For a long time, boudoir photography has been thought of as something for women only. I saw it in my own business at the beginning. One day, I started searching the web for male boudoir photography, and I found lots of celebrities and six pack abs. There were a few “dad bods” but no other real photographic representation for male boudoir. So unless you were famous or heavily muscled, the only other option was photography of men for comedic purposes.
To me, boudoir photography shows every BODY deserves to have beautiful, artful photos of themselves. Boudoir portraits that show their personality, style, and sensuality (if they choose). Basically, their je ne sais quoi (pronounced zhuhnuhse kwa), which means an indefinable, elusive quality, especially a pleasing one. I can’t fully describe in words everything that boudoir photography is or can be, so I’ll let my photography tell the story in the slideshow below.
My goal is to use boudoir photography to help each person of any gender to…
Feel more comfortable and confident in their body,
See themselves as extraordinary, beautiful, and worthy of love, AND
Have a unique, unforgettable experience with the photos to prove it!
A little backstory…
In the 2010s, I would get a few calls a year from men looking for male boudoir photography. But they were only looking for someone to take their photos as a joke. The main request was to do the “George Constanza.” Just look up “The Timeless Art of Seduction” which is in Season 8 Episode 5 “The Package” of the Seinfeld TV series. Basically, Kramer convinces George to create “enticing photos,” and they do a mock boudoir photo shoot. The final photo is printed large and is shown as an embarrassing joke.
Moving on to around 2016, when male boudoir photos or as some say “Dudoir” (dudeoir rhymes with boudoir) started to become more noticeable. But a large majority of these dudoir photos were done as a joke or simply to go viral on the web. There is nothing wrong with taking silly photos in boudoir photography, but I wanted to approach it differently.
A mutual friend referred my first official male boudoir client to me. From our first phone call, I told him that I had never done male boudoir photography before, but I was ready to try. I wanted my client to feel comfortable and confident at his photo shoot. Before the shoot. I did some research, spoke with photography peers, and made a plan ,which included a practice shoot with my husband. It went really well, and he even wanted to come back and do ANOTHER boudoir session. The rest is history. Yes, Boudoir Photography is for men too! Boudoir is for ALL gender identities.
For 2021, I choose three words that I want to guide my focus for this year…. INCLUSION, CREATION, & INNOVATION. I am working through updating the website, social media, and throughout the business to be more accessible, more inclusive, address any other concerns, and update the imagery too. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and I wanted to share some growth and history with you.
I was brought up in a family with a verbally and emotionally abusive mother. My father died when I was thirteen. They had brought me up in a cultish religion where only they (the religion) had the answers, and everyone else was wrong. Changing your views was considered sinful and wrong… even when new information from many verified sources disproved that view/value. Hating yourself and putting your needs/boundaries last was considered the highest good. Many lies were fed to me through this religion, and any negative things about the religion or respected leader were hidden. Guilt, shame, and fear were the motivations to do “the right thing” as they defined it… and most of the religion’s values were either racist, misogynistic, homophobic, ableist, etc… and a lot of times a deadly cocktail of some of or all them. Add to this my struggles with undiagnosed ADHD (until summer 2020) and never feeling like enough or feeling like too much.
Fast forward to high school where I started questioning a lot of the misogynistic practices in my high school. Then to college and after, getting married, and having kids. Throughout my life, I never thought of myself as hot, sexy, or even beautiful. I thought of myself as cute, silly, quirky, and very awkward. When I started photography in the family business through weddings, I kept seeing again and again how only women who looked a certain way were in the movies, tv, magazines, models, advertising, etc. And that the view of a women’s beauty and her worth was only if she met this impossible criteria. I photographed my first boudoir shoots in 2010 and connected the dots… that all women are beautiful and should feel that way.
So when the mellBella Photography brand started in January 2011, our mission was to “remind women they are more beautiful than they think they are. Specializing in women’s photography to honor these Bella Beauties and the men they love.” WOW! Thankfully, we’ve done A LOT of growing since then. That mission was problematic… exclusive in several ways. We had a very narrow view of boudoir photography and what it was back then. Coming into boudoir photography as wedding photographers, we narrowed our focus to only brides either getting married or as gifts for wives to get their husbands. BUT that excluded LGBTQIA+ persons… it excluded any other gender… it excluded people who weren’t married… it excluded people who didn’t have a partner… and it made it only about a gift for someone else. And on top of all that, we had very little diversity in our clients.
How did/do I change it? It came/comes through putting in the hard work personally and through the business…. education and communication. Being open to changes to learning… not being afraid of being wrong… apologizing and taking the steps to correct the problems…and changing the goal to not only became a better photographer but also a better human. To create a welcoming, safe place, and fabulous experience for our clients. And to always be learning, admit wrong doing, when you mess up–make up for it as best as you can, and to put love and kindness above all else. I have invested in education through The Boudoir University I’m over halfway through their foundational program called The 7 Pillar Program: The Course for Photographers Who Give A Damn. “The pillars are designed to confront blind spots, outdated belief systems, and biases that we all have when it comes to the human experience. In order for us to become more empathetic and thus, more empowering, we need to open ourselves up to understanding experiences from different intersections.” Boudoir Photography is truly so much more than “pretty pictures” or just a “photo or tw0.”
So, what is the mellBella Photography mission/goals now?!? I don’t have a formal mission statement right now that is wrapped up nicely in one sentence… but here’s what I value:
- EVERY BODY is beautiful. EVERY SINGLE BODY is freaking gorgeous simply because it exists.
- Boudoir Photography isn’t just for females… it’s for ALL genders.
- For my clients to see themselves with loving eyes instead of hypercritical ones.
- Celebrating YOUR version of beautiful, sexy, happy, strong, silly, sensual, etc.
- Confirmation, Detoxification, Communication, Exhilaration, Declaration, and Affirmation of YOU
- Creating a Safe Space of respect, trust, peace, vulnerability, emotions, and comfort combined with fun and laughter.
- An experience that puts back into someone…reminding them to value themselves… appreciate their bodies… AND yes, even CELEBRATE.
Here’s just a small sample of the portraits I’ve been doing. I dedicate to my unforgettable clients, my friends, and family who support me and my work:
Here’s a little something new we added to our studio… the Inferno Wings! These gorgeous gray wings can be added on to your session as an additional set. We can set the scene for a moody dark angel or maybe you want something a little more heavenly. What will you be?
It’s been a while since I introduced myself. I’m Mell Bell… yes THE Mell Bell of mellBella Photography. I’m the photographer, artist, creative, designer, ride or die, never gonna give you up, cheerleader, etc. kind of person. My pronouns are she/her.
I’ve been a photographer with Richard Bell Photography since 2005. So I got my start in wedding and family portrait photography with my husband, Nathan, son of Richard Bell. I’m so thankful to be a part of the family business, but something was missing. In 2010, I photographed my first boudoir session, and after that, I knew THIS was the missing piece. So, with a lot of planning, long hours, and hard work, I founded the mellBella Brand with my dear friend. (Naming the company, Richard Bell Boudoir wasn’t going work. Totally not sexy at all!) Over the years, we’ve added pinup, styled, sets, a client closet, and so many things. Every year, I introduce a few new things that help make the mellBella Experience even better. Always thinking and growing!
Because I feel it’s important to have a great relationship with my clients, we should get to know each other a little bit. So here goes…
- One of my favorite local organizations is the YWCA Greater Charleston. Their mission of eliminating racism and empowering women is very important to me.
- I have 2 daughters that are 8 years apart in age. What a BIG surprise indeed!
- I’m awkward and empathetic, but my super power is embracing the awkward and making people feel comfortable.
- I love my freckles, and I call them angel kisses.
- Flip flops are my shoe of choice, but I’ll rock a pair of heels for the right occasion.
- I wish I could do hair and makeup, but I leave that to the professionals.
- I pay homage to Lucille Ball with all my facial expressions.
- My favorite drinks are Coke Zero, Jack Daniels, Espolòn Tequila, Diet Dr Pepper, and of course water.
- I can eat ALL the pasta, pizza, and ice cream any time.
- I celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions with an impromptu dance party.
- Some of my favorite TV Shows are: POSE, Grey’s Anatomy, Schitt’s Creek, Supernatural, Queen Sugar, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Steven Universe, and more!
- I have too many movies to narrow down, but we’ll start with Crazy Rich Asians, Black Panther, Spider Man: Into the Spider-verse, and COCO are my more recent favs.
- My musical preference depends on the day or mood.
And finally I’ll end with a non Photoshopped boudoir photo of me, taken by me, and quote that is a mantra of mine.
“You are a very special person. There is only one like you in the whole world. There’s never been anyone exactly like you before, and there will never be again. Only you. And people can like you exactly as you are.” — Fred Rogers
For this One Image Wednesday, I wanted to share one portrait from our Over-the-Bed camera. We love dressing up the bed with complimentary colors to really set the mood. We love a messy bed! Whether you want go bold or more natural, we customize the look on the bed for you. For the Bella, we used black, gold, pink, and just for fun a rose gold necklace from our mellBella Closet. Her black lace shoes are also available from our mellBella Closet. What are your favorite colors?