Teri Hofford on Building a Body-Inclusive Boudoir Brand

December 15, 2021

By Teri Hofford

Empowerment is not about telling people who to be; it’s about listening to who they are and helping them find confidence within that. This is especially true for those who exist in marginalized bodies. That is why it’s so important for me to focus on empowerment photography and having a body-inclusive boudoir photography brand.

Image of a girl in lace outfit with tube is example of Hofford's body-inclusive boudoir photography brand.
© Teri Hofford

People with marginalized bodies are rarely seen in the light that they want to be seen in, and that’s if they are seen at all. When we see plus-sized bodies, it’s when they are the punchline or the “before” photo. When we see Black bodies, they’re often highly sexualized. When we see bodies with disabilities, it’s depicted as “poor them” or “how brave.” The photo genre of boudoir provided the gateway I needed to change the way bodies like mine (and not like mine) were seen, however, I still found myself out of alignment with the expectations that came with the genre.

[Read: A Guide to Boudoir Photography Pricing and Packages]

My favorite definition of empowerment is one found in the Oxford dictionary: “The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.

However, boudoir comes with the expectation of looking “sexy” even though sexy doesn’t have a universal look. Lingerie can make one person feel super powerful and another feel like they are a trussed up Christmas ham. I realized quickly that looking sexy doesn’t always equal empowerment so I started calling myself an empowerment photographer to shift expectations. People come to me with the intent of wanting to empower themselves through wearing anything, everything and nothing. We shoot anywhere. The point is, they get to decide what makes them feel good. 

[Read: Successful Boudoir Photography: Finding Your Style, Starting Your Business]

For my clients to feel empowered, it means that they have to be a willing participant in the shoot. Here are a few ways I do this in my body-inclusive boudoir photography brand:

1. Consultations
I offer in-person consultations so that I can set expectations about what they can and cannot expect from me. I let them know that I am not able to undo 20+ years of negative self-talk in one photoshoot but I will get curious about what they are hoping to get from the experience to make sure that I am the best photographer for them.

2. Questionnaires + Prep Guide
I send my clients 2 questionnaires before the shoot that help me understand their needs. Since I empower people through body image work, my “Dig Deep” questionnaire is full of questions about their experience with their bodies. For example, I will ask them to tell me what they want to feel during their shoot..and then I ask them “When was the last time you experienced this feeling?” The second questionnaire allows me to see what they are visually drawn to so I can customize a session specific to their aesthetics.

The prep information includes a stretching video, affirmations and mirror work that I encourage them to do leading up to their session because this helps them feel in control and builds up positive habits.

3. The Shoot
The most common compliment I’ve gotten from people is how quickly they felt comfortable enough to just exist in their bodies. One way I do this is by demonstrating poses and facial expressions, but mostly by checking in throughout the session and reminding them that they have full autonomy.

I also make sure to create a space that is as inclusive as possible. This includes: scent free, wheelchair accessible, hair and makeup artists trained with all skin colors and hair textures, furniture weighted to 700 pounds, a size inclusive wardrobe and, most importantly, challenging my beliefs and biases about bodies and their abilities so I don’t project them onto my clients. 

4. The Reveal
The reveal happens a few days after the session and involves going through the images with my clients. This is where clients’ anxieties will peak, because they felt amazing at the shoot but now they have to see themselves.  Their old negative soundtrack will start to play so setting expectations for clients about what their brains will do during the reveal helps relieve their anxiety. By noticing trends about the images they do and do not choose, I can help them correlate that when they felt X emotion, that is what they look like and it is beautiful. It just might look different than the way they’ve been told it should look.

Through providing a safe space, clear communication and checking our own biases and beliefs around bodies, we can begin to understand that empowerment is not something we do for our clients, but rather something we do with them.  Instead of “I love to empower people” perhaps we can say “I love to create spaces and experiences that allow people to empower themselves.”

Teri Hofford portrait, body-inclusive boudoir photography.

Teri Hofford is a Canada-based body image expert, author and photographer driven to help people challenge their body image biases. Her body-inclusive boudoir photography and “empowerment” empire includes Beyond the Body: Mindset & Body Image Education; The Boudoir University; Teri Hofford Photography; and BODY IMAGE BOOTCAMP (™) workshops. Teri is speaking at WPPI‘s Boudoir Summit in Vegas on Feb. 27, 2022 on body image and how it impacts the client experience.