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Local women find new strength through boudoir photos

Example of boudoir photography by Fargo photographer Yvonne Denault.

Looking in the mirror, all 30-year-old Chantal Thiel saw was flaws.

"I'd see that my face was very plain," says Thiel, a mother of two. "I'd feel fat, and I'd think that nobody would look at me twice."

It took stripping down to some sexy clothing - and even her underwear - for a photo shoot with a stranger to turn around Thiel's low self esteem.

It was something out of the ordinary and completely daring, but Thiel walked out of her boudoir photo session last month with Fargo photographer Yvonne Denault feeling beautiful.

"All of a sudden, you're using words you might not have used as adjectives for yourself - beautiful, sexy, powerful," Thiel says.

"Anyone who has any self-esteem issues should do it because you see yourself in a whole other light."

And Thiel's experience wasn't extraordinary; it's the norm, says Denault, who has been doing boudoir and pinup photo sessions in her downtown Fargo studio since 2009, when she stumbled upon the genre on other wedding photography websites.

"I didn't know what it was, so I looked into it and said, 'Oh I could do that,' " Denault recalls, sitting on one of the posh sofas in her studio. "I didn't know what I was getting into."

Denault, one of the only boudoir photographers in the area, admits she was pretty nervous during her first session. Today, she's more than comfortable coaching women through the shoots.

Most come in nervous, but Denault says she tries to make it easy and relaxing. Before the sessions, women are sent a quick form to fill out about which areas of their bodies they like and which they'd rather keep covered - stomachs and derrières are among the most common assets women want to hide, Denault says.

Denault's sessions range from $350 to $1,200, last an hour to three hours and can include up to four outfit changes. Denault also recommends all women have their hair and makeup done for the shoot for an additional $125.

Some women sign up as part of a bridal package; others do it as a gift for their significant other, she says. Many of her clients are repeat customers, including a few women who have done three or for shoots.

"It's a little addictive," Denault says.

Emily Newcomb, who does hair and makeup at the studio, said many women probably do their first shoot for their husbands or significant others and later realize it's more for themselves.

Thiel, who first saw Denault's work on Facebook, did the photos as a 30th birthday gift for herself. But now that she's seen her proofs, her husband is equally excited, she says.

Thiel admits she was a little hesitant initially to tell anyone she was preparing to take the photos.

"Because I was worried about what they would think. 'What, you're going to take photos in your underwear?' " Thiel says. "Valley City is extremely conservative."

But Now, Thiel is proud of her photos and plans to display them in her home.

"For the first time in my life I can say I look great," she says.

Denault says she brings Christian principles to the studio with her, and she has denied certain requests. Denault doesn't photograph nudity and is very careful when posing women to avoid vulgarity, she says.

"I want women to be respected and look sophisticated in their photos," Denault says. "I want them to be proud of them and not be ashamed to even show their kids if they want someday."

Denault says she wasn't worried about women in such a conservative area being interested in sexy photo shoots, but her husband was.

Newcomb says she shared Denault optimism, "Every woman wants to feel like a supermodel ... I'm not surprised that we see a lot of moms, or over 40-year-olds and women who aren't the perfect Size 2, because they're all looking to feel important in life."

Business info

What: Boudoir by Yvonne Denault photography

Where: 417 Main Avenue, Suite 210, Fargo.

Info: Visit or call (701) 373-5770.