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Check Out Shelby Manson’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shelby Manson.  

Hi Shelby, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I grew up in a small town just north of Grand Rapids called Sparta. I have a lot of memories from my childhood and formative years and I wish they were better. They were years upon years of being ashamed of myself, never living up to family expectations, hiding my body’s shape and size through humor, and pretending like the giggles and stares didn’t bother me. And I hated myself. I hated myself so much that I scribbled my fave out of yearbooks so friends and family couldn’t look back at how ugly I thought I was. Ugly and the dreaded… fat. Growing up in West Michigan you are no stranger to that which is the “Bible Belt”. So, I also hid behind things like my friends from my church. I spent all of my time either at church or with those friends because I felt safe from harmful words. Like, because we were all Christian they wouldn’t acknowledge or make fun of my body. And they didn’t. But that only led to another form of shame I had towards not only my body but all female bodies. How dare we tempt the boys. It’s our job to preserve their fragile minds and to make sure we don’t corrupt them. And that’s where most of my growing up was steamed in. The church and the church’s idea of a woman’s body and how we are supposed to use caution with our bodies. While I was attending Bible college, I started working for Family Christian Bookstores. This is honestly where my life started to pivot. One of my coworkers’ sides hustled as a boudoir photographer and at first, I judged her. Hard. But her images were so beautiful and the women in her photos looked so free and peaceful. But I was also still holding on to nasty comments from elementary school and the church’s perception of womanhood so it was a very uncomfortable idea. Fast forward a few years when I finally started to decide what being a woman meant to me, what connecting with my body is supposed to be like, and want to erase the shame I held onto regarding my feelings towards myself and my body. I asked a friend to help me “dabble” in the idea of boudoir photography, mostly to stand out from my sister who already was a well-renowned family and wedding photographer. That one day of tip-toeing into the unknown changed me forever. I started healing from the inside out and decided, I want other women to feel this freedom. It’s not even about the trends or sexy or kinky photos… it’s about choosing yourself and really wanting to transform your relationship with your body. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Most definitely…not. No. I ran into things like family not being fully supportive and feeling shame for the path I’ve chosen since all of my social media is flooded with my church family, Bible college friends, and family members. It was also a struggle to find models or friends who were willing to help get you started. It’s a very vulnerable experience for the person in front of the camera and not everyone is willing to share their images online. Not to mention the world of imposter syndrome, my own healing, learning how to run a business, and finding my personal style and niche. It’s all a bit of a whirlwind and I will forever run into bumps in the road. But I wouldn’t rather be on any other road. Because even though there are bumps and potholes, the views are spectacular and you meet the best individuals along the way. 

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I’m a dark and moody boudoir photographer who specializes in sentimentality and intimacy with yourself. There are so many boudoir photographers out there, especially in the Grand Rapids area. And every single one of them I’ve gotten to know is extremely talented. I love being a part of their community. But I realized I didn’t have the passion in me for bright images, super kinky styles, or overly edited skin. And none of those things are wrong but they’re not me staying true to me or my passion. What sets me apart from other boudoir photographers in West Michigan is not only my moody style that hints at the mystery, but you can feel the images, almost like poetry. You see the subject connecting with themselves and a woman and their sexuality. It’s a very intimate experience. 

Can you share something surprising about yourself?
Outside of the fact that I work two other jobs and I graduated from Bible college, I think they’d also be surprised to know that I still attend and sing in church almost every Sunday. My own views may have changed from what I was taught growing up, but my faith and what I choose to believe in is still a huge part of who I am and even why I do what I do. 

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