re-picturing OGLING

You can look as long as you don’t touch.

What the heck is up with that? Today we’re talking about ogling, leering, gawking.

Have you ever had that creepy feeling that someone’s giving you the once over? You might be out for a jog, talking to your boss, or having drinks with friends. They’re paying attention, but not to what you’re saying or doing. My eyes are up here, dude.

How does this make you feel?

I’m not talking about rare instances when a significant other looks at you longingly or your girlfriend is admiring your shoes. Although women may feel flattered by this objectifying gaze in rare instances, most of the time the gaze makes women feel annoyed, ashamed, angry, and unsafe. It also has negative consequences for women, including decreased cognitive functioning and having feeling like they have less voice (see Melissa Dowler’s post from last week on the Roar Project).

One way to resist the gaze is to look back. Reciprocate it. Returning the gaze is a reminder that we see what you’re doing. We are human. The above picture is a self-portrait of anti-ogling. What do you think?

And, apparently, ogling is not limited to women. My guy friends tell me that there are women who are chronic crotch watchers. I have yet to see it, but this is not the kind of equality we’re looking for.

How have you resisted the objectifying gaze? Successful and not-so-successful stories welcome!

picturing PERSPECTIVE

As I flew back from my research conference in Miami yesterday, I noticed something peculiar as I gazed out the window. As I looked over the wing onto the clouds below, I literally could change my perspective depending on what I focused on.

Objectively it was the exact same scene, but similarly to my camera lens, I could focus on the small details with a shallow depth of field or take a broader perspective seeing the entire scene. I could focus on the dust that caked the window. I could focus on the strength of the steel wing cutting through the air. Or I could focus on the glow of the sun-soaked, cotton-like clouds below.

This is not the first perceptual perspective change that I’ve noticed. Since taking up photography, I my senses have been heightened. When I watch movies, I notice the camera shifting focus between different people and objects. Similarly, I notice how color—perhaps very bold colors or dreamy black and whites—set the tones for films. I think this has helped me to also picture the extra in the ordinary. When I form impressions of scenes in my everyday life – perhaps the sun glistening on the water or fallen leaves laying in piles on the lawn—I see the potential for beautiful bokeh backgrounds – those dreamy circles of confusion that come from out of focus points of light.

I think photography has also changed my life perspective. It reminds me that I have choices in each moment of life, much in the same way the photographer makes creative choices when developing a shot – what mood do I want to use to color my day? What do I include and exclude from the frame? Should I focus on the big picture or the small details?

In the same way that we can create a meaningful and interesting photograph (or painting, or manuscript, or whatever), we can adopt the intentional perspective to live a creative and purposeful life.

Where could you use a change of perspective?

re-picturing ROAR

Guess what day it is? Wednesday! And you know that means? It’s time for the second installment of Re-Picturing Women Wednesdays (part of the Re-Picturing Women Project).

I am honored, delighted, and incredibly grateful to have our first guest post for the Re-Picturing Women Project by my fellow blogger and creative companion – Melissa Dowler co-founder of the Long Haul Project. Melissa is fabulous and I love, love, LOVE her ROAR project! Thanks for sharing, Melissa!

Guest Post and Photos by Melissa Dowler.

When she’s not stressing over her day job, Melissa Dowler is the  co-founder of the marriage blog/documentary The Long Haul Project and video production company Long Haul Films.

Re-picturing ROAR

I’m addicted to blogs: relationship blogs for my marriage project, marketing blogs for my day job, photography blogs for my hobby. But the blogs I’m most addicted to are fashion and lifestyle blogs. They are the ones I most hungrily anticipate and pore over for long stretches. These blogs all have a woman at the center, and I have a complicated relationship with them.

Who are these women? They have long, flicky hair and perfect skin. They sew the most fashionable, stylish dresses out of flannel shirts pulled out of dumpsters. They handwrite place cards and bake cupcakes for tea parties with their friends. They have totally supportive boyfriends/fiancés/husbands. They don’t seem to have “real” jobs-the kind that involve a rush hour commute and working in a cubicle for 12 hours a day- or if they do, they never mention it. They spend their days making jewelry, trawling the web for new design inspiration and styling photo shoots of their peppy, happy lives. They always look pretty. They rarely, if ever, complain.

I’m obsessed with their dreamy, storybook lives and lately, became aware that I’m trying to imitate them.  Of course, it’s led to incredible feelings of inferiority: my apartment isn’t quirkily decorated enough, my wardrobe doesn’t have enough cute vintage finds, my handwriting is terrible and I really hate baking so I suggest going out for drinks rather than hosting tea parties. Plus, my hairdresser confirmed the other day that I will never, ever be able to grow Zooey Deschanel-inspired bangs.

So, when it came time to do a project for my photography class, I wanted to create a series of photos depicting something totally different from the type of idealized images that obsess me. I wanted to depict women I know who are amazing and strong. None of them are perfect or happy all of the time. They don’t have flawless wardrobes or ideal relationships. They struggle. They have achieved amazing things, and they have also tried and failed. They’re not always in good moods. They get stressed.  If you told any of these women you view them as strong, they might be surprised.

In fact, every woman I photographed so far has expressed a struggle with the idea of seeing themselves as strong.  Yet I see them that way, and am far more inspired by these real, “imperfect” women than the dream women of my blogs (and yes, in my rational mind, I know these blog women are just editing out the imperfect parts of their own lives).

That’s why for my project, I asked women to ROAR. They had to forget about looking pretty or cute. I wanted the women in my photographs to show their strength and fearlessness; and in that fearlessness, let other things out. Pain, frustration, uncertainty, even anger. Feelings that we as women are trained not to show, because it makes us look (or so we think) weak, out of control, ugly, flawed.

I’d like to share one of three ROAR shoots I’ve done, with a talented woman named Kaitlin Maud who is a social media strategist, designer and entrepreneur.

The shoot inspired a lot of conversation between Kaitlin and I, and led us to reveal many things to each other about our own journeys to become strong women. Here are a few thoughts that Kaitlin shared about ROAR.

How did it feel to roar?  What was good about it, what was bad about it (if anything)?

At first, it felt silly, unnatural, and embarrassing. While I was actually IN my roar, it felt liberating and expressive. I remember saying to you that it felt nice to be heard. Everyone wants to be heard, I think, and I felt powerful.

What did the shoot make you think about?

The shoot made me think about myself… a lot. It made me analyze my own fears, comforts and pride. I had to look inside myself and find my voice, both literally and metaphorically. I was surprised at how self-conscious I was and how nervous I felt, because I don’t typically shy away from anything. It made me think a lot about my own strength and how/where I find it.

How do you think women are typically portrayed in photos, images, media? Does ROAR feel the same or different, and please explain how?

Well, for one, I don’t feel that women “like me” are ever really portrayed in media. My modeling experience was limited to art school friends and “alternative” photo shoots. Even in those cases there was an air of sex and provocation surrounding the images and in roar I almost felt like I was doing something “ugly.” Accepting that I would look “ugly” was difficult, but it meant more to me that I capture the concept of the photo in a way that was accurate… so I let go and just ROARED! It was an exercise for me to see the photos afterwards and let go of any judgment of my appearance, because the “typical media depiction” of women tends to make me critical when looking at images of myself.

What makes you feel strong as a woman?

Being content. I don’t think happiness is really a state of being, more an emotion… but being CONTENT… THAT makes me feel strong. Being content feels like… yes, I did it. I am here. I am strong. Being PRESENT feels strong- strong over mind and body. Feeling accomplished also makes me feel strong. Self respect and pride are also tied into strength. I don’t think there is anything outside of me that makes me feel strong.

How do you feel about expressing yourself strongly?  Is it something you feel you do in your daily life?

I don’t feel like I do it in my daily life, no, but it’s not a conscious choice not to. It’s unnatural, I think, to assert oneself as a woman and be strong in our expression. It’s a practice I’d like to re-introduce to myself. I would like to be more aware and act more upon my own strength.

Anything else you want to add?

I think everyone needs to roar.

Thanks again for the post, Melissa, and sharing this strong part of yourself, Kaitlin — this fits the spirit of the Re-Picturing Women Project perfectly. Also, the backgrounds are truly priceless. There is something so delightful about having Centerfolds as a backdrop for strong women. Check out Melissa’s blog for other fabulous posts! If you are interested in contributing to the Re-Picturing Women Project, please contact me at sarah.gervais[at]gmail.com.

picturing SWIRLING SECRETS

Things seem to keep swirling faster and faster. Although I’ve purposefully added more balance to my life by focusing on other activities besides work, adding those other things that help me to have a semblance of balance sometimes contributes to the swirling.

Can I tell you a little secret? If I’m honest with myself, in some ways I really LOVE all that swirling. It makes me feel alive. I like having challenging work that sometimes takes all of my mental and physical energy. I like having my blog and photography classes to stretch me and keep me accountable to some of my deepest dreams. I like making new connections and being part of a community, even if it sometimes gets a bit hectic.

This is not the case for everyone, but it is certainly the case for me. So instead of trying to change this about myself and my life (that never seem to stop swirling anyway), I’m trying to accept it and lean into it.

A little acceptance goes a long way. There is something ironic about stressing out because I do not have enough time to chill out. Just accepting that things are going to be swirling and that I will continue to carve out quiet moments of rest for myself makes me feel more sane.

However, I also tend to be an all-or-nothing person. I go between complete swirling to complete stillness. I feel crazy or bored. The key for me is to find that point on the continuum when I go from feeling still in the swirling to giving myself up to the swirling and feeling crazy. There tends to be a moment when the swirling goes from being energizing and life-giving to draining and life-taking.

Is there a part of you that likes the swirling? When does the swirling make you feel alive?

picturing MORE WINE

Thank you for all of your wonderful support with the first Re-Picturing Women Wednesday –we will have an exciting guest post next Wednesday. Tune in!

It is energizing to have a few new projects in the works :)

I’m still working on my wine project for Photo 4. Most of the “obvious” shots are done, so I tried to dig a little deeper into my creative pocket and experiment more as I took pictures this past week. Here are a few shots that caught my attention.They are with white wine and the glass is the focus.

re-picturing MEGHAN

It is with great delight that I kick-off the first Re-Picturing Women Wednesday by introducing you to Meghan Davidson. Meet Meghan!

Meghan writes Life Refocused in which she uses photography to build a creative life and focus on what matters. Her photography has been exhibited in the Emerson Gallery at the Lincoln Community Playhouse and she will be talking more about her creative journey on the Joy Factor on Radio Station KZUM on March 2 from 6:00-6:30 (central). Meghan’s photography and blog speak for themselves (both are amazing), but I have also had the special joy of getting to know Meghan in person as we both walk our creative paths. We met at UNL and discovered our mutual love of psychology, photography, good wine, and fabulous conversation. We also did our first photography show together! Meghan is a beautiful soul, inside and out, and I was honored and grateful that she had the courage and vulnerability (a wonderful combination) to be featured on Re-Picturing Women Wednesday. Below are some pictures that I think re-picture women perfectly, as well as, Meghan’s story of her body in her own words. Thanks, Meghan!

I absolutely love these pictures of Meghan because they show her practicing her craft in one of her favorite ways — with her Polaroid camera. Most images of women in the media show women as a object to be looked at by the audience (Kilbourne & Pipher, 1999). Rather than being an object of the viewer’s gaze, Meghan and her camera are focused back at the viewer in the above picture. In the below picture, our attention is drawn to what Meghan is doing, rather than how she looks. This is a very powerful perspective for women, particularly photographers.

The next picture is one that Meghan took of herself (her stomach, hip, and leg) as part of her self-portrait project and as part of Lincoln’s PhotoFest (check it out). I was struck by the beauty of the picture — the striking black and white, the enticing lines, and the interesting texture. Most of the time, our attention is drawn to women’s sexual body parts (e.g., chests), rather than women’s non-sexual body parts (Gervais, Vescio, & Allen, 2011). I asked Meghan if she would be willing to share the picture and what inspired it.

It was inspired by a black and white photo of a woman’s body that is currently on display at the Sheldon Museum of Art. I thought it was beautiful, strong yet vulnerable. Honest and authentic. That’s what I aimed to do in my own photo of myself.

Tell us a little bit about the story of your body. The story of my body…well that is a long and winding road. Currently, I typically feel pretty “okay” about my body. I believe I’m at a healthy weight and I don’t spend too much time stressing about losing weight, judging my body, or wishing my body looked radically different.

Has this always been the case? To get to this point has taken years. I have had a difficult relationship to my body since I was very young.

What  has this relationship looked like? I remember always feeling bigger than my friends…yes, I am tall and have been tall since about 5th grade, but this “biggerness” seemed to be more than just about height. I was always friends with athletes and very petite girls in school, thus, I felt Amazonian in comparison. I hated this feeling. I was my heaviest during the first two years of high school, and I don’t look back fondly at that period of time. I graduated from high school at a healthy weight and I remember feeling good about my body for a brief time. During college and the few years after, however, my weight and how I felt about myself and my body was a bit all over the map. I went through a very difficult time being overly concerned about what I ate, how I looked, and how much I exercised. I was very unhappy during this period of my life. It took alot of work and self-reflection to move out of that space of self-loathing.

What has helped you deal with these struggles? In the past three years, I had a significant health crisis that brought much of my life into sharp focus. Thankfully, I’ve moved beyond that health crisis, but am grateful that I think it gave me a better perspective about my body and what it can do, rather than how it looks.

Tell us about times when you feel most alive and energized in your body. What activities make you feel “in your body.” I feel most alive and energized in my body when I’m in nature–when I’m hiking or when I’m in the ocean. I feel so alive and connected to my body then. I also feel pretty connected and “in my body” during yoga, although that is still a work in progress. My mind wanders ALOT and I can get pretty distracted and NOT be connected and in my body, too. So, I’m working on my mind-body-spirit connection through yoga.

Anything else you’d like to share? I am struck by the negative comments that other people have made about my body during the course of my life, and how these comments have taken up residence in my body. It speaks to the power of words and reminds me to be careful in what I communicate to others about their physical selves.

I took these last two pictures of Meghan last night. I love these pictures for a few reasons. First, they are SO Meghan. Meghan is constantly writing and photographing affirmations. She also has an eye for hearts, often seeing hearts in everyday objects. Second, I felt so subversive taking them.  We went to the mirror in the ladies room at a restaurant and transformed lipstick (which is often used as an objectifying tool) into a body affirmation paint brush. Objectifying commentary from others can make us feel uncomfortable in our own skins — whether it is negative (which it often is) or even seemingly positive, it draws our attention back to the fact that we are being evaluated primarily on the basis of our bodies and appearance (Calogero et al., 2009). With all of the negative discourse about women’s bodies, I was delighted to offer some resistance. Meghan and I had such fun doing it and I hope that other women were able to look in the mirror and actually “choose love” (even if just for a moment) when looking back at their reflection.

References

Gervais, S. J., Vescio, T. K. & Allen, A. (2011). When what you see is what you get: The consequences of the objectifying gaze for women and men. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35, 5-17.

Calogero, R. M., Herbozo, S., & Thompson, K. (2009). Complimentary weightism: The potential costs of appearance-related commentary for women’s self-objectification. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 33, 120–132.

Kilbourne, J., & Pipher, M. (1999). Deadly persuasion: Why women and girls must fight the addictive power of advertising. New York: NY: Free Press.

picturing BACK SPACER

back_spacer

I shot this picture because my heart is longing for a little back spacer for my life. Sometimes I wish I could go back in life, give myself some space, and say “no” rather than “yes.”

I’ve always been a “yes” girl. I’m a firm believer that we will regret the things in life that we don’t do much more so than the things in life that we do. I pride myself on being open to new possibilities that present themselves on this path of life. And, yet…

My life just feels too crowded lately. This is not a good thing. It makes me feel irritable, anxious, and impatient. Don’t get me wrong — I want to live a full life, but I don’t want my life to feel full of obligations — things that I feel like I need to get through for the sake of getting through them. I find myself focusing on making it through the day, rather than the moments that make up each day.

Do you ever find yourself pleasantly saying yes to a request, while your heart vehemently screams no, NO, NO! Or maybe your yeses are a little more implicit. You’re running on autopilot and the switch is turned to yes when it perhaps should be turned to no or I’ll think about it.

I think we might feel more comfortable and less guilt when we say no if we remember that every “yes” is a “no” in disguise. When we say yes to one thing, we limit the time, energy, and money that we can spend on another thing. This isn’t a problem if we are saying yes to things that are in line with our core values and desires. This isn’t a problem if we are saying yes to things that energize and delight us. However, if the switch is automatically turned to yes, we are often unconsciously saying no to our deepest dreams and desires simply because we don’t allow ourselves the time and space to pursue them.

Give yourself permission to say “no” or “I’ll think about it” to something that comes up in your life today. And then step back and give yourself space to consider whether this activity will just fill up the moments in your life or will help you to live a full life.

picturing WOMEN

Calling all of my photography sisters out there (and I’m using photography sister very loosely here… if you have a camera phone, have ever taken a picture of any kind, or are a man interested in these issues, you are included in this group).

I am unveiling a new project today…Yes, I’m starting a new project on Valentine’s Day…not my favorite holiday, but I think it is a *perfect* day to kick-off this new endeavor. My project is about love and relationships, but in a very different way than you might think.

1) Do you love taking pictures of others, but rarely take pictures of yourself or allow others to take pictures of you? Why?

2) Do you experience your body as a source of strength and vehicle to experience the world with all of your senses or are you preoccupied with making sure you look perfect all of the time? And, when you don’t look perfect (after all, it is impossible to live up to the beauty standards that our society places on women), do you feel like you have failed?

3) Have you developed strategies – in your life or in your photography – to combat your own or others’ preoccupation with appearances? Have you been able to adopt a more loving relationship with your body? If so, what works and what doesn’t?

These are the types of questions that I consider almost every, single day. However, if you only read my blog, you probably do not know this because I never blog about them.

That is about to change…

Until recently, I’ve been living in two separate worlds. On the one hand, there’s my photography and blogging world. I love this world. Taking pictures and writing about them is fun, interesting, and generally good for my soul. On the other hand, there’s my professor and researcher world. I have more of a love-hate relationship with this world. I spend most of my days conducting studies, writing, and teaching about the causes and consequences of sexual objectification, which involves focusing on women’s appearance, rather than on what women say and do. I love asking and thinking about the questions, but sometimes hate the answers.

What is sexual objectification?

We live in a society where women are frequently sexually objectified in the media and in interactions with others. For example, sexual objectification can occur in photography when the camera lens focuses on women’s bodies or sexual body parts, rather than on entire women and their faces. Sadly, these images permeate our media – if you look through a magazine or on the web, you will see that this way of picturing women is the norm rather than the exception – and these images set the stage for some very negative consequences for women.

What is the problem?

First, sexually objectified images of women create and maintain the norm that it is okay to focus on a woman’s appearance, rather than what she thinks, what she feels, or what she can do. As a result, men and women often focus too much attention on women’s looks, rather than what women are saying and doing. Furthermore, this sexual objectification causes self-objectification in which women themselves chronically focus on their own appearance, feeling ashamed and anxious about their bodies and spending enormous amounts of time and money trying to improve their appearance.

What is the solution?

Unfortunately, in some ways it is much easier to identify the problems, rather than the solutions to sexual objectification. Researchers have suggested that women are submerged in sexual objectification much in the same way that fish exist in water. It permeates almost every aspect of life and is very difficult to escape. In fact, women often do not realize that they are swimming in sexual objectification most of the time.

A small step in the right direction.

Until recently, my research world was almost completely separate from my photography world.  When I put on my researcher hat, my photographer hat went in the closet and vice versa. However, then I had a delightful little idea… What if I somehow merged my sexual objectification research with my photography? And, better yet, what if I got other women photographers interested in these issues and formed a little community around examining these issues?

And…to the new project already!

The Re-Picturing Women Project

Why: The purpose of this project is to provide a virtual space for women to use photography and writing to challenge the sexual objectification of women.

What: This is a collaborative endeavor between photographers and women to take photographs that 1) illustrate the costs of sexual objectification for women, 2) picture what authentic women think, feel, and do, and 3) identify ways that women can challenge sexual objectification. To further give women voice, commentary (e.g., interviews, narratives) about how different images re-picture women will also be included.

When: Re-Picturing Women Wednesdays. I will publish a new post each Wednesday (starting Feb. 23).

Who: Because my hope is to grow a community of women who have a shared vision to identify and solve these issues, I would love for you (yes, you!) to participate. If you are interested in contributing, please contact me, sarah.gervais(at)gmail.com. Also, please share this with others who might be interested. I will also be photographing and interviewing some women myself, as well as, soliciting guest posts from other women photographers and bloggers.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s to more love (even a little) in women’s relationships with their bodies.

picturing WINE: Day 10

picturing WINE: Day 9