“I’m happy,” LeZandra, who chooses to keep her surname separate from her business, says emphatically.
However, this happiness isn’t just happenstance; it’s the result of years of dedication, years of learning to trust her gut, and years of building a community of supportive women.
LeZandra is a boudoir photographer whose business occupies a space on Granby Street. She smiles as she shares that her studio is on a block where four Black women, including herself, own their businesses.
Boudoir is a genre of photography that takes its name from the French word for bedroom. Traditionally, boudoir photographers photograph women in bedroom scenes, wearing lingerie and posing seductively, though these parameters are becoming more fluid as the genre evolves.
For LeZandra, boudoir is “a celebration of the human body and a celebration of the diversity that we all have, and the celebration of beauty in all its forms.”
“I went to school for psychology, to be a sex therapist,” says LeZandra, whose first few sessions as a photographer allowed her to discover an unexpected link between boudoir photography and therapy.
Her first session was with a small business owner who’d flown herself out to Hawaii, where LeZandra studied and wanted to take some photographs to celebrate herself. LeZandra loved “being able to give [her client] the ability to see herself in a different light.”
The second woman LeZandra worked with did sex cam work for a living, and she wanted new photos for her website. Despite her client’s experiences posing for a webcam, LeZandra was surprised at how nervous her client was during the shoot.
“She was shaking,” LeZandra recalls, even though they were shooting in the client’s home, “a four-million dollar house on top of this huge hill in Hawaii,” which she’d been able to afford because of her work in front of a camera.
From those experiences, “I realized very quickly that working with women and working with their vulnerabilities and in intimate spaces, how much it tied into the sex therapy that I was going to school for and how much it tied into my greater mission in life of working with women, so that’s where a love for [boudoir] was born.”
However, when LeZandra began getting involved in boudoir, there was a certain stigma to the profession. She said that many boudoir photographers had to work diligently to separate themselves from pornography. She says that over the decade that she’s worked in the industry, boudoir has become a more accepted form of art and less taboo as society makes strides in women’s empowerment and body acceptance. She notes that boudoir is becoming a more inclusive field.
In traditional boudoir photography, LeZandra says, “you don’t see a lot of marginalized people represented,” and instead, most subjects fall within this “one idealized beauty standard.”
However, “we’ve seen a new push for inclusion and diversity in the last few years,” LeZandra says, noting that such inclusivity takes a lot of dedication and intentionality from the photographers.
LeZandra believes that inclusive boudoir is crucial because it provides “representation for everyone. Everyone should be able to look at themselves and be represented in beautiful ways and see themselves depicted in sexual ways and sensual ways.”
She acknowledges that she understands the struggle with self-image because “growing up, I never saw bodies that looked like mine. I thought there was something wrong with my body” because it didn’t look like what the media portrayed as beautiful, “and that fed into a lot of body insecurity and body shame,” with which she had to grapple.
“The more that we show the beauty of human existence, the more we get to see that we are so much more beautiful and alike than we are different. The more that we have marginalized bodies represented, it benefits society as a whole,” LeZandra states.
Currently, because of all the toxic messaging around beauty standards, LeZandra says that she sees her clients working through those issues during their shoots.
While most of her clients are cisgender women, she also works with nonbinary people, trans women, and even men photographed during couples’ sessions with their partners. Regardless of gender, LeZandra says, “everyone is working to overcome shame about their sexuality or their body, or about how they live their lives or the role they play for others.”
Because “boudoir is a conscious act to celebrate yourself—something you are doing to actively change your perception of self,” LeZandra infuses therapy and acknowledgment of the vulnerability of the experience within her process with clients.
She works diligently to ensure that her clients have a safe, loving, and comfortable experience with her, using pre-session questionnaires and discussions before shooting. Doing so helps to identify any potential triggers or nervousness so that she can photograph them from a trauma-informed perspective. From conversations, she’s also able to learn about her clients, their motivations for being there, and what they intend to get out of their sessions.
During a boudoir session, women can shed the caregiving role that LeZandra says they typically take. Instead, they focus on themselves and “release those expectations of self” to hone on who they are “without all these roles and labels” that society places on women. The transformation that her clients go through can be pretty awe-inspiring to LeZandra, who says that the session allows them to “stop doubting themselves so much and they start interacting with the world in a more confident way.”
Virginia Bessette, who had a session with LeZandra in October 2020, said that “being a mother of six, I finally felt like it was time to do something for me and try to feel sexy,” but that before her session, “I was a nervous wreck; I almost wanted to back out of the session because my confidence was so low,” and she says she “just didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin.”
However, she says that the boudoir experience was transformative for her. From the professionalism and attention to detail by the hair and makeup artist Carly Vega, to the kindness, support, and empowerment she received from LeZandra, who helped put her at ease by demonstrating poses and hyping her up during the session.
“LeZandra really takes her time with your session to give you a very unique session. Before my session, I never met LeZandra in person, but she makes you feel like you have known her forever,” said Bessette.
“After the session, I will say I felt like I was on a high! I felt so empowered, felt sexy, and just felt good about myself. [It] really gave me a boost in confidence that I truly needed,” says Bessette, who “would recommend a boudoir session to anyone. I know for me I was always saying I will do it once I lost X amount of pounds or just coming up with excuses not to book. But I finally did something for me; nope, I didn’t lose that extra 5 pounds I had tried to lose and I went in accepting myself and my own beauty.”
Ellie Kay, another client of LeZandra’s, said that “having a session with her was one of the biggest steps I took in my self-love journey. Being photographed by her, the whole experience was incredible and was so transformative. From the moment we started shooting, I knew that this is going to be a complete 180 of the way that I saw myself. Even though I had already done a lot of self-work, this really just created such an incredible environment for me to embrace all of the beautiful things about myself and to really celebrate where I’m at.”
Kay says that LeZandra “was a huge part of that experience. She facilitated that in a way I never could have imagined. The photos were absolutely incredible. I felt so beautiful, and it was amazing to be able to spend the day with somebody who is so in alignment with themselves and their work and their passion.”
LeZandra says that she is lucky to have the opportunity to work with most of her clients multiple times. She gets to witness their growth as individuals within different shoots over the years and through the online community that she leads on Facebook many have joined.
She says that the women she works with “went through some heavy shit last year.” One of the most impactful things she saw was several of her clients feeling confident enough to leave abusive relationships, which can be a challenging experience that LeZandra deeply empathizes with.
LeZandra says that there are so many brutal truths about life that people, especially women, traditionally never speak of to a great extent.
“No one talked to me about abuse,” she says, recalling a past, unhealthy relationship. “There’s so much that women go through that they don’t talk about.”
Noticing this hole in communication, LeZandra determined a way to foster support and community for her clients and created a Facebook group that allows women to connect positively. She says this community is “important because women, throughout history, have not been supported by men,” and it provides for women to seek out friendships, share knowledge, and empower one another.
She loves that her group gives women “a safe space to talk and go to for advice… I’ve watched so many awesome friendships form,” and the monthly sex talks she hosted “really took off,” allowing women a nonjudgmental and accepting place to discuss body positivity, sex positivity, self-expression, and trauma.
Kay has experienced the community that LeZandra has built, and says that LeZandra “is so much a force for positivity, for uplifting, for empowerment. She’s constantly giving, she’s constantly supporting, she’s constantly creating opportunities, for not only her to use her platform for good, but she’s created a beautiful community that is centered around empowerment and connecting to yourself, and feeling your best. She as a public figure has done so much for so many people’s body confidence.”
Now that the pandemic has eased up, she is expanding her community reaches beyond the virtual realm, which she’d had plans to do before the pandemic; in late 2019, LeZandra moved into the 4500 square foot studio that she painstakingly renovated. She’s confident this space will be substantial and beautiful enough for photoshoots and community events, such as an in-person version of the sex talks she hosts online.
She also dreams of hosting things like “art galleries, pop-ups, workshops and classes for women who want to start their own companies” because she believes in the power of women having financial independence.
LeZandra opened her business when she was only nineteen years old. She essentially started from scratch and learned as she went, overcoming initial barriers in financial capital to establish her business. Now, it is a bit surreal to her that she is in a position where she “is figuring out her role as a boss” with employees working under her. She feels fortunate to now have the ability to be selective of how she spends her physical and emotional energy regarding her business.
Based on LeZandra’s experiences, the advice she has for budding entrepreneurs is that “it is really important to carve out your why and carve out your purpose,” and move forward after you “really spend time sitting with that.” Personally, she says she likes “to work backward to create the path” she’ll use to reach the goal she has envisioned, because “when you understand your passion and are rooted in your purpose, you can really figure out the rest.”
Kay believes that LeZandra was instrumental in achieving her financial independence; Kay owns Exalted Boudoir, and she says that LeZandra “has been an incredible support to me personally. When I got into boudoir, she was one of my biggest cheerleaders…. There have been numerous occasions where we were celebrating goals together, and her eyes would literally well up [because] she was so happy for me, and I think that tells you who LeZandra is.”
“She is such a supporter of the people that she loves and of her community, not just online, but also locally. LeZandra shows up to events, she participates, she is active in her community… There’s not a single event that she goes to where she’s not immediately recognized because she’s so supportive of this city, of this area, of the communities that have become home for her. We are so lucky to have her,” Kay gushes.
“I feel like I could seriously go on for days and days about how much [LeZandra] has impacted the world for the better. Everybody that she comes into contact with, she makes an impression on. I would say that there is almost always something positive to take from that exchange, and that’s powerful.”
Kay continues, “Her energy is absolutely breathtaking, and when she walks in her room, you can feel it. I think the thing about her that makes her so magnetic is that she’s so clear on her why and she’s so in alignment with who she is. [LeZandra] embodies everything that she believes in.”
Want to learn more or become a part of LeZandra’s community?
- Visit lezandraphotography.com
- Join her Babes-Only Facebook group, LeZandra Photography’s Boudoir Babe Cave
- Follow her Instagram @lezandraphoto
- Check out her intimates company, Lux In Tenebris, which is hosting an event on July 31