Considering that most media coverage regarding orthodox Jewish women tends to focus on restrictive modesty guidelines, it was refreshing to read about a surprising new trend among younger married orthodox women – boudoir glamour photos.
Apparently, in certain orthodox communities in Israel and the US, Jewish women are catching onto a trend that has grown popular among secular brides and wives – taking lingerie photos for their spouses to celebrate marriage, anniversaries, or birthdays.
An article in The Guardian reports that boudoir photography is making inroads among orthodox women because “there is room within the sphere of religious Jewish life for a personal connection to the erotic, as long as it is handled with care.”
The article goes on to say that boudoir photography speaks to religious women, because unlike the stark and often crass nature of pornography, boudoir photography is all about softness and suggestion. While Jewish women adopt strict dress codes for public consumption, no such restrictions apply between a woman and her husband. As long as the photos are taken by a female photographer and are only for the viewing pleasure of her spouse, there is technically nothing objectionable in taking such photos.
Interestingly, the article interviews and mentions several female photographers, as well as female stylists, hair, and makeup artists who all work to make sure the model ends up with pictures that make her feel beautiful and sexy.
“A has purchased today’s boudoir session as an eighth anniversary gift for her husband. The photos will be presented to him in an album and remain private between the two of them. The shoot, which begins with hair and makeup by Cassy Avraham, a fellow religious woman in Jerusalem, lasts three hours. A poses in six-inch black stilettos, a number of lacy nightdresses, and even one of her husband’s unbuttoned dress shirts. But while she thinks he will be delighted by the photos, she says she wouldn’t want anyone in her community to know about the experience. It’s simply too private.”
Boudoir photography has opened up a new avenue for creative women to explore their interests in ways that have never before been available within the frum community. Apparently, it’s a lucrative field as well.
Chaya Eckstein, a religious boudoir photographer based in Flatbush, Brooklyn, charges $650 for a photo shoot. The price includes a lingerie consultation beforehand and a 10×10 album of images. Most of Chaya’s clients wouldn’t want their friends and neighbors to know that they have booked boudoir photo sessions with her. She told The Guardian that she understands her clients’ concerns about keeping their sessions with her private.
“Religious communities are small, tight-knit, and fertile grounds for gossip. Many Orthodox women view boudoir photography as a form of gross sexualization. She [Chaya] knows that when her four young children get older and enter religious schools, there is a good chance they will be teased over her profession.
But Eckstein loves her work, and she shrugs off the backlash. “I like to be different,” she says. “I am trying to raise my kids to have a mind of their own, as well. I want them to choose a path in life that is between them and Hashem [God], and when it comes to my photography it’s the same.””
The end of the article quotes both Chaya Eckstein and another boudoir photographer from Israel, Rebecca Sigala. Both women shared their observation that a religious woman’s experience taking photos that celebrate her sexuality can be liberating. Eckstein said,
““For frum women, it can be extremely difficult to perceive themselves as beautiful. They’re always having babies, or their friends are having babies and they can’t, and they feel their bodies are somehow damaged,” she says. “But everyone is beautiful in their own way, and by the end of the shoot, they can see themselves differently.”’
Sigala, who also reported being criticized for her work, said that the more religious her clients are, the more freeing the sessions can be:
““There are a lot of misconceptions within the religious community, and there are women who feel trapped by those misconceptions,” she says. “This can open their eyes to realizing that can be a religious, modest, beautiful daughter of Hashem and still do something like this.””
I wonder how religious husbands feel about their wives taking boudoir photos? Are the women booking sessions on their own initiative, or at the request of their husbands? Have any of the husbands been angry or expressed discomfort upon receiving the photos? Are there women who go back for multiple photo shoots? How do the women find out about the boudoir photography services (especially if they don’t have internet)? Have they asked their rabbis for permission to take these photos, or are they going rogue and taking the pictures without asking a shaila?
Questions abound, but one thing is certain – every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Just like bootlegging and underground speakeasy joints abounded during the prohibition era, so too underground methods of expressing beauty, sexuality, and physicality are going to bubble up for women during the hyper-tznius era.
A woman’s body can’t be contained – our sexuality and sensuality are intrinsic parts of who we are. Living in a larger secular world where the feminine form is on constant display – sometimes as an art form to worship and other times as an object to degrade – one thing is clear – telling Jewish women to cover up in a society where women are celebrated for exposing themselves is futile. Where there is a will, there is a way – and some religious women seem to have found their way.