Capturing confidence: Boudoir photography inspiring empowerment

By Lily Thomas, Staff Reporter


With #boudoir gaining 1.9 billion views on TikTok, boudoir photography shoots are becoming more mainstream.

Boudoir photography is a form of portraiture that aims to capture the subject in an intimate and sensual way. Often, the models wear lingerie, soft sleepwear or another form of revealing clothing.

Boudoir photos are a version of portraits with a “feminist, empowering slant” to them, said Beatrice Phelps, local photographer and owner of Gold Coast Chicago Boudoir.

Phelps said the purpose of boudoir photography is to help empower women, noting that she sees a change in women’s moods when they leave her studio.

“It’s kind of crazy actually,” Phelps said. “I’m always a bit stunned about how they’re like ‘Oh my God, I feel so much more confident and powerful already.’”

At Columbia, first-year photography major Cadence Steenson got into boudoir photography for a similar reason. After starting with self-portrait work, she went on to shoot boudoir photos of her friends.

“It just means a lot to me when [the models are] looking back at their photos and then they feel beautiful and good in themselves,” Steenson said.

Because of the nature of boudoir, Steenson likes to make sure her sessions focus on self-love as she often compliments her clients throughout the session.

Similarly, Phelps makes sure prospective clients are a good fit for intimate shoots during consultations.

“It’s kind of a vulnerable thing,” Phelps said. “You’re in your lingerie or whatever you chose to wear and I’m helping you position your body. So you want to be able to feel like you can be compatible and trust and communicate well.”

While some can take nude portraits of themselves, senior photography major Sophie Mikos said the trusting connection built during boudoir shoots brings more intimacy.

“When you get these professional pictures or when the photographer even turns around the camera and shows you a shot they just took and they light up like that is the feeling I live for and I think that’s the feeling people seek out when they look to do boudoir photography,” Mikos said.

While traditional nude photos may be taken with someone else’s gaze in mind, Phelps focuses on posing her subject for only them, prioritizing her clients feeling powerful in their bodies.

Similarly, Mikos hopes to make her clients feel confident, beautiful and attractive.

“I really think the main thing I like to do is just capture someone else’s beauty … capture their confidence in those pictures because it really shows through,” Mikos said. “Even if that person tends to be a little more reserved, once they get in front of a camera and they do these kinds of shoots, they just light up and look so happy and so empowered.”

While empowerment is often the goal for these photographers, Steenson said some people view boudoir as sexual objectification of women’s bodies. Artists like Steenson hope to counter that narrative with their work.

“I think that it just genuinely shows that we’re taking control of our own bodies and showing off our bodies in a way that we want,” Steenson said. “Male or male-presenting people can kind of think that we’re just trying to show off our bodies for male attention, but when we’re just doing it for ourselves, just falling in love with ourselves and our bodies. I think it’s just really inspiring and empowering and we’re kind of taking back the sexualization of our bodies.”

Editor’s Note: This story is a part of the Chronicle’s annual Sex Issue which was published mid-February.