Even in my 30s, I’m still learning to love my body.

How do you unlearn what you've been taught about how you should look?

Natalie Teo |
March 8, 2023, 3:00 pm

We’re not starting a cult but some followers on Instagram would be nice. Thank you.

Just a day before I turned 33, I found myself naked on the floor of a friend’s apartment while she clicked away at her camera.

Can’t say I haven’t briefly considered it before, but I wasn’t about to launch my Onlyfans career (respect to those who manage to make a living of it though).

I was there for my first-ever boudoir shoot—what I saw as an opportunity to digitally immortalise my body in the last years of its youth.

My body’s not really mine

I’m not sure if people still feel this way, but I remember being a teenager and having the impression that life stopped, or at least dramatically paused, at 30.

The 20s, on the other hand, are a time to be young, wild and free.

Not that mine were, really.

Even before I hit puberty, I had been plagued with insecurities about my body.

It didn’t help that the people around me thought it their birthright to dispense unsolicited comments about my changing body.

Too chubby.
Too skinny now.
No curves.
But now your breasts are becoming a distraction so you gotta cover up.

My body dysmorphia continued well into my 20s, making it quite impossible to enjoy the “wild” and “free” parts of my teenage fantasy.

Youth, after all, is wasted on the young.

But several bouts of eating disorders later, I found myself in my mid 20s and not even feeling the “young” bit either.

Deeply unhappy but now armed with disposable income to squander irresponsibly, I stumbled into the sport of pole dancing.

The first lesson that would change the rest of my life.

The years that followed were a journey of self-discovery, during which I learnt to live with my body and celebrate the things it could do.

With my new sport, I began to accept, then enjoy looking at my body in motion, and over the years, did several professional pole photoshoots.

A sign to go for it

So, I was no stranger to the camera at all.

Boudoir was something I had always wanted to try, but never got round to doing.

I always felt that I could be leaner, build more muscle and be in better shape before taking the plunge.

Somehow, as the years went by, my body never got to an optimal, shoot-ready state.

I had very nearly put the thought out of my head, until I serendipitously happened upon an Instagram post by a pole photographer friend who was looking to venture into boudoir and was looking for models.

It’s a sign, I thought.

I should go for it before more wrinkles and lines start to form.

Capture this moment in time while I still want to look at myself.

A whole new world

I was not prepared for how difficult it would be to sit with myself as the camera flashes went off.

With pole photoshoots, I was constantly in motion.

Always too focused on staying alive while hanging off a spinning vertical surface in strange positions to be self-conscious about my skin folds.

Too focused on not falling on my head to think about my cellulite showing. Photo by waychel_photography

Now, vulnerable and unclothed on the floor of my friend’s living room, there was no fantastic trick to take the spotlight off me.

Here, I wasn’t showing off my flexibility and strength, I was just presenting myself as is—warts and all.

I had no idea how to smile, or sit without nervously fidgeting.

I didn’t love most of the initial preview shots either.

There was always a bulge somewhere, or a weird angle my head was tilted at.

In some pictures, I looked so uncomfortable, one would think it was a hostage situation.

Fortunately, my photographer, who had been through body image struggles herself, understood.

Her clients, she said, usually started with clothes on before getting comfortable with working their way up (down?) to full or partial nudity.

I had opted to go the opposite way because I didn’t want the elastic on my clothes leaving marks on my body, adding more lines to the ones already there.

To get me in the mood, out came the props to give me something to do with my hands.

I got a good laugh from a couple of them too, like a black flogger (very BDSM and decidedly not me) and a giant artificial leaf that clashed terribly with the backdrop.

Anyway, task accomplished—I loosened up considerably and began to enjoy getting into even the most ludicrous poses.

Hindsight is 20/20

Though I jumped into this shoot largely unprepared, I was lucky that the photographer is a friend.

Going bare can be immensely vulnerable, and I’m grateful that she was there to walk me through it.

The other things I did do to prepare for the shoot though, were probably not advisable and very possibly dangerous.

Like obsessively doing spin classes for three days in a row before I was photographed.

Or dehydrating myself and skipping both meals on the day of my late afternoon shoot in the hope that my muscles might pop a little more.

I was so hungry I was about to eat the props.

At the end of the day, it made little difference to how I looked, and the constant pangs of hunger just made me even more nervous while I was being photographed.

Seeing myself in a different light

My initial impression of boudoir was that it would be ✨sensual✨ and ✨mysterious✨— very 50 Shades of Grey-esque.

Of course, some people do go for that style.

But the photos that I ended up picking after my hour-long session were shots that captured me grinning at the camera— sometimes at a wisecrack that my friend had just made, or in amusing, definitely unsexy poses.

This, I think, is the real me.

Not model material, bit of a goofball. A lot happier than I was 10 years ago.

I’m not saying that one shoot magically fixed all the insecurities I’ve had about my body over the years.

In fact, it’s likely that nothing will ever completely fix that damage.

For me, it’s a memento of a work in progress.

Something for 60-year old me to look back on and feel proud of, somewhere decades into the future.

Photos via Intan Krishanty

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