back to Body

I pull the dress up past my thighs, hips, stomach… I pause, arms still crossed in the air.

Am I really doing this? I take the dress off all the way. Suddenly, there’s too little between me and the world, between my form and my community.

In my Sunday morning yoga class, our instructor often says to think of our bodies as sculptures, taking note of our outline and our body in space. I stare in the full-length mirror at my dimpled thighs. I stare at dry skin on my knees. I stare at a stomach that seems so large it must belong to someone else. My eyes land on a little scar just above my right breast. I want to scream. Or cry. Or put on 100 layers of clothing, lock myself away, and drown in cotton candy ice cream.

I don’t.

Instead, I slip on lacy red panties, wooly black leg warmers, and a grey cardigan. My breasts have a mind of their own. They’re pretty uninhibited. I have no idea where they got it from. The J. Crew sweater is like a game to them. How bouncily can they bob and weave before a nipple slips out? I wrap the fabric tight around me and cross my arms. Much like unruly children, they’re back to their old tricks the minute I uncross my arms. I give up. This whole situation feels a little out of my control.

Yes, I booked the photographer. Yes, I drove out here and put on… well, very little. This was my bright idea and my choice. I opt for a pep talk.

Stop being a chicken shit. You said yes; now, live that yes. Even if you suck, at least you did it!

Im going to suck. This is going to suck. Im disgusting.

So really, it’s half pep talk and half trash talk.

“Why don’t you stand up against this wall? Put your shoulders up to the wall and kind of bend so your butt is up against the wall, too. Now turn your face to the light.” I feel a little like a doll being posed. My mind flashes back to second grade when my friends and I would hold our dolls’ hands up to their faces and say “pretend she’s sucking her thumb now.”

Pretend youre sexy now. Pretend you have a waist now. Pretend you know how to stand now. Pretend you dont feel like a caged animal. Pretend youre here for a reason.

Something inside me begins to shift.

Pretend the click of that camera doesnt send a little thrill down your spine.

Pretend you dont like the touch of air on your bare skin.

Pretend you dont know what to do with your legs.

Pretend this doesnt make you feel like a badass.

Pretend youre not really enjoying this.

At some point, I give in to my tilted hip and buoyant breasts. A moment comes, between shots, in which I actually forget to feel uncomfortable. Another me emerges, someone who was born to be photographed in underwear. That camera gives me permission to undress, to shed layers, to dig in and fearlessly expose myself.


Since that first photo shoot, I have participated in six boudoir photography sessions. They’re different every time, and they always teach me something about myself and my life. Capturing images of your body has a way of illuminating unseen truths. Here are a few that I’ve learned:

  1. It doesn’t actually matter what you’re wearing or not wearing. What matters is how you feel[2] . Several months ago, I wore a men’s white button down shirt instead of lingerie for a shoot. I felt so sexy. To this day, they’re still my favorite, most honest photos. Choosing clothes that make you feel beautiful and fully yourself, no matter what situation you’re dressing for, allows you to show up authentically.
  2. Waterproof mascara. Because it makes everything a little more manageable… even ugly crying.
  3. Consciously touch your body. Feel your skin and muscles. Make contact. Meet and re-meet your flesh, even if it makes you cringe at first. Touch is a powerful way to communicate care. Start the conversation with yourself.
  4. You know all those moments in life when you try to pose sexily and end up feeling (and, therefore, looking) uncomfortable? Stop. Move your body in ways that feel sexy. When you try too hard, it shows. When you let your body choose how it moves and rests, the images change. You change.
  5. If your plan feels wrong, toss it. There’s no joy in forcing something to happen a certain way. Choose ease. It always turns out to be more beautiful.
  6. Cry when you feel like crying. Laugh when you feel like laughing. Let. It. Out. Free yourself to move forward.
  7. Create opportunities to be vulnerable. Choose raw and real over pristine and contrived.
  8. Imagine your truest, most authentic self and channel her. No matter what you’re working on, or how glaring your flaws feel, remember you are perfection. Exactly as you are.
  9. Choose photographers, coaches, friends, and partners that honor your process. You have your own timing and path[3] .

Every click of the camera shifts my perspective on life and alters my relationship with my body. That’s why I keep going back, hungry for more understanding. Looking at the photos changes my life in so many subtle ways. I share those changes at The Raw Boudoir, where I post new photos weekly and talk about body image, spirituality, and creating a whole life by bridging the gap between body and soul. I hope that you’re inspired to get vulnerable in any way that suits you – the world deserves you at your most authentic. 

Hilarie Dahl is an Energy Therapist, Body Love Coach, and avid speaker. She holds an MA in Communication and BS in Women and Gender Studies from The College at Brockport. Since graduating, she studied Healing Touch, an energy therapy modality focused on heart-centered healing for body, mind, and soul. She now owns a Healing Touch practice in Western New York. In January of 2014 Hilarie started a project called The Raw Boudoir. RB is a blog and coaching program devoted to going beneath the surface of body love through spiritual growth, movement, and simple acts of being seen. Each month she participates in a boudoir photography sessions and uses the photos to illustrate the transformative power of body acceptance. Hilarie also practices equine massage and energy work, travels as often as possible, and loves to collaborate with like-minded people. She believes that we create our life and are infinitely capable of loving ourselves and living joyfully. read more about