The Girlfriend Experience Boudoir Does Detroit with Fearlessly You Boudoir, A personal post
I did something scary in Detroit.
*all images taken by Paige Rynberg of Fearlessly You Boudoir in Gibraltar Michigan
I went to visit Paige in Detroit because she is my friend/family but also because we love to learn together; that is how we met. Education brought us together and we later joined forces in business to offer photography retreats for women. We were taking a one on one workshop in her studio with another photographer. While I was there I asked her to do something for me that was going to be incredibly vulnerable. Most of my shoots have included some version of a fantasy character. A light dominatrix shoot last winter. A vintage screen star two summers ago and play on Bond/Bond girl at this years Mexico retreat.
I craved something that felt more like me. No costume. No lingerie. Basics. Me, my underwear and my naked body. Basically me and my insecurities. Alone with no fanfare, over the top styling; just my usual hair and makeup. But instead of boudoir, erotica. The emphasis on loving myself. Not for a partner but for me, to see ME. An experience of self love.
I have been told I am not attractive enough. I have been told I am hypersexual. I have been told I am not sexual enough. I have been told I am clingy and needy. I have been told I am cold and distant. I have stood in front of a partner and begged him to touch me, take me, anything…to make me useable. I was desperate to be feel desired or wanted. I have been left alone in a bed the second everything was done, feeling like a freshly checked off box on a to do list. Another couldn’t keep his body separate from mine, he was insatiable. I struggled to keep up. My guilt was as big as his appetite.
Now that I am single my perspective on myself, my body and my empty bed have changed dramatically. It is amazing what pain can teach you if you are willing to listen.
My empty bed has taught me extra space behind my back isn’t as pitiful as being rolled as far to the edge as it can get to avoid the loneliness that can be felt with a person who isn’t meant for you. A bed for a single woman can be piled as high with pillows as she wishes and the comfort she will find there will offer more support than an insecure partner. You’ll never wake up alone if you have a dog. This bed has taught me that if you can ask for what you need and what you want when you are feeling your most vulnerable and most powerful simultaneously; then you can do the same in life too. And just like in life, you can be told no. Some partners immediately make you feel safe and at home. Others will always feel a little uneasy no matter how familiar they are. Some are just not at all right for you no matter how hard you try to make them fit. But how do you make you feel? Are you safe and at home? Do you make yourself uneasy? Do you even like yourself? Let alone love yourself? The only one of these I can identify with 100% is that I do feel safe and at home with myself. Or I did. I don’t anymore. Safe is a word that haunts me. Safe has protected me and safe has ruined me. Both of my own utilization. Coping mechanisms are a bitch.
I claim this space as mine. This bed and this body. This body that been told no and refused. This body that didn’t fit right for someone else. This body I have abused and misused. This body that has been worshipped and meticulously loved. A great love of my life said, “You have to love yourself more. You have to take better care of yourself. Inside.”
I shared one of my images with him when Paige sent me a sneak peek. I was in the middle of the emotional free fall that my friends and I will laugh about years from now as the “The Burning of 2019, when Stephanie set fire to her personal life.” He hated the image. I was devastated. The image was very personal. Very private. An image that was scary for me to have taken. When I pressed for why, he said you couldn’t see my beautiful face. That was I was too retouched. That it wasn’t me. In some ways he was right. You couldn’t see my face. I was retouched. But he was also wrong. It was a stunning photo but it wasn’t someone that he knows. He couldn’t connect with me in that image. The me that he loved is covered in scars. Scars from surgeries, scars from babies, has wildly unkempt hair, doesn’t have a stitch of makeup on and is probably wearing cat hair on her hoodie. In my previous shoots, I have leaned in hard to the character. An actor that never had he dreams realized, shoots are a place for me to be someone else in attitude, costume and mannerisms. This shoot was meant to be me, the closest to me photographically speaking.
I don’t know if most of the images will ever see the light of day. Being that they were taken in the midst of my emotional free fall, they feel extra vulnerable to me. They are without question, the best collaboration between Paige and myself to date. Her work exceeded my expectations. This free fall or nervous breakdown/breakthrough, whatever the hell it is supposed to be has left me feeling like a raw nerve ending. I have cried more in the last 6 months than I have in years. I have also learned more than I have in the last 5 years. I take care of myself, to a fault. I eat well, I workout and I groom like a mutha’ but what I have a hard time doing is asking for what I need. Sharing my fears and insecurities makes me feel like a whiner. I don’t dream like I used too. Once upon a time, this business was a dream and once it became reality, I just wanted to hang out here. But I need to dream! We all need to dream. I tell my babies to dream big, I told that man to dream big, why not me? I am very hard on myself but my stubborn streak eclipses everything. Tell me to take a left and I will turn right. Just because I fucking can. I take days off but I either spend them doing less than nothing or I spend them business related things.
This freefall has come with a ton of softness from my friends. I am taking time off of life to navigate this season with their help. I am on a social media ‘lite’ break. I deleted apps that were causing me anxiety, friendships that weren’t healthy anymore, stopped communication all together with everyone when my own voice started to demoralize me. I have been journaling. Reading. Visiting my therapist. I recently started trauma therapy. Letting every single one of these animals lay right on top of me, all at once because THEY KNOW. I am taking a bath every night. Skipping my daily vacuuming. Watching only the most boring television shows. I quit 95% of my makeup and skincare routine. I am not waking up at 5 am to workout. I am trying to get more comfortable with the “unretouched” me in real life, vocalize my needs more, yell if I must, cry when I can’t help myself and admit when I feel weak to everyone I come into contact with.
The reality is I am very scarred. Inside and out. Paige has several copies of my images. One day after telling her my plan for trying to take better care of myself, she called me and asked permission to show me a totally raw image. It took some convincing and some hand holding. But she loves me and she said this was something I had to do. I needed to see me. I needed to see the me that he saw, the me that she sees and reconcile it with the story I tell myself. I cried. Oh did I cry. Scars and all, it was beautiful.
She kept repeating herself and asked me to say it back. Say “I am beautiful. I am beautiful. I am beautiful just the way I am.” I cried more and more. I thanked her for holding my heart and my hand. The photos were delivered to me as a full collection tonight. I can hardly believe it is me.
Call me crazy, I am not ready to show them to the world. In our lives, not everyone has earned the right to access the real us. The raw, the scarred and the vulnerable versions of ourselves. Not everyone deserves our reality. It is irresponsible of us to think that stories are always met with reciprocity. For now, the most vulnerable photos will stay tucked away. I will learn to appreciate the scars, those inside and out; and reserve that version of myself until someone has earned her. Because I have to earn her and love her first.
********these are not the personal photos. all images taken by Paige Rynberg of Fearlessly You Boudoir in Gibraltar Michigan