on.  "You are so beautiful the way you are, and you never need to change a thing" he would say…

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Slowly, over our almost 4 years together, Paul has helped me rebuild my confidence and regain my sense of independence and strength.  So, in celebration of getting married to my best friend, I wanted to do something that would show him and thank him for bringing me to a point where I felt confident and sexy doing a boudoir shoot.  Doing this session was proof to myself that I was where I wanted to be in regards to my mental perspective, that I loved my body.  Having Rebecca do this shoot for me was a little treat for my soul, and a little treat for the one who helped me learn to love myself again.

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Were you nervous leading up to the session?

A little bit. But after speaking with some of Rebecca's previous clients, everyone said they also felt a bit of nerves beforehand, but that the second I would start, I would love it.  This couldn't have been more true! 

How did your session go?

On a scale of 1 to 10, my session was a million billion trillion.  I loved spreading out on my bed, or leaning against a wall in my hallway and just feeling naturally sexy.  My thoughts throughout the session went back and forth from excitement about myself, and excitement for Paul to eventually see the results! I can't believe I kept it a complete surprise for him.  On the night before the wedding, (we weren't seeing each other for a few days) my maid of honor called him with directions on where to find the album in our apartment.  We decided not to speak until the wedding, but he couldn't help himself. He texted me and said it was the best gift ever! He loved the photos and said they were beautiful and sexy.

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Did you get anything out of the session that you didn't expect?

This is a bit strange, but I actually had a very special moment with my mother after I received the photos and showed them to her.  She smiled and said she was proud of me.  She was happy to see her daughter love and respect her body, and she was happy for me that I was marrying someone who loved and respected my body too.  Definitely wasn't expecting that reaction from her, but it really meant the world to me.

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Did your boudoir session have an effect on your perspective or body image?

Yes, an incredibly positive effect.  And the effect grows stronger each and every time I look back on the photos and remind myself to love and appreciate my body and all the little marks and curves.

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Would you recommend this experience to other women? If yes, who would you specifically recommend it to and why?

My mother! I'm hoping to gift her a session for her 65th birthday.  My mother is one of the most hardworking and independent women I know, plus she is the best example when it comes to loving your body.  In her 60's my mom isn't worrying about chasing her wrinkles or fighting the aging process, instead, she became a half marathon runner.  She wakes up every morning before work to run, stands on her feet each day for a 12 hour work day, and cooks all her food herself and eats extremely healthy.  She never touches her hair or puts on make up and has always encouraged me to follow her example of loving my own natural beauty. I think she deserves a few hours of pampering and special photos to hold on to! 

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Photographing this absolutely gorgeous, loving and sweet woman right before one of the most meaningful milestones in her life was an honor. Her reasons for embarking on this boudoir journey was a personal one, and yet, her story is a celebration of all womanhood. Being in a place of self-compassion and truly knowing that we are worthwhile enough to be in healthy and fulfilling relationships is everything.

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Makeup and Hair by Jaquelyn Mowszowski Lawrence

Brushes with Cancer TLV | Alona

When I was paired with Alona Metz for Brushes with Cancer in Tel Aviv, I didn’t yet know the impact of the journey we were about to embark upon. Over our six months together, there were beautiful moments with laughter and tears, hurdles that we had to overcome and significant transformations that changed both of our lives for the better.

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It was October of last year, which is breast cancer awareness month. A big part of my work is about celebrating women and their relationship with their bodies. I wanted to take the opportunity to pay tribute to women who were touched with breast cancer and share their stories through my photography.

Someone tagged ‘Alona Metz’ in a Facebook post, and I soon learned that just the day before, she had opened Thrivacious, a non-profit organization, supporting English speaking women in Israel who were touched with breast cancer. We spoke on the phone, and my heart soared hearing briefly about her story and her goals for empowering other women. Then she told me about Brushes with Cancer, a program that she was the chairing, and I wanted IN.

Brushes with Cancer is a six month program that creates unexpected intersections between artists and individuals touched with cancer. The pairs connect and form a relationship with the intention of creating a unique piece of artwork. The program culminates with a celebratory art exhibition, gala and silent auction with the proceeds benefiting Twist Out Cancer.

I was surprised yet totally and completely honored when, a week later, I was paired with Alona herself.

In Alona’s words, “My mentor and head of the program, Jenna Benn Shersher, said you need to be paired with Rebecca. She knew a lot about my story and saw this as an opportunity for me to work with someone who could help me reconnect to a body part that I felt I had lost.”

Alona was 28 years old, working as a lawyer in California when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It was very shocking, and the next year of my life was kind of a blur. I went through fertility treatments and chemotherapy. I lost all of my hair. I had to have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery…”

Going through so many emotional and physical changes during cancer often takes a toll on a person’s self-esteem and body image. “It’s been 5 years, but one physical scar I still maintain to this day are the scars on my breasts from when they were reconstructed. While objectively people might think they look good in certain ways, I couldn’t even look in the mirror. I couldn’t connect to that part of myself anymore, and I didn’t want to. It was more than just the way it looked. It was a daily reminder to me of my brush with death. 

My way of coping with the trauma was to ignore and distance myself from it. That played a huge role when it came to my dating life, my sexuality and the relationship I have with my own body.”

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I had photographed women touched with breast cancer in the past, and I learned so much about cancer and body image and all the fears surrounding that. Yet with those sessions, the objective was very clear. They hired me as their boudoir photographer, and I let them take the lead in terms of what they wanted out of the session. With Alona, there were a lot of different factors and there were times when I wasn’t sure what I was doing. Was this boudoir session for Alona? Was it for me? Was it for Brushes with Cancer? Was it for the person who would be buying the final piece? Was it a message to the world?

It was important to me to create a piece that was aesthetically pleasing yet honest about the struggle of reclaiming her body and sexuality after breast cancer. In general, that is where I find the most beauty, in sharing stories, even the hard ones, in an authentic way. I wanted Alona to love it, I wanted to love it, I wanted the world to see and understand it, and that was a whole bunch of pressure.

Even before it all began, we decided that we would do two sessions so that we could have a variety of photographs to choose from, and I thought that I would possibly use a combination of images to tell Alona’s story.

The first session was fun and sexy and took place in Alona’s Tel Aviv apartment. Makeup artist, Jaquelyn Mowszowski Lawrence, generously donated her time and talent. Alona said she felt like a princess. We both agreed it went really well, and we had a great time together.

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It was only afterwards when all the emotions started coming out.

“Shit got real when Rebecca showed me the photos for the first time. I was like ‘OMG’ these are the photos that other people are going to see.

She sent me a montage of 5 or 6 photos, and objectively they are gorgeous, but all I was thinking was, are people going to notice the scars? Are they going to think I look normal? Will they think I look like a freak?

I was so focused on that that I started to panic. I don’t even think I saw the big picture.“

I remember Alona asked me why I felt that these photographs represented her journey, and being so excited about the images, it really hurt to hear that, and I was frustrated that I had put so much time and energy into the session, now knowing that I probably wouldn’t be using them for the final piece.

Putting the feelings and photographs from the first session aside, at least momentarily, we set up the second session, and we decided to do it in the forest.

When Alona was sick, she would go on nature walks and used nature to help her cope and heal. It seemed fitting that we would use the beauty of nature and incorporate it in the final images.

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Alona said, “In the second shoot, we tried something different. We had a conversation during the shoot, and I re-told parts of my story to Rebecca.

It was a much more emotional shoot because we were actually talking about cancer and how it affected my life. But it was also really fun. I think the bond we had that day was very strong. Everything from laughing and crying together to getting bugs in our hair!

I didn’t realize how intense photography is, but Rebecca is willing to do whatever it takes to get the shot including getting covered in bugs!

Even after we left, I felt that I had meditated or something like that. Being outside in nature and being with Rebecca was a really magical experience”

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I felt the same way as Alona. Looking back on that day, I feel a sense of spirituality. We were so connected to each other, ourselves and the world around us.

When I received the scans back from that magical day, I went through the photos one by one, and I stopped in my tracks when I saw this image. THE image. It was everything.

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Alona had a bit of a different experience, but she says it was incredibly significant,

“When Rebecca showed me the photograph she wanted to use, I freaked out.

Firstly, it went from her wanting to use a series of photos to just this one photo. And my face wasn’t even in it, it was just my chest but covered with this beautiful almond branch. You could see my scar. I felt like it was a very artistic photograph, but again, to me, I looked like a freak. Like I was deformed or something was wrong with me.”

I tried so hard to be understanding and hold Alona’s feelings within the context of this experience, but at that point, I just couldn’t. She didn’t know it at the time, but I broke down and cried. For a long time. I was angry and frustrated, but I was also overwhelmed with self-doubt and questioned my ability to create a piece that I would be proud of for the silent auction. Once I calmed down, we spoke briefly on the phone and she explained more of her feelings, and I really did understand her.

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“I just wanted there to be more to the story than, what for me, was so painful. I wanted there to be some positivity. Now I can see the positivity in that picture, but I couldn’t then.”

Alona willingly gave me permission to use the photograph for the project, as long as I chose a couple more to showcase. In the end, there were three. I thought it was brave of Alona to allow me to use a picture that was actually very painful for her to look at, at that time.

“Seeing it at the event, I saw it in a completely different way. Not only was that me, but I was proud that it was me. People were looking at it and giving amazing feedback about it.

I think it’s probably my favorite photograph now.”

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THE image ended up selling (at one of the highest price points!) to a woman who was at the gala and was a breast cancer survivor as well. She said it reminded her of something in her own experience. “I think this photograph was bigger than me. It’s really amazing that Rebecca’s photo and the inspiration that came from my story, and my body, could inspire other people that didn’t actually know us.

I went through a transitional cycle of not being able to let go and be fully accepting of myself, and it’s funny because Rebecca saw me at every stage of this journey. To calling her the night before the first session and freaking out to being upset about the picture; to today when I saw all of the pictures together in a gallery. My reaction to the photos today is very different than it was 6 months ago. The journey we went through really helped me.

From this experience, I started to take this part of myself more seriously, and I can honestly say I feel better today. I feel better about the way that I look. I can connect with myself on a much more comfortable level. I can breathe again."

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"Rebecca was an integral part of this journey and without her and this experience, I might not be able to look at those photos today and love them as I do. My hope is that other women have the opportunity to work with someone like Rebecca because it can open you up in a really positive way.”

Being part of this journey with Alona was an insanely beautiful blessing and gift. I think we pushed each other in ways that were uncomfortable at times, but necessary, and through it all I became a changed photographer and a changed person. I opened my boudoir business 5 years ago and had so many meaningful experiences, but this particular one gave me the ability to see how I can photograph women on an even deeper level. Alona has inspired all of my boudoir sessions that followed over the past year, and the inspiration keeps flowing. I’m grateful to have stepped into an entirely new world, with the ability to take the things I’ve learned with me and continue to help women connect with their bodies and gravitate towards self-love and acceptance.

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MILF-ing it to 40 Years Old | Boudoir : Jaqui

People often ask me how I came to boudoir photography and why I decided to become so dedicated to this niche. When looking back on my life and all the S&#* that went down, I have an incredible amount of faith that everything happens for a reason

Never in my life did I think that I would be photographing gorgeous, naked women all day, let alone photographing anything at all. To me, photographers were artists and technical masterminds with gadgets that I could never understand. The truth is, I'm still not into all the technicalities and rules and fancy cameras, but I am so deeply invested in the art of boudoir and the amazing women who cross my path.

Through my journey of photographing hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of women and constantly re-defining "what is beautiful" in my mind, the world became that much more beautiful. I became a healer of my own past and a storyteller for others. 

That day when I was 5 years old and the notorious bully yelled "You're a fat, Jewish pig" down several neatly manicured lawns of the suburban neighborhood I once lived in, was probably the day my heart was broken for the first time. And it was also the day that I would refer back to for years to come because it gave me so much. 

As an adult, I am able tell stories with more empathy, more love, and less judgement. I now know that a stunning woman in a photograph does not equal a perfect life.

Actually, when I see a beautiful woman, I automatically see strength and courage. Jaqui was one of those for me...

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Jaqui and I met several years ago through mutual friends and colleagues.

She's a talented makeup artist that I've had the pleasure of working with on multiple occasions. This was the first time I had the chance to photograph her, and boy, did we have fun. Though, it's not surprising we did as it seems this woman brings her fun energy wherever she goes...

I mean, she calls her journey, "MILF-ing to 40," and she's completely rocking it. 

There's a story under this gorgeous skin because as I was saying before, beauty ain't just skin deep

When I asked Jaqui about her relationship with her body, she had a lot to say,

"I’m pretty OK with nudity I always have been.

I think that comes from being raised by a mother who was always walking around naked at home and never really cared much about nudity. The comfort of being naked must have rubbed off on me.

Though, I have suffered with weight issues my entire life. I have been 120 kg and I have been 65 kg. One gastric band placement and then nine years later removed due to complications, two babies and more weight gain and loss, about 10 kg extra since baby number 2 that won’t budge and a lot of soul searching later, I have come to terms that I can never be the thin girl. It’s just not in my genetic make up. I CAN be my strongest, healthiest and happiest.."

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"I hope to inspire other women who are hesitant, afraid, don’t feel like they have a body deserving of love, don’t have flat stomachs, have wobbly bits, lop-sided boobs and stretch marks just like me. I want them to know that's OK, and that they are sexy!"

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After the session Jaqui said,

"Rebecca makes you feel so comfortable in front of the camera and gives such great direction which is so helpful when you literally have no clue what to do. Even though I was a little nervous, I totally trusted her to guide me into the best poses and just went with it, the more we got into it the more fun we had with the poses and outfits, I was dancing around to the music and was literally game for anything! By the time I left I was totally excited and couldn’t wait to to see the pictures."

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 "When I looked at the pictures for the first time, I was totally blown away with how gorgeous, beautiful and sexy they were. I loved them all so much that it was hard to choose a favorite."

"I'm going to love them and keep them and look at them whenever I think I'm not "MILF-ing it” I am one HOT Mamma!"

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SO, if you were ever curious why I do boudoir, I figured this blog post was a good place to start. I share many of the feelings Jaqui expressed with me and so many other women have experienced in their life.

I kind of of see my blog with a big sign plastered across it, saying: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

My business is literally a tribe of women who empower and uplift each other through positive thinking and empathy. There's nothing like it.

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I'm grateful that Jaqui allowed me to share these sexy and fun, yet still vulnerable and artistic images with you all. This one is one of my favorites...

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Oh wait, this one is my favorite too. Jaqui, I can't choose either!

You are so radiant. Keep shining. Keep MILF-ing it.

Thank you, for everything. And for teaching me that MILF is a verb. 

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