This past week, Bluestockings Boutique released their first ever queer lingerie photo shoot. All models were LGBTQIA+ identified, along with the photographer, makeup artist, and boutique owner. It was an intersectional affair from start to finish, and the results are most excellent — proof positive that queer feminists should be in charge of everything.
Bluestockings is a queer owned, queer-inclusive, eco-friendly lingerie and underthings retailer with a mission to empower “people who have been marginalized by the mainstream lingerie industry and to offer them an experience that reflects their identities, their bodies, and their values.” As boutique owner Jeanna Kadlec has explained on the Bluestockings blog, the lingerie industry has a long history of exploiting homoeroticism between women while simultaneously ignoring its LGBTQIA+ customers. For her own company, she felt strongly about producing original imagery for the store that would represent queer and trans bodies and identities in a realistic, respectful, body positive way — in spite of the severe financial limitations she faces as an independent, queer businesswoman.
“Launching Bluestockings was an entirely uphill battle. I had no business background, no industry connections. Most powerfully: I had no money,” she wrote frankly. “The most salient example of how financial limitations as a new business owner affects the photo shoot? I can afford one day of shooting. That’s it. This means that I can’t afford to reshoot every product with multiple models from multiple angles … There are 140+ products here. Shooting all of them on multiple people? We are talking days and days of shooting, which, bluntly, would wipe the business out financially. This photo shoot is not going to be representative of all queer people for all time. It’s one photo shoot.” Still, after saving Bluestockings’ business profits for four months in order to be able to afford the photo shoot, she was determined to make it count.
Prior to the shoot, Jeanna, the models, and photographer Michelle Davidson-Schapiro met at a queer-owned coffeeshop to talk about what they wanted out of the shoot. They collaborated to establish hard limits (for example: no lace, no pink) and discuss special requests (for example: nerdy board games as props). Looks were created that took into consideration what the models said they wore in their everyday lives. And following the shoot, per the agreed upon retouching policy, none of the models’ bodies were altered or edited (with the exception of removing one tiny bruise from one of the models’ legs).
“Getting to wear pretty underwear was definitely a plus, but the photo shoot provided an opportunity to embrace and show off my body in an affirming setting, which isn’t something that (at least in my experience) the world offers trans women terribly often,” model Alexis Edwards told Autostraddle. “Also, I got a couple of my very favorite bras from Bluestockings, which is a pretty big deal given how much of my transition I’ve spent despairing of ever finding comfy, cute bras for those of us with smaller breasts and wider chests.”
“Now that the photos are out, it’s been fucking incredible to see the positive feedback from other transfeminine folks who are grateful to see a trans woman modeling,” Alexis continued. “I work for a Boston-based transgender advocacy organization, and finding positive ways to represent trans bodies is something that I think about a lot. Most clothing isn’t designed with trans people in mind, and we’re never taken into account in photos or product descriptions. It’s incredibly difficult to imagine yourself wearing a piece of clothing comfortably when everything signals that it’s not for you, even more so for something as gendered and emotionally-charged as underwear. I really hope that more queer-friendly retailers take Jeanna’s cue, because it’s a huge deal to see other queer and trans folks wearing high-quality lingerie, which is usually coded as the exclusive purview of middle-class cis-hets.”
On their personal blog, another model Lore Graham characterized the photo shoot as “one of the most body-positive and gender-affirming experiences I’ve had in my life.” They elaborated, “Getting my breasts and internal reproductive organs removed was a vital step towards being happier with my body and confirming my nonbinary gender. However, we still live in a society with a lot of narrow beauty standards that glorify and sexualize breasts, while scars are viewed as unappealing, if not downright ugly. I still struggle with some of these messages, since I internalized many societal beauty standards while being raised as a girl. As such, being part of the photoshoot was a little bit scary for me, but I wanted my nonbinary self to be visible through this photo shoot, scars and all.”