OKLAHOMA CITY — With a mimosa handy while getting her hair and makeup done on a recent Sunday morning, Becky English looked as calm as a professional model just moments before posing for her first boudoir photos.
“It’s great,” the Yukon resident told The Oklahoman. “I’m having a good time.”
Holding still for stylist Ashlee Medina, English was preparing to get her photos taken by Southern Belles Boudoir, a south Oklahoma City studio run by longtime friends Rachel Birchett and Ashley Gunnin.
The photographers are riding the popularity of women — and some men — signing up for boudoir sessions as a way to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and personal achievements like weight loss, or just to have good fun.
On the photo-sharing platform Instagram, one account dedicated to boudoir photography has attracted more than 870,000 followers. The hashtag #boudoir is in more than 4 million posts on the social media site.
Oklahomans have a keen interest in the art form, judging by search engine analytics.
From the time Instagram launched in October 2010 until the day English got her photos shot in early June, the Sooner State ranked No. 4 in the nation for Google searches of the phrase "boudoir photography," as a fraction of total searches within a state.
And cowgirls apparently love them some boudoir. During the same time period, Oklahoma was only outdone by Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming.
"Once they get into it, it's really fun," Birchett said. "Most of the time they do this for a significant other — that's usually the reason people go into boudoir pictures. When they leave, they realize it's more for them. The girls get this boost of confidence. They get pampered and remember how beautiful and sexy they are."
Birchett and Gunnin met about 13 years ago through their husbands, who were in the Navy.
Both were doing photography on their own, but while stationed in Maryland, they partnered together in the craft and shot weddings. Boudoir changed the course of their business.
"We did our first boudoir and instantly fell in love with it," Gunnin said. "We got to spend that one on one time with our clients. It was less stressful than the weddings. We gradually went from the weddings to strictly boudoir. It took a little bit of time. Once our husbands retired, we got back to Oklahoma and started focusing on boudoir."
Southern Belles is a body-positive studio that photographs women regardless of their body type or age. They also snap boudoir photos for couples.
Typically before a session, Birchett and Gunnin will communicate with a client several times to go over preparation and what to expect. Look out for that sunburn before coming in. Bring anywhere from three to five outfits. The studio also has a wardrobe. Sometimes women aren't sure what they will look their best in.
"They come in and they'll have a huge suitcase and dump it on the bed and we figure out what works and what doesn't," Gunnin said.
Hair and makeup on site takes about an hour. The shooting lasts a couple hours. It's a professional environment and experience. Unfortunately, there are those in the industry who take advantage of clients with cheap and quick sessions, uncomfortable shoots and poor photos.
"Just do your research," Birchett said. "Do your Google reviews. You will pay for what you get. It's hard to pay $50 and get this amazing experience."
English wanted to do a boudoir session for an upcoming anniversary with her husband. The mother of two emerged from a room after the first part of her shoot, clad in a black robe covering her outfit, ready to hit the sofa for more posing.
“It was fun,” she said. “It was exactly how I expected it to be.”