A black and white photo of someone on the bed topless facing the other direction.

Katelyn Guild, Katelyn Scott Photography

Body Image

Katelyn Guild, Katelyn Scott Photography

How “Fat TikTok” Gave Me the Confidence to Love Myself

Nothing made the writer feel more unsettled than seeing photos of herself. That is, until she stumbled upon a photographer on social media who held up a mirror to her and showed her how sexy and stunning she really is.

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I’ve been grappling with persistent insomnia, which has led me to spend my sleepless nights scrolling through TikTok. Which, shockingly, has not been a waste of time. I’ve lost count of how many life hacks I’ve deployed because of my new, unintended lifestyle. I wrap my hair at night to create waves that no curling iron could create. I am now a true believer in “Magic Shaving Powder.” I recently repainted some furniture thanks to DIY home renovations, even going so far as to order the same paint the creator used (Fusion Mineral Paint—it’s great).

One sleepless night as I lay under my weighted blanket, scrolling through my increasingly creepy-accurate algorithm, I found myself browsing through what I can only describe as Fat Positive Boudoir TikTok. I do make a point to follow a LOT of beautiful and talented fat women, so it’s not that surprising. Fat TikTok, in my humble opinion, is far superior to Fat Instagram, mostly because it’s more vulnerable and relatable. Of course I will never tire of seeing beautiful fat models on my IG feed, but TikTok strips away the sleek and polished elements of IG models and influencers. TikTok shows me fat women being silly, nailing viral dances, being loved on, and clapping back at fatphobic comments.

So when I came across Katelyn Guild’s DIY boudoir tips, I was enthralled. The isolation of trying to be a responsible human being in a pandemic hasn’t exactly led to better self-esteem. While I have wholeheartedly embraced the braless, no-makeup, comfy-casual attire of quarantine life, living alone in isolation, without being able to see anyone, sometimes for days or weeks on end, has been tough. There’s no reason to try to look or feel less frumpy when you could just stay in bed instead.

Katelyn’s content gave me a reason, however. She was encouraging and funny and lighthearted about taking nude self-portraits for yourself. It made me want to imagine myself not as a bridge troll, but as the sexy and attractive person I vaguely remembered being in the beforetimes—so much so I wanted to take a photo of myself for no good reason at all.

This urge to take photos came as a surprise, because despite my hard-fought journey from self-hate and years of disordered eating to accepting and respecting my body for what it is, photos are still really hard.

I’m the person that would delete nearly every photo someone else would take of me. Posed or candid, it didn’t matter. It’s really difficult to unlearn the horrific messages that scream fat folks—especially fat women and femme folks— are not attractive or worthy of love. Sometimes it’s because I catch glimpses of myself that resemble my estranged mother, which comes with deep stabbing emotional pain. And sometimes, it’s just because depression and anxiety make me severely unkind to myself.

The boudoir images I was seeing on my TikTok feed weren’t thin, conventionally attractive women. They weren’t cheesy or over the top. They were raw and honest and vulnerable and deeply sexy, and I wanted in.

The video that really pulled me in was one of Katelyn’s tutorials on how to pose and take your own boudoir-style photos. Turns out the trick isn’t running back and forth to set the camera timer on your phone, or trying to stretch your arm like Inspector Gadget to get just the right angle. It’s turning your phone around and filming a video while you move slowly through poses. Then you pause and screenshot the images you like. GENIUS.

I dug deeper, doing the thing you do when sleep is so elusive it doesn’t matter what time it is anymore. Katelyn is based in North Carolina, but because it’s 2020, she started offering virtual shoots to folks who didn’t want to or couldn’t find a way to come into her studio. And it’s a lot more affordable than an in-studio shoot: $150 for an hourlong virtual shoot. I had no clue what a virtual boudoir shoot would end up being like, but I loved the idea so much I set a reminder to look at it again when it wasn’t 3 a.m. I booked a session the next day.

After I awkwardly modeled a few outfit options for a friend and cleaned my bedroom to a level beyond anything I’ve attempted before, I dialed into the Zoom call with Katelyn. When her first question was “Where are you in your body journey?” I knew immediately I had made the right choice.

Katelyn had me walk her through my room. We worked together to figure out the best lighting and best spots to set up the phone. She offered some quick tips (always point your toes really hard, keep your hands soft, don’t clench your face) and we were ready to go. Because it’s always best to shoot with the rear-facing camera (not the selfie camera), I was basically alone in my room with Katelyn’s voice guiding me.

I was worried I would feel self-conscious, but Katelyn put me at ease, and I found I was having fun with it in ways I never expected. It was the first time in a very, VERY long time I felt comfortable being photographed—consider that just last year, I was holding back tears and staving off a full-blown panic attack when taking headshots.

When we were done, I was energized. I couldn’t wait to see the photos that were going to come my way in just a few days.

With a typical studio shoot, Katelyn prefers to do the reveals in-person. Seeing photos of yourself like this, if you’ve never done it before, can be a little jarring, and having someone hype you up can help. She told me that even though I’d be alone when I would see mine for the first time, I would need to be patient and kind with myself. She said I could and probably would feel uncomfortable, but I shouldn’t feel pain. If I did, I was to promptly close the window and not look at them again for at least a week. “I promise you will love them, even if it’s a year from now,” she said to me. This wasn’t cockiness about her skills; this was confidence that I would see my own sexiness in any photo, if I gave myself enough time to get there.

When I got the album of edited images, I was astonished. I saw photos I liked. A lot. Not just one or two, either. Ten at first, then, even more, the next day. There were definitely a few I’m not yet comfortable with, but I know I just probably just need a bit more time to appreciate them.

The experience was a pretty easy way to dip your toe into the boudoir pool if you’re not quite sure you’re ready for it. Being in the comfort of my own home with all the wine I needed was a really safe space, and now I know exactly what sort of vibe I would want from a photographer if I were to do a studio shoot.

But even more valuable than the photos, the virtual boudoir experience gave me the confidence to take more photos on my own. Katelyn’s advice has been to try to do it more regularly, so lucky for my boyfriend, I now take semi-regular sexy photos in my new ongoing effort to normalize seeing myself as a sexy, desirable person in these weird times. And who couldn’t use a bit more of that in 2020?


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