Can You Be Both Professional & Sexy?

Just before Thanksgiving, I met with my photographer friend Monique Feil, who is responsible for taking pretty much any great photo you’ve ever seen of me on my blog, book covers, or hanging in my home.  Hay House needed a photo of me for the cover of my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, so I knew Monique was my girl.

The visual feel of the photo we needed to shoot was made clear to me. I needed to appear approachable, friendly, trustworthy, attractive, yet professional, distinguished, intelligent.  So I wore relatively conservative clothes, but tried to still look pretty and feminine. I made sure not to show any real cleavage, and although I had my hair and makeup professionally done, I was instructed not to appear too glamorous, because if I was too beautiful, it might detract from the content of my book, which contains serious science and a powerful message about self-healing I’m dying to spread far and wide.

The people on my marketing team tell me I’m “the brand” when it comes to my book and my business, but I must say, it’s weird to feel like a commodity that must be arranged just so during a photo shoot. Perhaps my resistance to being commoditized is what inspired me to do what I did just following my cover photo shoot – strip naked and let my freak flag fly during my first ever boudoir photo shoot.  (After all, at 43, I figure things aren’t getting any perkier!)

Girl Gone Wild

Monique is super creative, so before I knew it, she was wrapping me in fur and posing me on pink velvet, then asking me to stand naked behind a glass window pane while she spritzed water on the glass and photographed me through it.  I got dolled up in black lace lingerie and high heels and she shot me through a wrought iron bed headboard, and then I took it all off, adorned myself with long strands of pearls, and started dancing the S Factor moves I learned at Sheila Kelley’s S Factor retreat.

Because I feel super comfortable with Monique, I didn’t feel self-conscious or the least bit uncomfortable. If anything, I must say, the whole thing felt pretty empowering and hot. 

Can Professionals Be Publicly Sexy?

Right after the boudoir photo shoot, I posted on Facebook about what I had just done, and I was delighted with how much support I received. Many women shared with me their own stories of how they had been similarly daring, and others said they hadn’t, but were inspired to schedule just such a photo shoot. Others asked me to be sure I shared a photo when they were available.

So when Monique sent me the photos a few days later, I thought long and hard about whether I would share the tamest of the photos on social media.  Trust me, the raciest of these are for private viewing only, but one photo, while sexy, revealed less of me than you’d see in a bathing suit, so I considered sharing it, but the Gremlins went BALLISTIC when I thought about doing so. The dialogue between The Gremlin and my Inner Pilot Light went something like this.

The Throw-Down

The Gremlin: Why in the world would you put a sexy photo of yourself out there on the internet? Don’t you want people to respect you and the important work you’re doing? You sure don’t look very respectable wrapped in fur without your clothes on. People are going to think you’re some sex object, not a doctor they can trust to teach them. You know you can’t be both professional and sexy.

You’d be a fool to post this photo.

Inner Pilot Light: Lissa, don’t listen to the Gremlin. I understand your motivation for sharing it publicly. You want to demonstrate to women that we shouldn’t have to fragment ourselves, that we can be both successful, respectable professionals and sensual beings. By sharing your photo publicly, you’ll inspire others to be brave enough to strip off the masks we wear and be more authentic in our interactions with others.

The Gremlin: But people will think you’re a total narcissist. I mean, why else would you post a naked photo of yourself on Facebook. Plus, then it will be out there in the public domain FOREVER. Like you might be ninety-five and someone will print it out and bring it to your funeral.

Inner Pilot Light: It’s not narcissism, Gremlin. It’s confidence and being comfortable in your skin. And yes, someone might bring this photo to her funeral, but won’t it be lovely to give people a memory of how Lissa looked when she was younger? I think you should do it, Lissa. Put it out there. Be a role model for how women can be both professional and sexy, all in one whole package of strong, powerful, radiant femininity. Buck the nonsense that suggests that women have to appear masculine in order to be taken seriously. Your message is serious. Your work is solid. If people dismiss your work simply because you present your image as both a working woman and a sensual one, it speaks more to how effed-up our culture is than to anything the Gremlin’s mouthing off about. Do it.  Shake up the status quo, not because you’re trying to be a rebel, but because it’s what’s true for you. You ARE a sexy, feminine, sensual woman, and there’s no reason to hide it. Posting this photo will be an invitation to others to tap into their own Inner Pilot Lights about what is true for them regarding the intersection of their professional and sensual life.

So I Did It

I listened to my Inner Pilot Light and posted this photo on my public Facebook page and got over 200 unanimously sweet, supportive comments from people telling me they actually respect me more for being brave enough to take the risk.  Take that, Gremlin!

Will there be backlash? I have no idea. I had a moment of “Oh jeez, my publisher might have just seen that” and “The PBS producers my publisher is pitching about the PBS special he wants to produce about me and my work are probably eyeing me on social media.” But really, why would they judge me for just being who I am? 

What Do You Think?

Does your professionalism get in the way of your sensuality? Has your sensuality ever hurt your professional image? Do you think people take sexy women less seriously than those who dampen down their sensuality in the name of being serious and respectable? How do we navigate our way in a culture that simultaneously pressures women to be sexy and beautiful but then objectifies and diminishes them as mere sex objects if they express their sensuality?

I’m dying to hear what you think! Share your thoughts in the comments.

Trying to be all of me, uncensored,

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