Inspired By: Devon Dadoly
Devon's boudoir photography is incredibly inspiring – their photography is refreshing, playful, and a new type of sexy that is rarely shown. Boudoir can bring up a lot of emotions and deep rooted trauma for some of us, but their work lets you show up as you are. Read on as we get to know Devon Dadoly.
Trigger Warning: Some of the content below contains references to alcoholism and disordered eating.
We were so taken with the sincerity, playfulness, and celebratory sense in your work. How did you get the idea to start a boudoir studio and what does inclusivity mean to you in your work?
I’ve been photographing “boudoir-style” photos for some years now (maybe 5 or 6?), but it never occurred to me that it could be my career.
I was always interested in body image and what defines that. I struggled with accepting my body for a long time, (disordered eating, drugs, alcohol), and something that really helped me was just looking at myself in the mirror everyday and occasionally taking self portraits. I had an idea that if this could help me, it would probably help others too. I take a lot of pride in knowing that none of the folks we photograph are professional “models”. The folks you see smiling, playful, and being tender with their bodies on our feeds are “regular, everyday” people (some we know and some we are meeting for the first time during the session). We operate very casually, and we facilitate an experience of collaboration and choice.
Boudoir shoots can be a little intimidating - what advice do you have for a first time client?
I can confidently say that we don’t operate like the “champagne and pearls” type of studios I’m used to seeing on Instagram. We invite folks to take the leap and come as they are, not wait to become who they think they should be in order to have a session. I try to share photos of lots of different bodies in lots of different outfits (boudoir does NOT just mean lingerie or nude) because it’s important for me to reinforce that we are here to break down barriers and reset the standard for what “boudoir” is. We also try to show our faces a lot on our feeds and actively communicate with our followers so folks can get a sense of who they'll be spending time with in the studio. Additionally, I’m always reading up on new ways to reduce harm and sharpen my trauma-informed lens in the studio.
Some things I’ve asked friends who’ve been questioning participating in a session: Think about what it would look like for you to be “ready” for a boudoir shoot. Are you smaller? Why? Are you “more confident”? What does that mean? Do you look different than you do right now? How? Personally, I’ve never had anyone regret a session, but almost everyone who was hesitant at first wished they’d done the session sooner!
What does body positivity and body neutrality mean to you? Do you feel the terms are reserved for certain sizes or people or are these terms that all people should be using?
I talk about this ALL THE TIME. I could go on forever about these topics, but for this blog, I’m going to focus on my personal body journey. Also, this is not a comprehensive reflection - I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot of thoughts right now. I wasn’t always in a body this size - it’s been less than ten years that I would consider myself as living in a fat body, and it’s been less than 3 years that I've actually been accepting of that. I never had many friends in larger bodies growing up either, so the concept of body positivity didn’t even enter my world until a few years ago. Knowing what I know now, these schools of thought are welcome to anybody, however, it is imperative that marginalized folks should be uplifted and centered within these spaces.
STAGE 1 - BODY POSITIVITY
At first, body positivity gave me hope. It gave me community and allowed me to become a better friend to myself. Without it, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today. That being said, body positivity was just a stepping stone on my journey to body acceptance and neutrality.
Body Positivity (née Fat Acceptance Movement) is a social movement created for and by Black women, trans folks and disabled folks who have little (if any) visibility in society. Originating back to the 1960s, the original intention of the movement was to shed light on stigma and discrimination towards these communities and eliminate bias. More recently, the Body Positivity movement has been co-opted by thin, mostly white-centered, ableist spaces (heath and wellness, beauty, fashion, marketing) for financial gain, clout, and performative allyship. Similar buzzwords I take umbrage with are “inclusive” “accessibility” and “safe space”. Over the years, body positivity lost its luster for me. I was finding it hard to maintain a connection to myself when the bodies entering “body positive” spaces no longer looked like mine (outside of my skin color).
STAGE 2 - BODY NEUTRALITY
As my search for community widened, I realized that body positivity wasn’t the destination, and there had to be concepts beyond that. The thought leaders and influencers I was following were unabashedly talking about fatness. At first, I was horrified with the idea that someone would want to claim that title (I was much more comfortable with identifying as plus size) but eventually I understood why using the word was important. Reclaiming fatness was yet another step on the journey to body and fat acceptance. I started to see that body positivity was no longer achievable, and that even using the term positivity in connection to my body image became exhausting. The truth is, I’m not always positive about my body, and I find it much easier to tune it out. For me, body neutrality meant shutting down my opinions about my body and turning on the care for my mental health. Eventually this way of thinking stopped serving me as well. I wanted a way to connect my mental health and my body connection.
STAGE 3 - BODY/FAT ACCEPTANCE
In my world, body and fat acceptance is a merging of self-care/self-love practices in both physical form and mental/emotional form. Reaching this stage helped me to understand that I could have equilibrium in my body image and mental health. No longer was I limited to the idea that I couldn’t have one without the other. Acceptance is such a great word. To me, it’s achievable. Because I accept a lot of things in my life - things I don’t like, things I do like and things that I’m neutral about. Lately, I find myself bouncing back and forth between body acceptance and body neutrality.
Do you have thoughts on how straight sized folks can be better activists for the larger bodied community?
I think that everyone, I mean literally everyone, needs to examine their bias surrounding bodies as they relate to race, ability, size, gender, etc. Once we are able to name and talk about our biases, then we need to learn from and listen to the stories of folks in different bodies than our own.
That being said, there are a few things in particular that I’d like to address regarding fatness and accessibility:
When shopping in stores, examine the largest size available on the rack. There are very few options (let alone stylish ones) available in popular stores or in their online catalogue above an XXL or 2X. Advocate for extended sizing (5X+) to be available.Advocate for larger and extended sizing in sustainable clothing. Most extended size clothing available is considered “fast fashion”. There’s a lot of criticism easily thrown at folks who don’t shop sustainable, which is horribly classist and ableist. Sustainable fashion in extended sizing (5X+) just isn’t available. There are some great companies that are doing sustainable fashion for fat folks, and doing it really well, but there needs to be a push for more of that.Fashion labels need to consult with real folks, or even designers, in marginalized bodies (fat, disabled, etc.) when designing. Lots of brands’ extended sizing is not made to fit actual fat bodies (waistbands don’t extend far enough, not enough room between waistband and crotch, shoulders aren’t cut wide enough, not enough wiggle room for larger bellies with small appendages).
It’s easy to look past the fact that your furniture is not built stable enough for larger bodies when you exist in a small one. Do you have stable furniture to accommodate folks larger than you? Chairs with arms… not always great.
That’s all I can think of for now, but I’m sure I’m missing a bunch of things.
(TW: brief mention of alcohol and drugs)
I’m currently reading “The Sober Lush: A Hedonist's Guide to Living a Decadent, Adventurous, Soulful Life – Alcohol Free”. I’ve been living drug and alcohol free for some years now and this book has been super affirming as far as reminding me that there is so much pleasure to be had in recovery.
Rest - It’s always been really important to me that I schedule time for rest and recuperation. I have a tendency to get really overwhelmed and rundown if I schedule too much in my weekly schedule, so it’s better for me to schedule some days off for myself whenever I can.
Water - I get dehydrated really easily, and if I don’t get enough water, I get really anxious. So… water is absolutely necessary for my mental health.
When I was in college, I suffered from really painful acne all along my chin and cheeks. It was so unbearable at times that I had to sleep on my back instead of on my side with my face brushing up against my pillow. Ever since then, I’ve been dedicated to washing my face nightly before bed and sticking to a solid skincare routine. I’ve always loved trying new things, but there are a few products I’ve been using for years that I will probably never stop:
1. Initial cleansing with micellar water or coconut oil to remove my makeup.
2. Wash CeraVe Foaming Facewash or CeraVe Hydrating Face Wash.
3. Homemade toner that I make with Thayer’s Rose Witch Hazel, distilled water, a few drops of tea tree oil and a few drops of frankincense.
4. Pat some retinol serum on my face and roll it in with a jade facial roller (I keep mine in the fridge).
5. When the serum is absorbed, I use a light moisturizer, followed by some rosehip oil.
6. During the winter (my skin gets sooooo dry), I put a salve on my face at night. The one i’m using now is from an Amish market in Lancaster.
Slippers – without a doubt! I even have pairs of shoes that are dedicated to my house and studio. I prefer to wear shoes… even over slippers indoors.
I’m currently watching a show on HBOMax called “The Undoing”. It’s a limited series and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it yet. It’s got all the elements of mystery shows that I love, but there are definitely parts that I wish were more enticing.
I don’t have the greatest relationship with sleep. Rest is a practice that I treasure so much and even plan my week around, but when it comes to actually SLEEPING, I have a tough time. I’m very low energy in the morning and find that my most productive hours are at night. I’d definitely prefer to stay up late and wake up in the afternoon. I recently discovered that 10-11 hours a night is my optimal sleep schedule.
The last thing I do before I go to bed is look at my calendar to see what I have scheduled for the next day (a habit left over from my corporate office days). I also have a few supplements for sleep and immunity that I take before bed.
All photos credited Mare Manifold.