Boudoir photography is booming as people shed the popular sweatpants for elegant nudes

1.As pandemic restrictions are lifted, new clients are overwhelming boudoir photographers.

2.Some clients are booking tasteful nude or semi-nude photos to better understand the weight gain of the pandemic.

3.Many say they are divesting themselves of photographs as a form of empowerment or self-care.

When COVID-19 forced Americans to come home, it drove the success of a range of unlikely products and industries, from stationary bikes to sweatpants to videoconferencing software. Now, as pandemic restrictions lift and people flock to activities like travel and live performance, another industry is getting an unexpected boost: boudoir photography.

Photographers specializing in tasteful nude and semi-nude shots say Americans are eager to book them in record numbers. Inquiries are flooding photographers' inboxes; for the first time in their careers, many are booked months later.

Sarah Witherington started her own company, Own Boudoir, in Atlanta in 2012. by 2014, she was photographing 150 women a year, and in 2019, she's booking shoots one to two months in advance. This year, she booked eight months in advance and saw a 30 percent increase in revenue.

"I had to tell potential clients that we wouldn't have the goods until October," Witherington says.

After a slow 2020, boudoir photographers rebound dramatically
Tamara Murphy's company, All Things Boudoir, based in Denver, Colorado, is a large corporation that employs photographers in more than 50 cities across the United States. Prior to the pandemic, the company was averaging 400 appointments per month, but in March 2020, work came to a halt. Clients canceled hundreds of scheduled shoots.

For months, boudoir business came to a standstill as virtual meetings proved technically unfeasible. But once face-to-face meetings became safer and vaccines were available, interest spiked. By the end of 2021, All Things Boudoir was booking nearly 1,900 appointments a month-almost four times the pre-Murphy pandemic average. She had to hire more photographers to keep up with demand.

"People stayed at home for months, glued to their computers during the lockdown," Murphy says. "They spent a lot of time dreaming about what they could do."

Women are using boudoir sessions to cope with epidemic stress and weight gain
Photographers describe boudoir sessions as a relaxed, empowering experience that leaves many clients feeling confident, sexy and more in touch with their bodies. Often, clients will spend several hours before a photography session that lasts an hour or more to have their hair and makeup professionally done, including a closet change. Some photographers will play music to help clients relax and intimately guide them through different poses.

Photographers say they see several obvious reasons why clients book boudoir shoots. Some are seeking a self-esteem boost after a year of stress and inactivity that led to weight gain. Others simply want to feel alive again after years of wearing sweatpants.

"I had a client who gained weight during isolation," says Ashley Benham, owner of Memphis-based Ashley Benham Photography. "She pumped herself up and told herself she needed to celebrate her body because it was the only thing we got. I love making women feel strong, sexy and confident, even when they gain weight."

Photographers say women, spread extra thin by the pandemic, just want to pamper themselves for a day.

"Most of my clients haven't done anything for themselves in a while," Witherington says. "They're busy with work, being partners and motherhood. That's why one-on-one photo time is special."

The "just-in-time" attitude that survived the pandemic is also playing a role, and Benham says the clients who come to her studio are looking at their lives differently than they did before the pandemic. "The uncertainty of COVID-19 makes people want to take risks. They know they'll only live once."

Finally, there are larger cultural trends at play. With cutouts, miniskirts and low-waisted jeans flooding the shows and racks, sexiness is on the rise. Hot, steamy scenes in shows such as "Bridgetown" and "Hindsight" have captured the imagination of audiences.

"Isolation makes us feel like we can't be sexy," Benham says. "Clients told me they bought sexy clothes online during the lockdown and had nowhere to wear them. Now everyone wants to go out and wear their best clothes."

"People are frustrated and isolated for a long time," Murphy says. "They've been wearing pajamas for a year. A lot of people want to go out and do something that's safe and builds confidence."

The 2022 wedding craze extends to bridal boudoir photos - but they're not just a gift for your partner
Historically, boudoir has been closely associated with marriage. Brides often book shoots as a wedding gift for their partners, and some photographers even offer discounted packages for clients who book pre-wedding boudoir shoots and shoot the actual wedding.

2022 will be the busiest year for the wedding industry since 1984, and boudoir buds are trending upward accordingly.

"A lot of my clients come to me for boudoir sessions because they're getting married and want to give their partner a gift on their wedding day," Benham says.

However, some photographers say their female clients are becoming less interested in booking shoots as gifts for their partners and are instead looking for experiences for themselves.

"When I started this business, I pitched it as a great gift for your partner," Murphy says. "Now it's almost always about a woman coming in and building her confidence to see herself differently, with her hair and makeup done. It's great to look back on this album when you're not feeling your best. It's made such an impact on so many women's lives."

Men and older women flocked to complete the boudoir shoot
While brides in their 20s and 30s are still the backbone of the industry, photographers are seeing more interest than ever from women over 45. Benham recently conducted a "marathon shoot" with eight female colleagues in their 40s and 50s who found boudoir sessions to be bucket list items.

Witherington has seen similar interest. "Most people are not attending milestones like weddings, but for reasons like 40th or 50th birthdays, or because they've lost a lot of weight, or because of divorce, or just because. That's a big difference since before COVID."

Men are another new group in the boudoir scene. In the past two years, Witherington says she's photographed about 15 men, compared to two or three a year before that.

"They come in for similar reasons - they want to look sexy," she says. "One guy found me because he saw a picture of a girl on Tinder and messaged her: 'You have great pictures, who took them?' He had just gotten out of the Army and was proud of his body. It captured a certain moment in his life. He ended up putting the pictures I took on his own Tinder!"

Interest in boudoir reflects a changing culture
Boudoir photographers say they have witnessed a huge cultural shift in the last decade. Thanks to "50 Shades of Grey," the accessibility of online porn and the growing popularity of OnlyFans, American society has become increasingly accepting of erotic and even kinky photos.

"Not all of my clients post on OnlyFans, but I do think they are more appreciative of their sexuality than they used to be," Witherington says.

Boudoir can also be political. Photographers say clients cite the #MeToo movement and the Women's March as catalysts for booking boudoir to empower them. Meanwhile, the body positivity movement has made more people feel like boudoir is for them.

"The visuals and narratives we've gotten over the last few years have changed, and they're also changing the way people view what's available to them," Witherington said, noting the recent shift even in Victoria's Secret ads. "Photographs don't just apply to a certain body type or person or life goal or age. They apply to everyone."

"Pandemics and segregation have been tough," Benham said. "But for me, there's a silver lining; people want to celebrate themselves and treat themselves in a way they never have before. People use it as self-care. You need to celebrate yourself."

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