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.

  1. Wow, Sarah, this is great! I’m excited to follow this new thread on your blog. I decided to do a photography project called “Roar” for my current class which explores the idea of women showing their strength by literally roaring. I can see it extending far beyond my class, as the two shoots I have done so far have been enlightening and thought-provoking (for me as well as my “subjects”). I’ve been blown away by how surprised my subjects have been when I told them I see them as “strong women” and how strange it is for them to think about expressing themselves that way.It has stimulated many interesting conversations about how women feel about themselves and how they are usually depicted (sweet, smiling, pretty, sexy). I would love to share more about it with you, and certainly look forward to what others share here on your blog.

  2. So thrilled about this project, Sarah. I think it such a fabulous and empowering idea. Bravo for launching it and can’t wait to take part in it. xo

    • Maura
    • February 14th, 2011

    Sarah- I have been thinking about u a lot lately, so glad I read this posting! This sounds like an awesome project that I would like to take a part in. Miss u!

    • Lauren
    • February 14th, 2011

    What a wonderful idea, Sarah!

    Have I already sent you the link to the blog Already Pretty (http://www.alreadypretty.com/)? This sounds like something right up her ally. It’s a style blog but she’s also really thoughtful about women’s issues, body image, objectification, etc. Here are her posts tagged with body image: http://www.alreadypretty.com/category/body-image And she’s a Minnesotan too. 🙂

    • Tiffany Hogan
    • February 18th, 2011

    Amazing idea Sarah – I can’t wait to see it grow!!!

    • Tara
    • February 21st, 2011

    What a fantastic idea! Looking forward to following your blog. Love you!

  3. I love this project! Not sure how I missed this announcement but I think it’s a great and important thing to explore.

  4. I’m keen to see how this shows up on your blog, and to participate in the conversation. Well done, naming this and bringing these different parts of your life together – with bravery and compassion.

  1. February 18th, 2011
    Trackback from : Lovely Links: 2/18/11

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