Lindsay Rae had quite the journey. She moved to New York City when she was 19. With her, she brought two suitcases, $1,800, and a hope and dream to be on Broadway. She was young and struggling to support herself when her agent, Roger Paul, brought her in to work for him. It was that job offer that started Lindsay’s foray to the opposite side of the camera.
Lindsay’s experience first began on the client-side of the camera, which is why she feels she is able to evoke emotion and a more realistic sense in her photography. It’s because she started as an actor.
In New York City, you can’t have just one job, especially if one of those jobs is a starving actor! You’ve typically got to have three or four jobs in order to survive. Lindsay started publishing for a company called Media Planet, where they created inserts for USA Today and the New York Daily News. Their editorial team got to interview Patti Stanger from a Millionaire Matchmaker. (Lindsay notes she’s exactly the same in real life as on the show) as well as many other celebrities through the work.
It was during Lindsay’s time at Media Planet that the Lewis Agency recruited her to produce red carpet events and photoshoots. On set for VH1’s Rock Your Fashion Runway Show, Mr. Lewis offered her the job of an Associate Producer for his production company and Chairperson for the 2009 Fashion for RAINN. This opportunity defines this period of Lindsay’s life.
In 2011, she got married and moved out of the city past Albany. Though the relationship didn’t work out with her now ex-husband, Lindsay has no regrets leaving NYC and following him north because it was there that she found her passion.
But let’s back up the timeline just a little to when Lindsay was 12 or 13 years old. GE Auto had gone under, and her father had lost his job. Their family went from being well off to being very poor. At that time, they were struggling to survive on welfare and food stamps.
“I always noticed beautiful, fine art nudes when I would go to my friend’s houses whose parents were more well off. This is why I associate fine art nude work with luxury,” Lindsay explains. “What developed Self Love Experience™️ into a worthy experience was my desire for as many women as possible to see themselves as a luxury worth investing in. This work sources female power, upholds women’s rights, and gives as much strength as possible to each woman we meet.”
Learn more about Lindsay’s journey, her business, and her photography below.
Our Interview with Lindsay Rae: Body Image Activist and Owner of Self Love Experience
What are your goals/mission for the photography you do? And why is it so important to you?
I help women overcome negative body image and low self-esteem through Self Love Experience™ photography sessions. Stemming from a very difficult upbringing with a family on welfare to building a multiple six-figure business selling my empowering art in NY, my focus is self-love, self-confrontation, overcoming negative body image, “body insecurity”, and seeing yourself as more than scars of your past.
Over the past six years, more than 600 women have stripped down in front of my camera to rediscover their beauty. In crafting nearly 400,000 frames of these beautiful humans of all shapes, sizes, and colors, I’ve discovered firsthand just how deeply damaging our culture’s obsession with beauty propaganda is.
Why does it matter?
Society tells women that we have to fit into this tiny narrow-minded mold of what is considered beautiful. I believe confidence in the skin you are in trickles into every aspect and relationship in your life, and I give women permission to feel beautiful exactly as they are.
What does vulnerability mean to you?
Vulnerability and bravery go hand in hand. Bravery is the ability to do something scared. I often tell my daughter, Gaia, who is 7, that “being brave means that you are scared, but you do it anyway!”
Similarly, vulnerability is the ability to show yourself in ways that scare you. Showing parts of yourself freely despite your struggle to find confidence in them.
Be it difficulty finding confidence in a soft, jiggly belly or a struggle to remember that my worth as a woman is not diminished by needing medication for my anxiety. Vulnerability is a powerful form of inner strength building. It builds resilience as you learn your fears are often nothing more than ghosts of past ways of thinking.
What techniques do you use to help your clients explore their vulnerability?
The entire Self Love Experience™ is an exercise in vulnerability.
From the start, you have to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Just the decision to book a session and put yourself in front of my camera means that you are taking back your power from a society that tells you that you are not good enough.
I used to worry we were booking out too far in advance, that women may not want to wait for me. Instead, what I have learned, is that the waiting time is where much strength and courage is garnered through community! Our Self Love Experience™ Facebook community of close to 8000 women is working to support and normalize diverse bodies by sharing experiences, art, and stories in our group
Each time a woman chooses to share her art with others in the group, she gives other women power and takes power for herself by simply confronting her own self-judgment.
That being said, the choice to share art is 100% up to our clients. I would venture to say only about 35% of our clients opt to share their art. The rest keep it private. Client confidentiality and trust are of utmost importance to us.
From the time the client walks in the door to our studio, they know they are giving up control to a team that they have only previously met online.
It is our job to make the studio and shop spaces feel like home – like hanging out with old friends who you have not seen in years. Vulnerability seems easy and effortless when you know you are in a judgment-free zone, supported 100% in your journey with us.
I let our clients know that it is my responsibility to make sure that they look good on camera, not theirs. I take the weight of responsibility off of their shoulders to allow them an experience free of self-judgment. This in itself is a powerful practice in self-acceptance.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about yourself through the photography work you’ve done with your clients?
As a woman, I like to be able to see things from multiple perspectives. I am CIS and straight. I often have to step outside of my viewpoint to create more sexually charged art for my clients that want that style. This has actually been something that’s pushed out of my own comfort bubble. As somebody that’s survived domestic abuse and sexual assault, it was hard for me to find comfort and trust in this specific type of energy.
It took seeing my clients trust me fully and completely to open up my own ability to trust and feel safe exploring this type of art again.
Every client comes in with a different story. Not every story is a survivor’s story, but every single woman has a story that impacts me. My clients change a microcosm of who I am as a person each time I click my shutter.
This work has not just been about healing my clients. Each woman I meet is also healing my trauma and becomes part of my own journey to self-love.
Do you have a favorite photograph that you’ve taken? What about it resonates so deeply with you?
Last year was an extremely volatile and explosive year for race relations in our country. After George Floyd was murdered at the hands of police, rallies for Black Lives Matter began popping up all over the United States. The one in Albany was particularly destructive to local businesses… As local business owners a few cities over in Troy planned for an 11,000 person March, many of us made the decision to board up our storefronts and paint the boards with words of support. To me, it was a beautiful act of community solidarity. I asked one of my Muses, Destini, an elegant, intelligent, and powerful Black woman, to go around town with me to memorialize the art. As we were shooting, a local business owner passed by and I asked if he wanted to jump into a few shots with Destini.
That exact moment in time my perspective and place as I saw myself as a white woman shifted. He said, “You see art, I see people afraid of me. We are not having the same experience.”
I put my camera down to discuss, with Destini, her perspective on what transpired. Initially, she saw the art like I did, until the shift in perspective was brought to her too… “These painted boards are here to protect you from me?”
Together we decided no more photographs in front of the boarded storefronts. We grabbed my gear to head back to the studio, as we did, we passed the police station…. barricaded from its own citizens it is designed to protect.
I asked Destini if we should try one more shot. She bravely jumped on the barricade and shot her fist with Black Power into the air.
This moment captured is my most powerful photo. It sits on my living room mantle as a reminder of my privilege and the strength that occurs when women listen to each other and raise each other up.
In moments of doubt or uncertainty, how do you build yourself back up?
The biggest step in battling my body insecurity was to follow other people like me on social media. I went to Instagram to find plus-size models and plus-size clothing stores to follow. It took roughly 30 days to see my scope of the world change from simply seeing myself represented.
I walk the walk as well as talk the talk when it comes to The Self Love Experience™. I have my photos all over my home. I call them my period or bad day photos. Those days where I am crampy, bloated, and having an all-around bad day are the days I rely on my art the most. I firmly believe you need to hang your art up on your walls. When you’re having that off day, seeing your badassery is the quickest way to reset your mind to realize your power.
For those struggling with a negative self-image, what have you seen that helps? What words of wisdom and encouragement could you offer?
We’re all a victim of the generation that created Photoshop, filters, and essentially, redeveloped plastic surgery. All we have seen in the media for the past 30 years are sample sizes 2 to 6, breasts that are 34 to 36 C/D, flawless skin, perfect, sparkly, white teeth… photoshopped, models.
No wonder we question ourselves and our own reality: “What’s wrong with me if I don’t look like everyone else I see? What’s wrong with me if I don’t look like the girl on the TV? What’s wrong with me that no matter how much I try, I can’t lose weight?” We can thank social media for these comparison spirals.
The hardest part of overcoming my own negative self-image was learning to look in the mirror. For years, I didn’t even have usable mirrors in my house. I would have them, of course, in the bathroom and in places that you couldn’t really look at yourself – I would hang mirrors so high with the excuse they made the room feel bigger because I never wanted anybody to ask why I didn’t have them in my home.
I couldn’t look at my own face. God forbid I tried to look at my own body or ever stand naked in front of the mirror…
I have an OCD-related BFRB disorder. I am a skin-picker. I have such severe and debilitating anxiety that when I get stressed, I dig literal holes into my skin and don’t realize it until someone points at me and says, “Hey, Lindsay, you’re bleeding.”
One of the worst things that happened to me in the pandemic was giving myself a skin infection on my chin from picking due to early shutdown stress. I made a virtual doctor’s appointment. Clear as day, the doctor looks at me through the camera and says, “Well, good thing there are masks, right, honey?”
A doctor said this about my face.
“Good thing there are masks, so other people don’t have to see your face.”
Of course, she didn’t say, “So other people don’t have to see your face,” but what do you think I thought when she said that?
This was an authority on my health, tearing me down.
In this experience, my mission was re-solidified with a passion for changing the way women’s bodies are discussed.
If you could go back and give yourself three pieces of advice when you started your career – what would you tell yourself?
Being a woman who is a size 20, I never felt like I could be good enough for anything. I made myself a victim of my own self-judgment and comparison.
I wish I knew when I began this journey, that you get to choose what you consume.
You get to pick who you scroll on Instagram. You get to pick what you watch on TV. You get to choose how you see the things on TV and relate them to yourself.
Do you watch the screen in HD and remind yourself that there are tricks professional cinematographers use to give the “flawless” look on camera? Do you go on social media, and on the days that you are feeling your most insecure, make a choice to unfollow the accounts that make you insecure?
If it’s your friend that makes you insecure (and that happens a whole lot, and it makes us feel awful about ourselves), mute them.
It doesn’t mean you don’t love your friends. What it means is that you appreciate your own consumption and how you choose to interact with the world.
We can’t hide from social media anymore. We can’t hide from the fact that it is the basis for 90% of our insecurity and our body issues, but we can control it.
I find it better than unfollowing is to mute. Give yourself 30 days on Facebook or Instagram to not look at the things that upset you.
Another major self-confrontation was coming to terms with the fact this war was not only me versus the entertainment industry or beauty industry, it was also a skirmish of me versus outdated ideals of myself.
For the record – it has been decided that 34-year-old Lindsay is way more badass than 24-year-old Lindsay. 🙂
Knowing that the world of Photoshop, social media filters, and general fakeness will only continue to grow – What can we do as mothers as we raise a new generation of empowered, strong women? What can we do to help our daughters see and appreciate their beauty?
It almost seems like it would be contradictory to put down Photoshop because I love editorial finishing.
Why would somebody say Photoshop is bad and then say they love it? I personally don’t think that there’s anything wrong with creating a fantasy with photoshop.
An important note, however: When my clients come in to choose their images, they see them toned with not an ounce of Photoshop.
I don’t want my clients to see themselves and have the ability to call their beauty a facade. I want them to come in and say, “I’m perfect,” because they are. I love watching clients looking at the art of themselves. I find immense gratitude in my ability to witness a woman seeing themself through my eyes… Seeing how beautiful their curves are, how indiscriminate their acne is, how beautiful their skin tone is.
I have photographed over 600 women, most of whom have stripped down for me, so I have a solid base to go on when I say that I know what real bodies look like, and I know how similar we all are despite thinking that we’re unique in the things that we don’t like about ourselves.
People don’t understand that in the movies and photography, the subjects don’t have flawless skin. No, the camera operator has diffusion filters over their lenses which scatter the light and diffract it to create a sense of blur over the skin. The entire beauty industry was built upon destroying your confidence to build it back up, and that’s something I refuse to play a part in.
Often children will emulate negative self-talk when they see a parent insecure. Our children look at us and say, “Oh, Mommy doesn’t like her belly. Well, now I don’t like my belly.”
I remember a time Gaia was four years old; she had on the cutest little baby crop top that she kept pulling down. This moment is vivid in my memory, she looked at me, and she said, “I don’t like my tummy, Mommy.” My heart shattered as it has never shattered before because a four-year-old doesn’t learn this from watching TV. A four-year-old doesn’t learn this from reading magazines. They can’t read. They learn it from watching their mothers tear themselves apart.
That was my motivation to change. I wasn’t intrinsically motivated to change for myself. There wasn’t a click or a trigger to motivate me, so I did it for my daughter. I made a pact to change the way that I communicated about my body to everybody else in the world, and most importantly to Gaia.
There is a strong chance that our children will grow up being significantly more secure in their bodies because we are going to be the generation of parents to set a new example in how you speak about yourself and we will be the generation that teaches our children the importance of self-worth.
We can create lasting change when we simply change how we speak about ourselves.
The passion in your voice for what you do is incredibly palpable. When you love your work as much as you do, how do you balance that passion with your “home life.” What are some of the ways you approach work/life balance that work for you?
The media is constantly telling us, “Love yourself, love yourself, love yourself,” yet here I am, a business owner of a business called “Self Love Experience™” and I’m telling you, “You do not have to fully love yourself today… But today, you need to take a small actionable step towards what you’re going to do to like yourself a little bit more tomorrow.”
Did you know one in four women has been a victim of some form or other of assault or sexual violence?
When you’re working in a way that involves more sexuality in the body, experience has shown me that there is physical protection that goes up in cases with this type of traumatic history.
In a sense, it is my job to help the client unwrap that protection from around themselves. It’s not my job to rip it away. It’s not my job to force you into doing something that makes you uncomfortable, but just gently give you a push outside of your comfort zone with a rope that you know I’m holding tight to pull you back if you need.
As you can probably tell, I become extremely emotionally invested in my clients.
I’m lucky to have the boyfriend I do now because when I finish a photoshoot, I come home drained. I can barely stand up after shooting because I pour all of myself into the client… but because I am so well supported by my partner, I can recharge guilt-free at home to get ready to do it all again the next day. I am a big believer in a mid-afternoon siesta to re-energize!
This work truly is an exchange of energy. Whether you believe in science, metaphysics, or religion, it is a known fact that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. There’s always tangible energy in the room when I am creating with a client, which alone makes for a wildly transformative experience.
What is your mantra?
I live by the motto, “If you look good you feel good, if you feel good you do good.”
The kinder you are, the more kindness spreads. Feeling good in your skin can catapult you into a positive spiral for change.
What’s next for you and your business?
We are currently booked with Self Love Experience™ until 2022. We put the remaining 2022 dates on sale for booking in advance as well as started our new program called The Boudie Bank. The Boudie Bank allows you to place a chosen small bit of money every month towards your session for next year AND you can save with a $100 bonus for all Boudie Banks that sign up this season.
I want to incentivize you to become part of the community that we’ve built. Part of the experience is the wait, the constant reminders you are worthy, and the camaraderie that is built with the other women in our community. The further you book out, the better.
I am also beginning the process of writing the book about my story and trauma.
My big dream, which I am finally putting into action, is to reach a much larger audience with my message of radical self-acceptance by speaking to as many as I can.
As women, loving ourselves is a near-impossible challenge. But through my work and the courageous women who trust me in their most vulnerable moments, I’ve learned it’s the relationship I have with myself that sets the tone for all of the other relationships in my life. Mixing my love of the stage with activism towards self-love is a fantasy that I absolutely will make a reality.
It is my life’s purpose to share the message of radical self-acceptance with as many humans as I can.