When many of us wake up and look in the mirror, we don’t love what we see. And that can be a problem.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, people with negative body image, regardless of gender, are more likely to develop an eating disorder and suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss.
A handful of Durango photographers offer a potential solution ... by taking your clothes off.
Kyla Jenkinson, who owns Photo Divine with her sister, Wesley Sebern, originally thought she wanted to be a fashion photographer. Then, in 2006, her mother was diagnosed with severe adult anorexia.
“It sort of poisoned my view on the fashion and media industry,” Jenkinson said.
This led her to switch gears and focus on using photography as a healing tool to encourage women to embrace a healthy body image.
And she’s not alone. A number of local photographers specialize in boudoir photography, including Alexi Hubbell.
“I take images of women that empower them to feel confident, to explore themselves, to maybe branch out a little bit outside of their comfort zone to help them create a overall higher level of self confidence than they would have had coming in,” she said.
If the idea of shedding your clothing in front of your camera fills you with dread, you’re not alone.
“It’s a really vulnerable place to be to be photographed period, clothes on or off. It’s horrible to have someone point a camera at you and take your picture. It feels awkward,” Jenkinson said. “There’s like 1% of people that are ready to do it.”
Moving past that point means developing a connection and a level of trust with the photographer.
“I want to show people the beauty that I see in them. I want to reflect the beauty back to them... and I would never show an image to a client that I didn’t think was beautiful,” she said. “When they come back to see their photos, we’ll have this experience that sort of unfolds and they start to relax in front of the camera.”
Hubbell describes the process as helping her clients coax the supermodel out of them, see their bodies for what they really are, and memorialize their bodies. Her oldest subject was 72 years old.
“They’re not doing it so that they can put it up, you know, on the internet and show everybody to get confirmation from other people that they look good,” she said. “They do it for themselves.”
Both photographers do one-on-one sessions with women, but Jenkinson has a growing reputation for the group events she hosts.
“Girls are sometimes easy because they’re used to tribing together – maybe not all of them – for support, so they already have this understanding that we’re going to circle up. A lot of times, it’s not women that know each other, and sometimes that’s easier because your story doesn’t follow you into the process. You get to share whatever part of your story you can share,” she said.
Some of Jenkinson’s getaways take place outdoors and are themed around concepts like “release,” or celestial events such as the spring equinox or the summer solstice.
“We usually do some form of journaling, or there’s questions involved, or there’s like icebreaker games that we play – something that makes it so that we remember that we’re all related in some way and that we’re all part of a bigger ‘one.’ ... Even though our journeys and our stories are so different, we’re still connected and in ways much deeper than what’s on the surface. Once you have that, it opens up this whole platform to support each other to be able to get naked in nature and be watched. They have this whole support system that’s cheering them on. While they’re totally vulnerable, naked in nature,” she said. “It’s fucking awesome.”
Jenkinson has also started hosting vintage boudoir-themed events at the Bookcase and Barber on a regular basis.
“I think it’s the sexiest bar in Durango,” she said.
The theme makes it a bit easier because dressing up in costume, and adopting a character still provides attendees with a sort of mask that allows them to get in the mood to explore their sexuality ... while drinking really good drinks.
“It’s the best of all worlds,” Jenkinson said.
If this all intrigues you but you lean male on the gender spectrum, don’t despair. An increasing number of photographers, including Hubbell, are offering boudoir services to men as well. The only real difference that she has encountered in shooting men is that they tend to be a bit less comfortable.
“They giggle a lot more ... and they usually don’t require hair and make up,” she said. “But they still want to see themselves as something more than what they do on a daily basis or what they look at in the mirror every day.”