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How Boudoir Helped Me Heal From Sexual Assault

This blog post is different from most of my others. It feels different writing it. I don't talk about my experiences with sexual assault often, and I'm not going to talk too much about those experiences now, either.

But what I will say is, "Me Too."

I was a victim, am a survivor.

And this is the story of how I reclaimed ownership of my body, confidence in my physicality and my voice, and a healthy sex life.

My traumas occurred when I was young, between eleven and fourteen. I did not have a fight or flight response to these events, but a freeze/fawning one. After this, for many years, the only time I really felt comfortable in my body and comfortable with my skin/body being seen, was when I was dancing, or in my dance costumes. I was a dancer from ages two to nineteen, and during those years after the traumas, dancing was one of the few places I felt in control over my body, instead of feeling like anxiety or abusers were controlling me, or like my body wasn't mine, wasn't controllable. At the same time, I was growing up, going through ordinary high school girl struggles and insecurities related to body image and fashion, on top of the added level of PTSD I was experiencing. It was a very confusing time, and when I had to stop dancing due to injuries and chronic pain and illness, it got even more confusing, because my body was changing so much, and I was coming into adulthood. I felt like my body had failed me over and over again in one way or another, and now I was getting curves and hormones that were changing me inside and out, making it even. more. confusing.

I was carrying guilt and uncertainty around like a purse; I wanted to feel pretty, sexy even, but didn't want to be objectified, victimized, sexualized; I wanted to feel good about having sex with the man I love, instead of feeling like wanting sex at all made me a whore, slut, skank, insert derogatory term here; I wanted to embrace my body and sexuality, as any adult should be allowed to do, but felt so much shame, guilt, and insecurity about it. Like wanting to embrace those things made me dirty. Like accepting and loving those new curves, or wanting to feel sexy or have sex now somehow made it my fault for what happened to me when I was young. But in my heart, I knew that wasn't true.

So when my husband (then boyfriend) and I moved in together after doing long distance for a year, I wanted to do something to bring us closer and knew he'd love an album of boudoir images for Valentine's Day. I think a part of me knew I needed this, too.

I booked with a photographer friend; she was great at her job and I always loved her work. Still, walking into the session, I was nervous and even wondering if I'd made a mistake, if this would just make me feel worse or more conflicted about my body. But as soon as we got started, the nerves started to morph into excitement. By the time I got back home, I felt more in touch with that self-acceptance I was striving for, and the conflicting guilt and societal-based fears were lessened. By the time I had my photo reveal and saw the finished images from my session in an album, I felt like a whole new woman.

For maybe the first time outside of a dance recital or a prom night, I liked the way I looked and felt good about my body. For maybe the first time ever, I felt sexy without guilt or shame. I felt confident about showing the album to my boyfriend, when up until then, I was always a little nervous or embarrassed to be seen in a vulnerable or sexual way, even by him, who I wanted to be with and experience a sex life with. It was always something I struggled with personally. And not to go into details here, but that boudoir album was the true start of a new sex life for our relationship; one where I wasn't constantly shaming myself or holding myself back, or connecting sex and sexiness to shame and PTSD; one where I was confident and excited, not nervous and embarrassed. I was finally starting to see myself in a new light and feel like I could be in control of my body, and my body image.

Seeing those boudoir images of myself at 20 years old snapped that girl out of it, and woke up the woman warrior that had been caged inside since I was 11. I didn't just see sexiness, I saw power, and confidence, and beauty, and grace, and strength, and determination, and love. I saw it in the way I held myself, the way my eyes met the camera and stared back at me, encouraging me to keep fighting for myself, my self-acceptance and love, my relationship, and my right to have the sex life I want to have. I saw resilience.

In the face of a world where little girls are sexually abused, and women who embrace their bodies are called sluts, I managed to stand up to all of it and say "F you. I am not broken. I am not the problem. I am proud of who I am and the body that has gotten me this far."

That boudoir shoot was the true start of my self-love journey and my healing from sexual assault and childhood trauma. It helped me gain clarity on the transition from girlhood to womanhood, took away so much shame and insecurity, and granted me so much confidence and love. And every portrait or boudoir photoshoot I've had since has only helped me along this journey, helped me heal and accept myself and my body more than I ever thought I would.

I'm not saying that a boudoir shoot will solve all problems in life and take away PTSD. Since that first photo shoot, I've had lots of therapy and medication changes, and of course, life has come with its own changes, struggles, and growth, too, from finishing school and switching careers and getting married and changing address to all the craziness of 2020 and quarantining during a pandemic. ALL of those things, along with every person in my life, has affected my healing and self-love journey. There are still insecurities sometimes, and there are still bad days. There are still moments where I'm not the biggest lover of my body, or I feel like I'm not in control again, like when chronic illness flare-ups happen. But my coping mechanisms, my thought processes, and my turnaround time for feeling better again have all come such a long way and I know that boudoir has been a huge part of that for me.

Boudoir helped me learn how to start looking for the things I love about my body, instead of my first instinct always being to nitpick things I wanted to change. It helped me appreciate my shape, my curves and lines, and my uniqueness. It helped me feel sexy in a safe, secure way. It helped me feel more secure about sex itself. It helped me feel like myself, and like being myself was enough. Plus, let's be honest, my boyfriend loved that first album, and now as my husband, he gets excited every time I get another boudoir shoot done, giving him updated photo gifts. It's a win-win!

These days, I don't get nervous walking into boudoir shoots anymore. Just excited. I no longer carry around shame about my body or what happened to me when I was young, and I don't feel guilty for embracing myself or my sexiness anymore. I'm comfortable with myself, and accepting and loving myself more and more every day. And I strive to help other women and couples through this healing art of boudoir, too.

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