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I Gave My Husband The Best Gift He Ever Received

And here's how it all started.

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Boudoir photo shoot with woman in lingerie and showing garter on her thigh
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I used to reminisce about the body I had when I was younger. The calorie-burning, gravity-defying, sexy physique of my 20s and some of my 30s. Until I started having children (I’ve made three of the little beauty zappers), I was consistently confident about my figure. Back in those days, it seemed that no amount of overeating, overdrinking or general laziness could penetrate the armor of fitness flawlessness that naturally surrounded my frame. Ah, youth.

After having children, everything seemed to reorder itself. Like a Van Gogh painting, suddenly my breasts were in a new spot on my torso and my ass was where the middle of my thighs used to be. I had to work harder to stay in shape, which was ironic because with three kids under the age of 5, I barely had time to cook let alone sit down and eat a healthy meal. Getting to the gym or finding any kind of “me time” was out of the question.

When the kids got older and the demands on my time lightened up, I thought I’d be able to get myself back in order. But by then I was over 40, and nothing worked like it used to. I won’t say that eating right and exercising didn’t have a positive effect on my figure (and mood, sleep, sex drive, etc.), but it was clear to me that I needed to settle in to my new, beautiful middle-aged body. And learn to love it.

It’s not easy, this self-acceptance thing. We are hardwired to compare ourselves to other women and even to our younger selves. It takes a major shake-up to force us to love our bodies, and for me, the opportunity for such a shake-up presented itself when I started searching for gifts for my husband’s 50th birthday.

It’s hard to buy gifts for men this age, especially if they tend to just buy themselves whatever they really need, so a girlfriend of mine suggested I pose for boudoir photos and create an intimate photo album for my husband. A boudoir photo is not pornography. It’s meant to be a tasteful, sexy image that emphasizes beauty and sexuality. I initially scoffed at the idea, dismissing myself as the possible subject of any attractive or sexy photo. I felt too old, too flabby and too far from my prime to look beautiful in my skivvies. But if I’m being honest, the girlfriend who suggested this to me is in the same boat, and when she shared her boudoir album with me, I was shocked. The photos were beautiful. The lingerie, the lighting, the pose … all worked perfectly to present her as a work of human art. Yes, her hair and makeup were professionally and perfectly on point, but that was my friend’s body — not perfect, not skinny and not young. Just gorgeous.

When the day came for my own boudoir photos session, I was so nervous I literally could not eat breakfast. (I figured that might bode well for all the extra belly I tend to carry around.) I had a few bra and pantie sets and a black lace teddy I’d picked out the week before, as well as my favorite silk robe and two pairs of killer heels, all set out on the counter in my bathroom. Some boudoir photographers have studios where you go to be photographed, but this one comes to the house and photographs you in your own bedroom. I had to take the day off from work to shoot in the late morning so we could be sure nobody would be home. (Wouldn’t that be a swell surprise for my teenagers … Mom posing for pictures in her underwear!)

The (female) photographer and stylist arrived with lights, camera, makeup and wine. I tried to act casual as my heart pounded and that little voice inside my head shouted, You can’t do this! They immediately asked me if I wanted a glass of wine, to which I replied “YES” at 11 a.m. The stylist was amazing. She laughed about insecure feelings about her body and her experience posing for boudoir shots for the first time. Like me, she was in her 40s and a mom. I don’t know if it was the wine or the conversation, but I really started to relax.

An hour later I looked like the best possible version of myself, with glamorous, 1940s’ Hollywood-style hair and naturally seductive makeup including fake eyelashes. For a moment I considered just having the photographer take headshots, but they kept moving me along and into the wardrobe phase. I felt embarrassed as I pointed out the sexy items I’d purchased, certain the two women would laugh at me for even thinking I could wear such things. Instead, they swooned and raved about my picks, exclaiming that everything was gorgeous and perfect and which one did I want to get started with?

I started with the teddy (probably because it covered my stomach) and a pair of black heels. With soft light and my trusty glass of wine just out of frame, the photographer invited me to lie on the bed in a seductive pose. I started to feel downright silly, but she cut off my insecurity by simply being professional and getting down to business. “OK, move your leg this way. Tilt your chin.” The stylist swooped in to arrange my hair in a perfect cascade across the pillow and “CLICK!” We were on our way.

I began to feel calmer and sexier the more photos we took (and the more wine I drank). We put on some music. “Alexa, play sexy music” produced a playlist called “Under the Covers Country.” It became fun. How often am I the center of attention? But the real reassurance came when the photographer let me preview some of the shots on her camera screen. I hate to brag, but I looked, dare I say, AMAZING.

It was me. The 49-year-old version of me, not the skinny, perky-boobed ideal in my memory. I looked fabulous and glamorous, but it was still me. The thing is, there was something new in the photo that I hadn’t been wearing that morning before the session started: I was covered in confidence. Relaxed, courageous, bold and vibrant. My confidence literally glowed from within and I have never looked or felt sexier. This was better than my wedding day. I have to admit: I was totally in love … with myself.

Needless to say, my husband loved the album of 15 shots we picked out and gently retouched. (The photographer didn’t alter my body in any way. She just color-corrected her own photography, smoothed out discolorations and shadows and erased stray hairs.) He said it was the best birthday present he ever received, but it ended up really being a gift to me. Even though my husband’s “secret book” lives in a locked, velvet photo-album box in the back of his closet, I find myself taking it out whenever I need a boost or a reminder of how it feels to love myself and my gorgeous, middle-aged body.