If you’re a boudoir photographer, chances are pretty good that at least a handful of people have posted a link to “the letter”–the one from the husband to the photographer, writing about his dissatisfaction with the retouching she did on his wife’s boudoir photos. (Read it HERE.)
Victoria Caroline Boudoir, based near San Antonio, Texas, wrote a viral Facebook post on Oct. 7, 2015, which detailed an email she received from the husband of a local “public figure” (later disclosed in the media when asked why the husband and wife hadn’t come forward). The wife had done a boudoir session as a Christmas gift for him. At her session, Victoria Caroline says in her post, “She came to me, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, ‘I want you to photoshop all of my cellulite, all of my angry red stretch marks, ALL of my fat, and all of my wrinkles….just make it go away. I want to feel gorgeous just ONCE.'”
So, the boudoir photographer did exactly what the client asked her to do. Then, the husband purportedly writes an email to the photographer, stating that when he opened the album of photos from his wife, who had told him that he doesn’t compliment her enough and who is worried that he will leave her for another woman, his heart sank … because of the retouching.
Sweet, huh? Maybe not.
By the third time I read this post, I was feeling a bit “ragey” about it. Here’s why.
Notes: This is my photo and my client, who felt similarly to this woman. I had her photos edited more heavily than usual because she wanted it. And you know what her husband did? Called me, thanked me, and ordered more. Because that’s what loving husbands do when they want to support their wives.
Also, if you want to watch me talk about this with much animation instead of reading a 2500-word post, you may want to watch my Periscope cast from 10/12/15. The first 20 minutes are good, then I wander off a bit.
Where do the woman’s feelings come into play?
When a woman comes to me to do a boudoir session, even if she’s doing it as a gift for someone, she’s ALWAYS doing it for herself. Some clients say it straight up when they’re booking, others when they see their photos. Every woman I photograph–just like Victoria Caroline Boudoir’s client–wants to see herself as gorgeous and sexy.
The husband does not address any of these points. The letter is all about his dismay over his wife’s missing stretch marks, laugh lines, cellulite and fat. I want to know:
- When she saw her photos, did she feel sexy, beautiful and confident?
- Did she feel empowered? How has her life changed for the positive?
- How did her marriage improve? Is her sex life better? Does she have better orgasms (or actually has orgasms)?
- Does she stand taller? Has she stopped beating herself up a bit when she looks in the mirror?
- How’s her self-confidence now?
My clients have reported back to me months or years after their session that the process of being photographed and having beautiful, sensual photos of herself have helped her do everything from rock a bikini at the neighborhood pool after spending years covered up in sweats, to quitting a job, to starting a business, to improving her relationship with her significant other.
If I could reach the wife, I’d say this: You are brave not only for doing a boudoir session, but also for asking for what you want. And I’d also say, I’m sorry that your husband couldn’t see and praise that bravery for what it is and kept his mouth shut otherwise. I hope your heart is OK.
Photoshop is a great thing in boudoir photography
Dear husband: If you think that by removing your wife’s cellulite you’re losing documentation of a big part of your relationship, I feel sad for her. Because she’s the one who is living in the “flawed” body you say you love. She’s the one who feels self-conscious about the cellulite and stretch marks. She’s the one who feels uncomfortable with that tummy roll and hates herself for it. She’s the one who probably looks in the mirror every morning and says mean things to herself about her laziness, lack of self-control, ugliness, undesirability. From your own letter, your marriage needs some spicing up. You’re complicit there, buddy.
When I started out as a boudoir photographer in 2010, my photos were horribly over-retouched (in Picnik, for god’s sake). For the most part, today I outsource my retouching, and I’m much more careful in my instructions about how much to do in terms of wrinkle and cellulite mitigation, body shaping and skin smoothing. I prefer a light hand that maintains the woman’s body shape, and softens all of the details our HD cameras pick up (but are unseen by the human eye).
I believe that when women see photos of themselves the first thing they look at is the parts of their bodies that they do not like. That could be a spider vein or cellulite, or the pooch of her tummy or wrinkles around her mouth. I want her to look beyond those “flaws” to see their real beauty. So that’s what I do.
Every woman compares herself to women on the magazine covers–we know this. But until we see photos of ourselves that are produced in the same manner as those photos, we’re comparing apples to oranges. The beauty of boudoir photography is that it’s not all about retouching. Photoshop is just a tool in our arsenal, which also includes wardrobe styling, hair makeup, posing, lighting, angles and direction for emotion. You know, all of the things involved in a commercial fashion shoot. The resulting photos are closer to that magazine cover than any other portrait she’ll ever have made.
There is a line however: changing body size, manipulating body shape into something that’s far from the woman’s natural shape, removing all facial lines and wrinkles, removing freckles, removing scars unless she asks for it, smoothing skin until it looks like Barbie’s, removing the entire shadow under the eye to give someone alien eyes (this is my new no-no).
Seriously: Let’s say you just paid me $2500 for a boudoir session and associated products. Do you really want the first thing you notice to be all of the stuff I’ve circled in red? Or the gorgeous shape of your legs? I say B.
My friend Danea from Boudoir Coterie wrote a brilliant post about boudoir retouching, which you can read here. She writes:
“But stretch marks, scars and cellulite are part of a woman’s story.” Yes, they absolutely are. However, that doesn’t mean they need to be seen in a photograph. Heck, in my head during sexy time, I look and feel like I did in my 20’s; before my c-section scar and pregnancy belly(can I still call it that 6 years later?). I have a body crippled from RA, covered in scars and deformities, cellulite and now veins and age spots but I certainly don’t want to spend my money on a photo shoot for all of that to be seen forever in print.
It does not mean I am ashamed of my body or my past. I am proud as hell about what I have accomplished and overcome to be where I am today. Wanting to see yourself with fabulous hair, makeup and flawless skin, is not something to be ashamed of like we are being told it is. It’s about seeing ourselves for the sexy confident women we know we are or strive to be. It’s about polishing those little daily insecurities, so we can see how beautiful we truly are.”
As my friend and co-founder Petra Herrmann says, “Women have boudoir photographs taken for fantasy. If they wanted reality, they’d take a mirror selfie.”
The message from the husband is all about shame. Don’t we women get enough shame?
Dear husband, you are cruel. As much as I hate this f-ing letter and the gushy responses to it, Victoria Caroline Boudoir has skills. I am sure that the wife’s photos were gorgeous.
But the husband doesn’t care. All he cares about is by taking away her cellulite he took away her love of baking, that by taking away her wrinkles, she took away documentation of her life. No more fat? No more documentation of her children. Gag. And at the end, he’s going to celebrate her “flaws.” Right. Let’s start that by looking at the photos and recognizing the love and courage it took for your wife to give it to him
Because doing a boudoir session is an act of COURAGE THAT SHOULD BE CELEBRATED.
So, he shames her for asking for retouching. (Because that’s what she paid the photographer good money to do!) And then he shames the photographer for doing the retouching she was paid to do.
Am I reading between the lines? Maybe. But from my own personal experience, I recognize the language of shaming. A loving husband would never write this letter. He’d kiss his wife and say thank you, you’re gorgeous, and keep other opinions to himself.
And: This was a gift! A Christmas gift, one that we as women may obsess over for a long time to get it just right. An expensive Christmas gift? Aunt Edna may have knitted you the most god-awful sweater, but I’m pretty sure you’ll wear it when she comes over without a grumble to her face. Show some respect just for that.
Listen, dude (who doesn’t want to be identified for whatever reason). Stop shaming your wife. Stop shaming the photographer. Just stop.
The photos included with the post are incongruent with the post’s message
Come on. If you’re talking about a plus-sized client, don’t use the photo of a woman who very obviously sacrifices and works out to have a perfectly shaped butt and tummy and legs (by media standards). I’m sorry, but that woman does not have a love of eating her baked goods and Halloween candy. I’m guessing she eats a lot of kale and does Cross-Fit and has a small piece of cake on her birthday.
Mysteriously, the original post was removed (despite being shared nearly 200,000 times). But none of the photographer’s images that have been attached to the photos have been of a size 18 woman, and they’ve definitely not been mildly retouched images of anyone. I honestly couldn’t care less how much retouching any photographer does. I do care about hypocrisy when you are speaking on behalf of an entire industry.
The only thing about this post and letter that I don’t call bullshit on is part of the PS the photographer writes at the end.
“Ladies, I can photoshop just about anything. But I encourage you to think twice about how much “altering” we do. Our loved ones cherish and adore us just as we are … and I cried like a baby with guilt for at least 6 months after that whenever I read it. I encourage you to embrace YOU just as you are!
…oh, and just in case you don’t have anyone telling you how beautiful you are tonight….YOU ARE SO DAMN BEAUTIFUL!!!!”
This I can get behind.
What other boudoir photographers are saying
I have yet to read a single reaction from a boudoir photographer about this letter that wasn’t negative. (Many state that the letter sounds like it was written by a woman, and seriously doubt the credibility, especially since the people won’t disclose themselves.) On Oct. 12, I posted in a Facebook group asking if others were feeling a little pissed off about it, and I found out I was definitely not alone. Many posted the same reasons I have here.
When I’ve posted my opposing response to all of the gushing about it, I’ve been told to shut the fuck up. I’ve been told that I’m jealous, I carry negativity wherever I go, and that I’m reading too much into it. Basically, again, to shut the fuck up. So have many other photographers who have discussed what happens when the post an opposing opinion about the letter.
Sorry. Not going to happen.
“Okay sure it’s awesome that the “husband” took another look and really appreciated his wife’s natural beauty but it’s totally discrediting the the wife’s feelings and reasoning behind the shoot. Sure I don’t really like to over edit, I like to keep it as natural as possible with just a few filters to change the feel but not everyone is like that and if a woman wanted a lot of editing done I would do it. She’s the client and she wants to feel beautiful. Anyone and everyone can tell her she is but unless she gets something to make her believe it then you’ve fallen short of your job. Just my 2 cents.”
From Stacey Ingram, Simply-Boudoir
“TLDR: I photoshopped his wife’s boudoir photos and he loved them and her no less. (watch video)
Yes, I’ve seen the article from the “husband” who’s wife had a boudoir shoot and was upset that her images were edited. In all honesty, I seriously doubt the validity of the article, but that is neither here nor there.
I have and will always retouch the images of my clients in a tasteful manner that reflects back to them how their lovers and loved ones see them. When we look at someone we love we easily look past their “flaws” and love them regardless. On top of that, I am here to make my clients happy first and foremost. If she decides to share those images with her SO then that is just icing on the cake, but her self worth and confidence will come first to me above all else.
This is the video I have shared before but I think is important to share again. This is proof and the husband of an actual client who was presented with an album for their 20 year anniversary. Through those 20 years, he has seen his wife give birth to their beautiful children and she has aged as we all do. Regardless of that, he loves her and the images I captured of her were not devalued simply because they were retouched. It didn’t take edited images to remind him that his wife is beautiful and worthy. Those images reflected back to him exactly what he sees when he looks at her, and I am honored to gift them both with those images to have and love forever.
We all know what our scars, stretch marks, dimples, etc. look like but we do not need to be reminded of them when we look at a beautiful image of ourselves. That doesn’t mean they aren’t okay or aren’t beautiful as well, but we all deserve to see ourselves how others do. We all deserve to see the beauty in ourselves that is there beyond the flaws and after the children are birthed and heartaches pass. Tasteful retouching is not shameful nor does it erase the honesty of the person photographed.”
From Ashley Cox
“What I also want to know, is if the client wouldn’t give her permission to share an anonymous image.. how did she get permission from the husband to post the letter and make it go viral?” ~Ashley Cox
From Missy Mwac
“Your wife didn’t take these pictures for you.
Sure, you were the recipient of the images and maybe the external motivation for her picking up the phone and making an appointment, but, really, they weren’t for you. Boudoir photography is never about the person receiving the images; it’s about the person in front of the camera.
It’s like going to the gym. You think most women running on a treadmill or lifting weights are doing it for some guy? Or doing it because THEY want to feel strong and sexy and healthy and good about themselves?
Please comment, please share. Let’s tell the world how we boudoir photographers really feel about this letter.
I think I’ve said my peace now. Let’s hear what you think about all of this. xx Lynn
Editor’s note: On 10/22/15, I decided to remove a paragraph about the photographer’s style of retouching and to clean up some grammatical mistakes. I removed this section not due to any pressure, but because I realized that I was actually shaming her, and that’s not what I want to do.