What better time to do a boudoir shoot than when you may be dying of cancer?
That was the question sexuality coach Pamela Madsen posed to her sister Tracey this summer as Tracey was undergoing grueling treatments for stage 4 breast cancer. When the summer was over, and Tracey was not, Pamela asked New York based photographer Lori Berkowitz to schedule a boudoir shoot with both of them. The mission? To celebrate Tracey’s life, and capture the essence of the sisters’ bond. Read on for Pamela and Tracey’s reflections on their scantily-clad, bad-ass romp in front of the camera.
To be in our bodies together as sisters was a chance for us to come together and laugh at our humanness, our scars, our imperfections, and celebrate our bodies. It was capturing us together and apart, at our most vulnerable, naked and beautiful: facing the death that visits all of us in a celebration of life.
Going into the shoot, I had a lot of worries. Was my Rubenesque body too Ruben? What about the signs of aging showing in my face? Would Tracey be well enough to do the shoot? I hoped that I would see beauty in myself and my sister captured on film.
My favorite shot of the two of us is the dressing room picture (above). I am standing behind my sister, helping her on with this hot, sexy red bra. When you have cancer, there is a lot of attention around doctors, needles, radiation, second opinions, and treatment plans. But here, Tracey is getting all this attention around being alive, vibrant, and sexy in her body instead of cancer. The radiance and happiness beaming from her face knocks my socks off and is met by the deep love and pleasure in my own face witnessing her joy.” – Pamela Madsen
I have gone through so much this summer: learning my cancer came back, planning my funeral, then learning I would live! I have always been self-conscious about how I look, especially my belly. I would never wear a two-piece bathing suit — and yet I felt that Lori (the photographer) allowed me to see that I could show skin and see myself as desirable. It was very liberating.
I work in healthcare. I have been running certified home health agencies my entire working life. I am a nurse by profession and a businesswoman for keeping people healthy. I haven’t “done” a lot of fun — and Pammy is definitely into fun! She decided that the boudoir shoot was what I needed and it was her job to make that happen.
For me, the shoot was about laughing at illness and pain. Throwing caution to the wind. Sharing this fun with my sister. Getting to a new place of feeling good about my body — at 61 — while going through a terminal illness.” – Tracey Sokoloff
It was incredible seeing the images of my sister as Lori took them. To see her getting her hair and make-up done. The pleasure of being prepped. Being in the happy attention of being celebrated in our bodies together was amazing. In some shots we were dancing together and it was so much fun. Getting to be her little sister again, but so much her support. But where I could tease her about having the better necklace. And play-fight over earrings. There were moments when we were lying together on the bed, my hand touching hers, that felt so poignant to me.” – Pamela Madsen
It’s funny. I wrote this, book, Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner (Rodale 2011), which is about my own journey healing my relationship with my body and sexuality. I work with women about self-image and this is a constant struggle: seeing ourselves as beautiful and sexy just as we are. We have to practice self-love. We are cultured out of loving our bodies and we have to keep practicing defiant self-love by going against what the culture keeps telling us is beautiful and sexy.
There is something defiant about this whole exercise, right? A woman over 50 and a woman over 60 getting naked and putting on lingerie. Not all of the parts exactly as they were when we were born. Yet adorning ourselves, and capturing it all on film.
There was a moment of wanting to shout, “Screw you, cancer! We are alive together, playing. You can’t take that. Screw you, age! So what if we’re in our 50s and 60s? We’re hot. Screw you, culture that says we can’t be gorgeous and sexy at any age, during any part of what life brings us. We can always play. We can always reach for the pleasure in our bodies. It is our life force energy and look at us play in it. Look at us being beautifully defiant in our bodies that have changed since we were young — and rocking it.” — Pamela Madsen