16th August 2023
Jan’s photoshoot story – on Divorce, Breast Cancer, Toy Boys, Body Confidence & Feeling Empowered!
When Jan first got in touch with me about booking a photoshoot, I immediately knew I wanted to hear more about her life, and couldn’t wait to create some gorgeous portraits as part of her empowering journey. Jan told me she was turning 60 this year and 6 years after divorce and a couple of battles with breast cancer, she’s feeling the most positive and happy she’s ever been. She wanted to celebrate life by proving to herself that she is “OK”! Well, that’s certainly a reason for a photoshoot!!!
Jan has such a beautiful soul and I absolutely love her positivity and determination. She also has plenty of good stories, so I asked her if she’d like to write her story for my blog, and thankfully she said yes!! When booking her shoot, Jan told me that she would love to be able to empower other women to focus on themselves and that learning to like/love themselves more can lead to contentment.
Jan also wants to get the message across that you don’t need an intimate partner in your life to make you happy. YES to this!!
Jan’s story is one of growing up feeling like a tomboy and feeling unattractive, being in a very “vanilla” marriage for 35 years, which ended up in being cheated on and getting divorced, whilst feeling stranded and alone in another country; going through two battles with breast cancer and having a mastectomy; going through menopause and having Vaginismus (pain during sex); finding herself and her confidence, amongst some surprising relationships with much younger men; and her journey of empowerment and happiness, finally, after reaching her 60’s!
If this sounds like something you’d love to hear more about, then make yourself a cuppa and get comfy, and read on for Jan’s fascinating story in her own words (and more of her gorgeous photos from her shoot)…
Like many people, my insecurities began in childhood. I grew up in a predominantly male environment with two brothers and four uncles; even my mother wasn’t ‘girly’ so looking feminine wasn’t something that came naturally to me. I grew up on the family farm and I spent a lot of free time hanging out with my brother’s mates. I considered myself in some ways as ‘one of the lads’, a tomboy, and would feel way more comfortable wearing an anorak and wellies rather than dresses and nice shoes.
In my teenage years, my best friend was very attractive and was very popular amongst the boys. I always thought of myself as the ‘ugly friend’ as no one ever asked me on a date or even asked me to dance at the nightclubs (or discos as we used to call them back then!). I would be the one trying to hide in the corner hoping the end of the evening would happen quickly, while it seemed everyone else was enjoying the slow dances ending with passionate snogs.
It also seemed that during my school years, I was literally the only one that never got the mystery Valentine’s card. It was no wonder really that by the age of 17 when I met my future husband that my boyfriend ‘resume’ contained 2 names! The first relationship lasted three weeks, the second seven weeks with a week’s break in the middle and certainly nothing more intimate than a kiss.
It was the penultimate night of the family holiday when we met; there is something about being on holiday and the likelihood of not seeing people again that gives some kind of extra courage. I used to hang out in the amusement arcades with my brothers, which is where he worked as an arcade mechanic. We ended up meeting on my final evening for a drink and despite my lack of experience in dating, I somehow knew he was the one. I fell in love quickly and just over a year later we were living together.
“I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer”…
Like most relationships, we had our ups and downs but for the bulk of our 35-year relationship, we were fairly good. The first major struggle came when our son was 10 months old and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a very hard time going through chemo and radiotherapy with a young child, a dog and a struggling Off Licence business we owned at that time, but we got through it and things became easier when we sold the business. Thankfully, after 8 months of treatment, I was told I was in remission.
“I lacked confidence that I was attractive even to him… he was never one to verbally pay compliments to me”
He got a seasonal job in aviation, which he excelled in and rapidly rose up the ranks to a very senior level and I got a part-time job in retail. As for the intimate side of our relationship, I would say it was more ‘loving’ than sexy. Looking back now I realise it was very ‘vanilla’. He was fairly predictable and never really into the spur-of-the-moment idea and at the same time I certainly never deemed myself as ‘sexy’. I lacked confidence that I was attractive even to him, but that was probably because he was never one to verbally pay compliments to me.
As a result of the first bout of breast cancer, I lost about a third of my breast. This didn’t bother me that much. I had a small prosthesis to put inside my bra to even me up. My husband was very reassuring that it didn’t bother or matter to him. Many years later following a checkup, changes had been detected during my mammogram and further tests showed that I had developed some pre-cancer cells once again. As this was found in exactly the same place as the last time, my doctor recommended I have a mastectomy.
Reconstruction options for me at the time were limited and I couldn’t get my head around what I wanted to do so I decided to go ahead without any reconstruction. For 2 years I lived with one breast, and to be fair my husband didn’t mind a bit, so I even felt comfortable being naked in front of him. But after those 2 years, I started feeling like I wanted to feel more womanly and opted to discuss reconstruction options with my doctor again.
The fact that I had not had reconstruction at the time of the mastectomy meant that I didn’t have enough skin to allow room to insert the implant, so they needed to remove some suitable skin from somewhere else on my body. Due to the size of skin required, the doctor took a chunk from halfway down my back where I had enough spare!
After everything had settled down and healed, I was left with a very scarred body; my new breast looked like the shape of a pudding bowl and had no nipple. The breast certainly looked nothing like the cosmetic implants you see today. When it came to being naked, the fake one stayed perfectly still when I took my bra off whilst the natural one plummeted south. I certainly felt very ugly when naked. However, with the right shape bra, the ugliness was hidden quite well and I learned to accept it.
With my husband’s career continuing to flourish, he was offered a job to head up operations in North America so in 2012 we moved to a lovely place just outside Houston, Texas. It was a huge adjustment for both of us but more so for me as I didn’t have a job and had to learn to live in a different country where I didn’t know anyone.
“Intimacy had become almost impossible due to developing Vaginismus”
At first, despite being a hard learning curve, we adjusted. But after about two years the differences between us were exposed and we were arguing a lot. It didn’t help that I was going through Menopause and intimacy had become almost impossible due to me developing a condition called Vaginismus, which caused me a lot of pain. This meant that we didn’t have the ‘make-up sex’ to help bring us back together after a row like it used to previously.
One day we had a massive row like nothing we had ever had before; he ended by saying that if I didn’t like it I should move back to England. Although I knew our marriage was in serious trouble, it was a huge curveball when I found out he had been having an affair and had decided to leave me to be with her.
“What I was going through emotionally left me wondering whether I had the strength to carry on”
Because he chose another woman rather than try to mend our broken marriage of 30+ years, I found myself at the lowest point of my life. He left me almost immediately after the affair discovery so there I was in a foreign country with no purpose to being there. What I was going through emotionally left me wondering whether I had the strength to carry on, to say I was lost was an understatement. Thankfully I had wonderful friends and neighbours by this time who rallied around me and helped me through those first traumatic months.
A month after the separation I had really told myself that no man would want to be with a woman who was scarred from cancer and unable to have sex without pain. I felt broken physically and mentally. So some friends of mine, one of whom was a professional photographer, decided they would come over and give me a makeover and take some photos to prove I was attractive. Whilst the pictures were lovely, when I look at them I will always remember the reason why they were taken. Even though people told me I was an attractive woman, I never ever saw that in myself.
“How was I ever going to be accepted with my body the way it looked?”
Along with a lot of support from friends, I was also seeing an excellent therapist and somehow, I started to slowly pick myself up. I was encouraged by one friend of mine, who had just recently gotten divorced herself, to start dating. I threw myself into dating apps and started many chats, but I never managed to get a single date. The longer this went on, the more I retreated into myself. I felt that if no one was interested in how I looked on the outside, how was I ever going to be accepted with my body the way it looked? My thoughts returned to how unattractive I felt as a teenager with any confidence I had plummeting like a stone.
But then fate played its hand when my newly divorced friend and I decided to stick two fingers up to men and go on holiday together. It was a holiday that literally changed my life.
I had made the decision that I was going to throw caution to the wind and have a good time. My goal, and I didn’t know how it was going to happen, that I was going to kiss another guy. If it didn’t happen, I was going to resign myself to being single for the rest of my life. But I didn’t have to worry as that kiss came on the first night, in fact I had kisses with two different people who happened to be brothers. You see for some strange reason my friend and I seemed to attract young and very handsome guys which was something that initially I wasn’t comfortable with. For the duration of the week in our adult only hotel we were attracting young men in their 20s like magnets!
“I found myself feeling bemused but also felt ‘alive’”
Being on holiday, we knew we wouldn’t see these people again which gave us a kind of ‘free spirit’ behaviour. Having never had this attention before, I found myself feeling bemused but also felt ‘alive’ and after a few days, I was getting more confident talking to people.
On day 3 of the holiday, we were at the swim-up pool bar taking advantage of the All-Inclusive drinks and a bit of shade from the sun when 2 young men started chatting us up. The one that was hitting on me was absolutely gorgeous and probably the most attractive man I’d ever seen. I couldn’t believe what was happening and pinched myself (and him) that I wasn’t dreaming!
We went down to the beach and were kissing at the water’s edge on white powdery sand. It felt like the two of us were in our own little world. At that moment I had two thoughts, firstly, why hadn’t I ever done anything this sexy with my husband, and secondly, this guy was touching my fake breast.
I quickly explained to my young catch, but he didn’t seem to care at all. It was so exciting and without thinking too much I ended up going to his hotel room, but I realised it was way too soon for me to take the next step and nothing much more happened.
The remainder of the week contained a lot of laughs. Whilst I knew it was a ‘thing’ that young men were attracted to older women, I never thought it would happen to me, especially as the majority of time on that holiday we had wet hair and no makeup, so how could that be attractive? For a laugh, we changed our Tinder profiles to include men in their 20s and it was like we had hit the jackpot. I couldn’t believe my eyes who I was matching with.
“He was only 23 and I was his first cougar date”
On returning to my Houston home after the most amazing week in Cancun, I was about to change my Tinder profile back to a more sensible age group when I thought, let’s give this one last go and see if people in my local area (rather than in a holiday setting) were still interested in me. To my absolute shock, my phone was going crazy with ‘matches’ and 3 days later I had my first date. He was only 23 and I was his first cougar date. It was extremely comfortable in terms of conversation and very respectful regarding expectations. It was the first time I’d had sex in a long time and whilst it was still a bit uncomfortable, it certainly wasn’t as painful as it had been. I realised my body was actually ‘turned on’. This felt naughty, sexy and fun, but also I felt in charge. I never really played a dominant or submissive role in my marriage but suddenly I was getting a kick out of leading the way.
“I called this time in my life ‘the research’…”
Because of the number of people interested in ‘getting to know me’, I found myself engaged in a lot of conversations at the same time. It almost became a full-time job. One particular day I was having conversations with 8 people, which to my surprise became fairly common as the weeks went by. I called this time in my life ‘the research’.
I was able to categorise my matches into their reasons for wanting to date an older woman. I quickly eliminated those that just wanted sex, not just because of my physical limitations but because I wasn’t interested in that. But I wasn’t stupid enough to think they wanted to date me for much else so I was very selective with who I chose to meet. I would be lying if I said that it hadn’t progressed that way with some of them, but it was on my terms. I realised that it was the Vaginismus that restricted intimacy and not the state of my breasts. I was absolutely astonished that anyone I chose to meet was literally not bothered at all. I was able to keep what I didn’t want to show hidden.
Not long after the holiday to Cancun, I booked a trip to the UK to decide whether I was going to move back or stay in the US. I knew it wasn’t realistic for me to stay in America but I had no idea as to where I would live if I did come back and that was extremely daunting. While I was in the UK, the tenants who had rented our house, gave notice to leave. It was like a sign, so it made sense to come back to my house as a starting point. While I was there visiting, I continued on the dating sites and much the same as in the US, men my own age weren’t interested but there was no shortage of under 40s!
With the decision made that I would return to live in the Motherland, I used the long flight back to Houston to make plans. I had also started divorce proceedings.
“He was one of the most influential people in terms of learning to accept myself”
There was torrential rain when I got home. I was very tired and I switched on the TV whilst I unpacked. US TV for the first time was showing the Eurovision Song Contest so I was watching that and looking at Tinder at the same time. It was on this day that I ‘matched’ with someone that turned out to be one of the most influential people in terms of learning to accept myself.
He had ‘super liked’ me and I knew that if I swiped right we would be an instant match. He too was watching Eurovision and we were comparing the acts when I offered to chat on the phone rather than text. He had the most sexy voice, nicely spoken and from Richmond. This phone call took an unexpected turn for me, but I went with it. He told me I should get ready for bed and call him back. What happened next turned into one of the best sexual experiences I have ever had. The way he spoke to me and made me feel special was so very impactful. I had never done anything like that before but he taught me so much about myself that night. I expected that it would be a one-off and I wouldn’t hear from him again but we are still chatting to each other 7 years on and it feels like we have become good friends, although we still haven’t met! With his help and support, I started to gain confidence in myself and my sexual behaviour. I uncovered a very different side of me with his help and even he is proud of how I have developed. It is not a ‘relationship’ that many would understand but I wouldn’t change a thing.
“I felt so accepted and respected, which might sound odd for casual dating”
The majority of my dates in the US were good but there was one that I wasn’t particularly proud of, so after that, I chose my dates more wisely. I only wanted to meet people that had the right qualities and I found what I called my ‘niche market’! These were people who were invested in their careers with no time for relationships. They were very mature and found women their own ages ‘silly’. They wanted to date women they could have interesting conversations with and if there was any chemistry, then that was a bonus. As a result, I met some amazing people; there was a dentist, lawyers and account managers to name a few. I felt so lucky but weirdly it was ‘me’ that was being put on a pedestal!! I felt so accepted and respected, which might sound odd for casual dating.
“I found the ‘new me’”
Over the course of 3 years (I call these my healing from marriage breakdown years), I had developed considerably. Because these were casual dates and not emotionally invested, they had a grounding effect, plus I could practice my new sexy side because I had nothing to lose. I guess you could say I found the ‘new me’. I also realised that being honest about my Vaginismus condition before I met up with anyone had a positive effect because it meant that there were none of the usual ‘cougar’ expectations and they wanted to meet me because they liked something about me.
“He proceeded to tell me that my scars were my life’s story and that I should embrace that and not be ashamed.”
But there was one particular person who made me face my body fears. He was a 32-year-old lawyer. We probably had 6 or so dates but he was extremely considerate and patient. Up to this point, I had never revealed my fake breast to anyone other than doctors or my ex-husband but on one particular night, he insisted I show him. He told me it wouldn’t be as bad as I thought but there was no way I wanted to show him. However, he removed my bra and removed my hand that was covering it up. I was petrified and closed my eyes as I didn’t want to see his repulsed reaction. But he didn’t react at all. Instead, he bent down, kissed both of my breasts and then both my eyes, which by now were weeping. He said, “it really isn’t as bad as you think”. He proceeded to tell me that my scars were my life’s story and that I should embrace that and not be ashamed. He reminded me that my scars might be battle scars but I won the war. I couldn’t argue with that really!!
“As a way to build on my body confidence, he told me to undress whilst we spoke…”
The week after my divorce came through, I invited him round to see me. People said I should celebrate but to me, it wasn’t a celebration; I felt a failure. I knew that he would understand and we could toast to a new beginning for me. As a way to build on my body confidence, he told me to undress whilst we spoke. It was very weird and I was still trying to cover myself but he told me we were going to sit and chat until I forgot about it. To my surprise, after 30 mins of talking about financial investments of all things, I had indeed forgotten that I was topless while he was fully clothed! He pulled me onto his lap and said “The way I look at it is this, I like fake breasts and I like real breasts and right now I have the best of both”. I will never forget those words and how he made me feel but there was never an emotional connection between us, it was purely respectful casual sex. I was able to be completely myself without worry and it was the most amazing revelation for me.
In December 2018 I had my last ‘cougar date’. I always knew this was a phase I was going through to ‘find myself’ and I finished on a high. I met a senior manager who at 29 was the most interesting person I had ever met. He had every quality that I loved in a man, he was chivalrous, kind and respectful. We had a traditional date in a pub and chatted for hours. We then went back to his London apartment and continued our conversation. There was definitely some chemistry there and intimacy followed. When I got home that night, I received a text from him telling me how glad he was that we met and that it was up there with one of his best experiences. But I knew that this was a one-off for me as well as him, it was like I knew and felt this was the end of that phase.
“If there is such a thing as fate, I would say this was life’s way of showing me my worth and value”
For 3 years I had continuous reassurance that I was a really nice, warm and even sexy person and that any man that was bothered about anything else wasn’t worth it. If there is such a thing as fate, I would say this was life’s way of showing me my worth and value and I needed to learn from that. I still get messages from past dates but just to enquire how I am and that means more to me than anything else because there is no chance that we will meet again so there is no benefit to them other than just being nice.
“I was now ready to make a fresh start to divorce myself from the past”
But whilst I had established acceptance for one aspect of myself, I was now ready to make a fresh start to divorce myself from the past. Since I returned to the UK, I was working in temporary jobs. I hadn’t worked for about 6 years and lost an awful lot of confidence; the thought of a permanent job gave me anxiety. Temp roles were all I could manage at the time. I had negotiated a good divorce settlement so that meant that I could afford to be out of work for short periods.
“I had a tough few years and lost so much…”
I had stayed much longer in the marital home than I intended but it felt time to move. I’d had a tough few years and lost so much. My best friend of twenty years died suddenly in 2013, followed by my Dad in 2015, then my marriage, my son’s marriage and then my Mum passed too in 2017. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was I had a visit from a Bayliff in early 2018. My address had somehow been linked to someone that owed a lot of money. The bailiff was from the company DCBL, who feature in the TV show ‘Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away’. A big burly guy entered my home without permission and searched my house early in the morning when I had just got out of the shower and was still wearing my dressing gown. That incident put me into depression and the only positive thing at that time was the dating relationships I had made who were surprisingly very supportive and caring. I no longer felt safe in that house but I had no idea where I wanted to go.
“There was something holding me back but I had no idea what it was…”
My last three houses had been new-builds so I was familiar with the process and liked the idea of not having to worry about maintenance issues for a few years, so that was my starting point. I decided I wanted to be a little closer to my family so spent a few weeks looking at new developments. As much as I did find some nice suitable places, there was something holding me back but I had no idea what it was. Then one day a work colleague of mine told me about a new development in Petersfield. Despite not being that far away, I had never heard of it, let alone visited there before. As it happens, a guy I had just matched with on a dating site actually lived there. So, on a gorgeous Autumn weekend, I decided to visit and have a look. I found a perfect property that was just about within my budget, but not knowing anything about the area, I decided I would go and have lunch in the town to pick up the vibes. I also text the ‘match’ and told him I was in town if he wanted to meet me. 5 mins later we met and he became my tour guide. He told me all about the town and took me for a walk around the Lake. There were no clouds in the sky, the sun was shining on the water and I was chatting to a really nice guy (who was only 8 years younger than me!). As we sat having a coffee, I realised I couldn’t see any negatives about this place. I absolutely loved this town.
It was then I realised what had been holding me back. This place had no history for me. There would be no memories of my ex-husband and what I actually needed was a completely fresh start. A week later I was looking at rental properties in the area to allow myself time to get a feel for whether I would be happy setting up home there.
“It was a day I will never forget!!!”
I decided to put my house on the market and viewings had been scheduled the following day. In the morning I had a call from the estate agent who was advertising my Mother’s house – we had an offer. I was dealing with my Mother’s estate, which had been very stressful and we had already had two previous offers fall through, but I was assured this was a serious offer. I was elated but the first viewing of my house was imminent so didn’t really have time to celebrate. At the end of the viewing, before the potential purchasers had even left, they made me an offer on my house! Later that day my granddaughter was born – it was a day I will never forget!!!
I hadn’t expected my house to sell so quickly. I was mortgage free so I knew that I would definitely need to rent at extra cost if I wanted to accept the offer, so I decided to negotiate up the offer price to allow for the cost of renting. I was successful in adding £10K to the asking price. I found a lovely 2 bed flat in Petersfield and felt guilty about negotiating the rent as it was much nicer than anything else I had seen but I had nothing to lose by trying and to my amazement, they agreed to my offer on that too. I was good at this negotiating lark and I felt very proud of myself especially as I was doing this all by myself.
“I made the decision to focus on myself.”
I knew it would be hard moving to an area where I didn’t know anyone but I can honestly say it was a great decision. A fresh start for me meant I could also find new friends and ditch those who weren’t adding value to my life or holding me back. I made the decision to focus on myself.
“It was so empowering, by the end of the four weeks, I felt that I could do anything”
January 2019 was the start of a fresh start. I moved into my rental property whilst I looked for my new house but I had my ‘trip of a lifetime’ booked. With my Mum dying suddenly, I realised if we really wanted to do something, we should do it while we can. I had always wanted to go to Australia but this wasn’t really a possibility during my marriage but now there was nothing holding me back. I had a bucket list of things I wanted to do there. Swim at Bondi Beach, snorkel at the Barrier Reef and, as a huge tennis fan, I wanted to go to the Australian Open Tennis. With the help of a brilliant travel agent, I booked a month-long trip visiting Cairns, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney travelling all by myself. It was so empowering, by the end of the four weeks, I felt that I could do anything. I was so positive and ready to live my new life.
“This was probably the first time that I believed in myself and confidence in my abilities was growing”
The new-build property I was interested in was slightly more expensive than I wanted to pay so I set about looking for a resale. I found the ideal house and with my newly discovered negotiating skills, I successfully held out for a £30K reduction on the asking price. It needed a lot of work and TLC but with the help of recommendations from my new neighbours, I managed to engage some great tradesmen and did a complete renovation. I loved my house, it was all mine, all my style and I did that all by myself. I guess this was probably the first time that I believed in myself and confidence in my abilities was growing.
The Covid pandemic put a damper on finding new friends but with yet another new job, this time in retail, everything slowly came together and continues to grow.
So here I am 7 years after my husband left me feeling worthless, I have built myself up, trusted my abilities and I’m feeling very confident about the future. As I enter into my 60’s I am happily single and probably one of the most content phases of my life. I have a great relationship with my family and I love being a ‘hands-on’ Nannie. I am also very settled in my ‘now 2 permanent jobs’ and my house.
“It doesn’t matter how you achieve acceptance…”
So I guess my story is that it doesn’t matter how you achieve acceptance, just take it in both hands and say ‘thank you’, because it feels so good to throw away those fears!!
“Why not celebrate feeling confident, empowered and content in life [with a boudoir shoot]?”
Last September on my latest solo holiday in a conversation with a fellow holidaymaker, she was telling me how she had celebrated her 50th birthday with a boudoir photo shoot. It was a conversation that stuck in my mind, which led me to book a session myself. Why not celebrate feeling confident, empowered and content in life this way?
At the start of the year I realised I needed to feel a bit better about my weight as it had gradually been creeping up so I started a healthier eating programme along with my usual ‘dry January’. I researched for a photographer who I felt would really get the fact that this wasn’t about having photos taken but more an experience and a time-stamp of the best phase of my life. With Ginny (from Gorgeous You Photography) found and a Zoom call later, I was sold! I set myself a weight-loss target which I achieved the week before the shoot.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and since receiving the photos, I can honestly say that I am proud of myself.”
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and since receiving the photos, I can honestly say that I am proud of myself. My self-confidence and self-acceptance have gone through the roof and the compliments I have been getting have just put the icing on the cake. (Oh and 4 years on from the Bayliff incident, I took the bailiff and the big company to court and won my case, got a formal apology and compensation!)
If you’ve resonated with Jan’s story or simply would love to celebrate your own journey with an empowering boudoir shoot (and/or coaching) then I’d love to hear from you! I’m based in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, but also travel regularly back to Surrey & Hampshire for empowering photoshoots.
Please get in touch by clicking either of the links below:
Many thanks for reading 🙂
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