Cheyenne Gil is a Philadelphia-based photographer specializing in boudoir and maternity photography, and is the founder of the Body Love Tribe. Aside from being an incredibly talented photographer, Cheyenne is also a pro at loving her body, and helps her clients to do the same! Check out our interview with Cheyenne below!
E: How did you get started with photography?
C: I’ve actually had my business since I was 15. I’ve always been a drawer and a painter, and one day my mom got a really fancy digital camera when they first came out, and I took it when I was thirteen and started shooting all the time. I was photographing my little cousins, my parents, my brother, my friends and then I actually shot a wedding when I was fifteen. I got paid 300 bucks, my mom went with me and I shot the wedding. It was horrible and hilarious. I’ve been doing photography for about eleven or twelve years now, and I started specializing just working with women about six years ago.
E: Your specializations in boudoir and maternity photography don’t seem like they would necessarily go together. How did you decide on this combination?
C: I have always been interested in the female figure. Even in all my paintings and all my drawings, I’m always drawing women, and my focus has always been on body image. A lot of my work is about the relationships between mothers and daughters, specifically me and my own mom, and how the way she views herself affected how I view myself, even if it was an unintentional kind of thing. That’s how I got into boudoir, actually, my mom was my first client. I photographed her and she had so much fun and felt so beautiful and that’s when I realized I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to make everyone feel that way, knowing how she usually feels about her body, which is not good. I knew I wanted to do boudoir, and that moment I decided to just start creating this niche and stop advertising for all of the other stuff that I was doing. With that, I was getting inquiries for maternity, and I took it on because it’s really important to me to show women how strong our bodies are, […] that our bodies are so incredible and we so have to celebrate that and appreciate them. We’re trained to kind of think after we have a baby and while we’re pregnant that our bodies aren’t good enough, or worthy, or we can’t wait to get our bodies back. So to me, [maternity photography and boudoir] kind of go hand in hand.
E: Another focus of your photography is your Body Love Tribe. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
C: Anyone that I’ve ever photographed is part of the Body Love Tribe. I wanted to create some kind of community for women because all of us, no matter what we look like, have felt not good enough or focused on the little things on our bodies. I wanted women to know that we’re all in this together, whether you’re three hundred pounds or a hundred pounds, we all have our own thing, and I wanted to create a sisterhood that could be more open to sharing our concerns. I’m open on my instagram, I have my bad days. Although I love my body, there are days that I want to change it. I think that really kind of makes other women feel like its okay to have bad days and to feel bad sometimes, but it’s also okay to be really content or happy with the way they feel.
Photos by Cheyenne Gil
E: You touched on this earlier with your relationship with your mom, but how do you think a woman’s body image plays into her role as a mother?
C: I think that a lot of times moms don’t even realize how much [their perception of themselves] affects their children, whether they have a son or a daughter. I can only speak from the perspective of a daughter because I don’t have kids, but first of all my mom is a babe. She’s beautiful, she’s 47, she looks like she’s my sister. But when she was pregnant with me, she had gestational diabetes, so she gained 80 pounds with me. She had stretch marks all the way down from her boobs to her knees. […]Never has she called me fat or ugly, but growing up and watching her hate herself, I didn’t understand how she could possibly think that she was fat or gross or ugly, because first of all, our mothers are the most beautiful thing to us in the world, but not only that, my mom is actually the most beautiful thing in the world. I just couldn’t comprehend it. Also, I take after my dad, so I’m thicker, I’m taller, I have hips, I have boobs, my mom is flat chested, she has more of a boyish figure, so I have always weighed more than my mom as a scientific fact. So in my mind, all I kept thinking was, if she thinks she’s fat, then she has to think I’m fat because I weigh more than she does, that’s just the bottom line. So in those ways it affected me so much, and I never brought it up because I was a kid, but I think that body image affects how you parent because it’s a cycle, it’s a vicious cycle.
E: Who are your favorite clients to work with?
C: I can honestly say that I just love working with women. I love the mommy-and-me stuff one hundred percent, and maternity is absolutely incredible. The idea of maternity, a lot of people scoff at and say “oh that’s so tacky,” but every single maternity client that comes in here, after they have the baby, they email me and say “you don’t know what it means to me to have these images of the baby in my belly.” I personally would kill to have those pictures of my mom pregnant with me or my brother, they’re so awesome. I’ve never experienced giving birth, but it’s just such an incredible thing and I am so happy when people decide to document it. Mommy-and-me is awesome for the same reason, because having those pictures is so important. Fifty years from now, your kids are going to have these amazing images of you and them, that’s so cool. I also love boudoir because it’s freakin’ fun as hell. You get to roll around in your underwear! It’s just a good feeling to photograph women and really focus on the woman and womanhood and loving ourselves.
E: What are your general thoughts about working with mothers? Do you think that the best way to support moms is by helping them with their body confidence?
C: I think it’s really important to support mothers through body confidence! We do focus a lot on the body confidence thing, but with that, you’re focusing on bettering yourself. Aside from the image part of everything, you’re working on acceptance, and I think it’s so important for women in general to do this, because once you start accepting yourself, you can very easily start accepting other people. I’m sure there are other great ways we can help support moms, but [that's] my train of thought, because of my experience with my own mom, who is my best friend. That being said, she has also affected me in a lot of ways that she didn’t even know she was doing. I think it’s really important to stress that for moms, whether they have sons or daughters or both, it’s so important to support educating them on how to go about feeling about yourself so your kids can learn the same things.