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For great actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Anna May Wong, pinup pictures were a milestone. Maybe that’s why I get so enthusiastic about lingerie and find it so empowering. It’s my dream to be a performer, so it’s only natural for me to be drawn to showgirl culture, pinup, and fashion models. Wearing lingerie isn’t inherently sexual to me; the experience is magical because it’s historical and cultural. When I’m not working in television, I’m performing burlesque or modeling. Lingerie tends to make up a good part of all those things I love to do. It makes me feel connected to Chinatown nightclub stars of the past like Jadin Wong, Noel Toy, and Coby Yee. Having boudoir photoshoots is how I found my comfort levels and learned my boundaries in lingerie and life. For me, wearing lingerie and exploring boudoir have become another form of nurturing and celebrating myself.

I’ve always loved browsing, learning about, and shopping for lingerie. I would find independent lingerie brands owned by Asian women like Soy & Spice, True Body Co, Uye Surana, Wear Pepper, Ozcult, and The End Lingerie — brands that encourage people to be empowered by lingerie and promote body confidence. Shopping and wearing lingerie taught me what I was comfortable with, and pursuing boudoir has been affirming for my nonbinary and demisexual identity. After a lifetime of being mocked for my racial features and demeaned for my gender, lingerie made me feel beautiful.

Photo credit: Roberto Hund/Pexels

It was like a reminder that I am most certainly magazine-worthy, like I always dreamed about as a kid. That I am a person worthy of being acknowledged for everything that is beautiful about my culture, struggles, creativity, and passion.

Conservative Asian family values combined with the fetishization of Asian women works to harm and blame women of color by dehumanizing us and erasing our autonomy over our own bodies. I remember how a high school counselor once told me to change out of my skirt and made me wear my gym shorts for the day instead so that I wouldn’t distract the boys (what a laugh). Schools set sexist dress codes that always target the girls while the boys get off scot-free, instead of teaching consent and holding bystander intervention workshops. As I still live with my parents, I’m envious of men who are free to enjoy the night without their parents’ permission, and do whatever they want without fearing for their safety on the level that women or anyone femme-presenting do. 

I was nineteen years old when I started posing for boudoir. Boudoir is the intimate art of photographing a subject usually in a private environment, and always under the control of the subject and for their pleasure. On the day of my first photoshoot, which I had found online at a discount, I gently packed the soft velvet lingerie I planned to wear into a silk bag. I headed out of my apartment and entered the subway, resurfacing a few stops later on the streets of Midtown Manhattan. Anticipation filled me as I made my way through the tall gray buildings and people on the concrete streets.

Photo credit: Aiony Haust/Unsplash

When I arrived at the studio, I entered the glamorous world of boudoir. There were a variety of enticing backdrops: a large velvet loveseat with artwork hanging above it, a soft bed with white sheets and pillows, a black chaise lounge chair tufted with crystal beads by the window, a tall stool set in front of a wall of spotlights, and, my favorite, a pair of curtains made from strings of white pearls.

My photographer did my makeup. (It was such a relief to let someone else handle that for me!) I felt the gentle brushstrokes adding glitter to my eyelids and painting my lips a brazen red. Then my long hair was curled into luscious curls cascading down my back. My first outfit was a sapphire, velvet one-piece with a plunging neckline and a dazzling shimmer. Any hesitation melted away as I ran my fingers over the soft, lovely fabric covering my most intimate parts. I soaked up my reflection in the mirror with a zest for life, shining confidence and love — things I don’t often feel about myself .

After having my body mocked growing up, being treated me like a foreigner because of my Asian features, and seeing unattainable beauty standards in all types of media, I decided to savor myself by making a memory of a time when I felt special.

To have a boudoir shoot was to actively make time for myself out of my busy schedule, to find pleasure in the moment, and to romance myself. As I took more headshots and participated in more boudoir and street photoshoots, I grew a greater appreciation for my natural looks and features. That was a big stride for my perfectionist, insecure self: to want less Photoshop, to stop fixating on the tiniest details, to stop editing out every single sun-marked freckle. That’s why boudoir is self-care and a celebration and an accomplishment for me. Yes, I can enjoy wearing lingerie, have boudoir photoshoots, and still be ace. 

In boudoir, I learned that having control over my body is having control over my story. I also learned that I am a truly multi-faceted person who is powerful by herself, who can wear tight and revealing clothes without hating her body, and who feels free shedding her layers. Lingerie reminds me how much I love modeling, dancing, and storytelling, and how much my body does for me. Seeing the glossy pictures from that first shoot was a fantasy manifested in real life for me. I was in awe of myself. I looked like something I thought I could only dream of. And during the whole experience, I was having the time of my life. I was in daring positions, in lovely settings, and as I displayed my flexibility and shape, my skin glowed and my eyes sparkled.

Cover photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

Author

  • Born and raised in Lenapehoking, also known as NYC, Kai Xing Mun (she/they) is Malaysian-Chinese American, and an ace and nonbinary actor and writer. Kai is a freelance writer whose essays focus on intersectional feminism and Pan-Asian American issues. Their writing has been published in HelloGiggles, Mochi, April, and Here You Are. Their original monologue “Anna May Wong: PERSONA” was published in "In Full Color: The First Five Years Anthology."

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