I’ve Moved!

I have some exciting new to share! As I’ve traveled on this journey toward my own heart, it has led me to a new space in the blogosphere. The Re-Picturing Women Project has moved over to my new website, sarahgervais.com. I bought the domain name, sarahgervais.com, a few months ago, but I’ve waivered and waffled on actually taking the step to make it my own.  However, it will offer a lot more creative flexibility for Re-Picturing Women, so I know that it is the right move.

What do you need to do to continue on this journey with me? Simply click on the link to my new site and update your Google Reader, RSS feed, email subscription, or bookmarks. I hope to see you there!

re-picturing FLOW

Dear Friends,

As I’ve journeyed toward a more balanced version of me, listening carefully to what my heart is telling me every step along the way, I’ve noticed that when the going gets tough, I should sometimes get going and sometimes stop and take a break.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been banging my head against the wall and it’s starting to hurt. So, I’ve decided to sit this round out — to take a breather. Take a moment to realign my heart and mind, my body and soul. No worries…I will return next week. I’ve got interviews with several amazing ladies for the re-picturing women project in the pipeline and I can’t wait to share some fascinating new research about women and their bodies. Here are a few pictures that I took of wildflowers along a Colorado stream earlier this summer. They have been a gentle (and needed) reminder for me to surrender to the flow of the universe.


Do you need to press on, take a break, make a u-turn? Are you resisting the flow of the universe?



re-picturing TRUST

Do you trust the universe enough?

re-picturing FITNESS FASHION


am I underdressed in my shirt and shorts?

When did the runway replace the running path?

My academic work recently took me to Washington, D.C. for the annual American Psychological Association conference. One morning I rose early to run on the National Mall. I ran the few blocks from my hotel to the reflecting pool in front of U.S. Capitol and was feeling good. My knee wasn’t hurting, it was warm, but not hot, and I was enjoying taking in the sights.

As I became aware of my surroundings, however, I had a completely novel running experience. I felt…underdressed.

No, my ass wasn’t hanging out of my shorts and my sports bra was in place. However, as I looked around, I noticed that the runners around me, especially the women, were not just sporting the usual shirts and shorts, but many had donned cute, brightly colored skorts, skirts, and even dresses.

It looked more like a catwalk than the Mall and instead of sporting the latest fashion trends, I felt like I got stuck with the ill-fitting leftovers from last year’s goodwill sack.

Well, it turns out that my experience wasn’t unique. It seems that retailers have recently introduced several lines of athletic clothing in which women can be fashionable and functional at the same time. The August edition of Runner’s World featured a cover model sporting a hot pink and orange outfit with an argyle skirt, arm warmers, and a spaghetti strap sports bra. According to Runners Word, fastinistas are the new fashionistas. Instead of wearing shorts and shirts (with bonus points for a synthetic, non-cotton, singlet that wicks sweat away from the body), women appear to be donning skorts, skirts, spaghetti strap tanks, dresses, even mumus and shrugs.

Although I have nothing against function with fashion, I can’t help but feel a little a loss. The running path used to be sacred space. The only requirement was a good pair of shoes. It was a place where someone could wear what she wanted and be in her body without worrying about how she looked to others. As I reflect back on my time at the Mall, I am struck by the fact that in an instant I went from enjoying being in my body and seeing the world around me to thinking about how the world saw me, focusing on how my body looked rather than how my body felt.

What do you think about fitness clothes? Function, fashion, or both?

re-picturing DIETING

Diet:    (1) What a person or animal usually eats and drinks; daily fair.

(2) A special or limited selection of food and drink, chosen or prescribed to promote health or a gain or loss of weight.

I am stunned that Merriam-Webster can offer such a neutral description of this very loaded concept.

Three separate readers have recently asked me whether I’m supportive or not of women who are focused on dieting and losing weight. Can dieting fit into the re-picturing women project?

My immediate, knee-jerk reaction to these questions is that dieting is bad, bad, bad. Re-picturing women is about accepting and representing real women of all shapes and sizes. Seeing ultra-slim models on the internet, on television, and in magazines certainly contributes to girls and women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies. However, have I been on a diet? Yes. For most of my life, in fact. And, when I’m not dieting, I feel like I should be dieting.

Yet, dieting tends to be a big part of many women’s lives.

I recently polled some of my readers to get their perceptions on dieting. And, yes, several people came back with extremely adverse reactions, similar to mine.

Restriction, hunger, thinness, struggle, no food,” came to mind for Lindsey Moser.

Pam Gervais described it is “deprivation, torture.”

Meghan Davidson from Life Refocused said, “UGH. That’s my first thought. And then other very negative associations come to mind–restricting, withholding, deprivation, lack of abundance, punishing.”

“Two words that immediately come to mind are ‘deprivation’ and ‘temporary,’ reflected Elizabeth Thomas of Life in Pencil.

Emily Kayzak chose words including, “Control, judgment, sexism, perfection, waste of energy,” to describe dieting.

Others didn’t have quibbles about dieting, per se, but they had strong opinions about the best approach to dieting.

Maura Tanabe noted, “When I think of dieting, I think of something I always think about around January to lose weight. I find that extreme changes never work for me. The word usually has a negative connotation for me because I feel like it is a huge commitment for a short period of time. Dieting really should mean slowly changing your eating habits to include foods/drinks that serve a positive purpose for your body. I have heard numerous times lately that what you put into your body should serve a positive purpose.”

Similarly, “I think the whole concept of dieting is warped. I know a lot of people who go on extreme diets for weeks before a vacation, shed lots of weight and then put it right back on (and then some) when the diet is over.  I associate times in my life when I was dieting with over-depriving followed by over-indulging. It’s not sustainable. Instead of going on a diet, I prefer the idea of healthy eating as a lifestyle that involves an ongoing commitment to buying fresh, organic food without additives and eating reasonable portions. I like and enjoy eating fruit, vegetables, salads and drinking water. But I also indulge in french fries or chocolate sometimes, and I think that’s fine, too. I don’t count points and I never weigh myself, but I always know when my body is getting sluggish from too much junk food and not enough exercise. If I haven’t been eating healthily enough, I try to tip the balance back in favor of carrots over candy bars,” noted Melissa Dowler of the Long Haul Project.

Offering a similar approach, Elizabeth Thomas noted, “In my mind, ‘dieting’ needs to boil down to fundamental lifestyle changes that speak to our day-to-day choices and carries us through our lives.  So many diet plans seem to work in terms of meeting the goal of losing weight fast, but they rarely seem healthy and sustainable over the long haul.  I’m especially leery of diet plans that eliminate entire categories of food, often based on reductionist reasoning.”

Still others added important caveats or re-frames for dieting.

Taking a “playful” approach to dieting, Lesa Hoffman suggested, “My approach to ‘dieting’ this year has been to think of it as a game – how full can I get and still stay under the number of calories I should have in order to create a deficit? This has meant thinking outside the box in terms of food choices in order to find more ways to get protein, so from that perspective, it’s actually somewhat enjoyable because I end up eating new things… but then on occasions when I do eat my preferred carb-laden food I invariably feel guilty about it, like normal, which is not so fun.”

Offering a man’s perspective, my brother, Ben Gervais stated, “The thought that I am trying to cognitively reposition in my head on the subject is: It is not about weight loss or body image, or anything external for that matter.  Instead, dieting means simply eating foods in a manner that will support my greater goal.  That greater goal is to shape my body in a way that will allow me to do things I desire to do, such as to run faster miles, perform household chores like heavy lifting with more ease, and be more creative in the bedroom ;).  I can’t get to this point without a healthy lifestyle that incorporates proper food intake.  This philosophy is something a close friend of mine at school, a former Army Ranger, is a big proponent of.”

Importantly, one of the goals of re-picturing women is to help women live more fully in their bodies. Although I want women to love their bodies how they are right now, I don’t want to encourage women to just act as if they love their bodies or to just sit still if the universe is prodding them to do something with their bodies. It is a very touchy issue, though. Every woman’s experience is different. My hope is that the re-picturing women project can honor the unique narratives of all women and help people realize that each story is to be respected because it represents a real experience from a real woman. One of my readers recently realized that she was carrying around layers of extra weight to protect herself from the hurt of serious losses she had experienced. Another reader wanted to stop using food to stuff what she was really feeling. And a last reader simply wasn’t happy that she wasn’t fitting into her clothes anymore. Do I support these women making life changes that are helping them to live more fully, be more alive, feel like their bodies belong to them? Hell yes!

Is dieting good or bad? Well, the answer is probably…it depends. It depends on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. It depends on whether it helps you feel more in touch or alienated from your body.

What has dieting revealed to you? Please weigh in on this weighty issue!

re-picturing STORIES

What role do you play in your story?


After I took this (failed) self-portrait today, I was struck by two things. First, I need to get a remote control if I want to take self-portraits without cursing and gnashing of teeth. Second, although not my intention, this self-portrait revealed something telling about my relationship with time. As the nice little blur from the photo reveals, I couldn’t sit still long enough to let the camera do its work, just as I often can’t pause long enough to savor the moment, to be lost in what I’m doing, or to soak up the present.

As I continue on this journey of re-picturing women, representing “real” women with words and photos, I am struck by how women do anything and everything to bend the rules when it comes to time. Don’t get me wrong. With the many demands on our time – work, family, cooking, cleaning, mowing, trying to fit into our clothes, creative ventures (if we’re lucky) – something has got to give.  There simply aren’t enough minutes in an hour, hours in a day, or days in a week to get it all done.

I have little to no respect for time and the feeling is mutual. The faster I try to push time, the faster it pushes me. Last week, I noted that most activities take 3 X longer than I think they will. However, this knowledge does little to stop me from pulling out pen and pad, making lists of often 30+ items, and prioritizing all of them as “must dos” ASAP. Of course, I never get these activities all done and I am left feeling impatient, incompetent, out of sorts. When I have the weight of the next step bearing down on me, it is very difficult to enjoy the activity that is right in front of me. I don’t enjoy cooking when I’m thinking about the dirty dishes that inevitably follow. I don’t get into the flow of running when I’m thinking about how quickly I’ll need to return home to shower. Writing a manuscript (or blog post or whatever) isn’t much fun when I think of the next three I need to finish when I’m done with this one.

So, I use little tricks – I say tricks because it gives the illusion that we can do it all – when in actuality like all illusions, realistically we can’t. Multi-tasking – doing two or more activities at one time – for example, cooking dinner, responding to e-mails, washing dishes, and talking on the phone – is one such trick – a frenetic flurry of activity that makes us feel like we’re getting a lot done and makes us crazy at the same time.

Like a runner who somehow missed her turn (probably because she was so focused on finding the finish line) and is now running down the wrong road and doesn’t realize that the race ended hours ago. She’s tired, she’s getting no where fast, but she can’t stop because she’s got to finish this race, damnit!

I wonder what would happen if I tried to take one step at a time. Might I be able to create just a little time, a little space, a little stillness for me?

What would your self-portrait reveal about you?