Posts Tagged ‘ re-picturing women ’

re-picturing PHOTOGRAPHY

Objectification is defined as seeing and/or treating a person, usually a woman, as an object (Nussbaum, 1999).

In photography, women are often treated as sexual objects in which their appearance or sexuality is regarded as more important than their other characteristics, for the use of other people, and capable of representing them (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; Kilbourne, 1999).

You know it when you see it.

When the camera lens focuses on a woman’s body parts rather than her face, she is objectified.

When a woman who is extremely thin with perfect skin and hair needs to be photoshopped to fit in with the other women in a beauty magazine, she is objectified.

When a woman is depicted as welcoming or enjoying sexual violence, she is objectified.

When a woman’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs, dreams, hopes, and desires – those very things that make us human – are not apparent, she is objectified.

But, how do you not objectify women in photography? Through this project I have learned that this is much easier said than done. Even with the explicit goal to challenge sexual objectification, how do you not create images that objectify women? After all, photographs literally are objects. By simply clicking the shutter, your subject becomes an object, a two-dimensional thing, rather than a multi-dimensional person. This is frustrating as I think about ways that I may be contributing to rather than resisting objectification.

However, words keep popping up as I struggle work my way through this project. Although I didn’t realize this initially, this seemingly random occurrence revealed one way in which we might photograph women in less sexually objectify ways (I’m not convinced that we can completely eliminate sexual objectification from photography).

As a noun, voice is defined as the sound or sounds uttered through the mouth of living creatures, especially of human beings in speaking, shouting, singing, etc. As a verb, voice is defined as to give utterance or expression to; declare; proclaim.

Although we may not audibly hear women’s utterances in photographs, we may literally give women voice, the power to utter, express, declare, or proclaim, when we read the words that women choose to describe how they make meaning in their bodies, their frustrations with their bodies, or the ways their bodies give them strength.

I have only recently begun to hear these voices, but as I listen and create I find myself finding a new photography voice of my own.

Have you discovered ways to photograph yourself or others as subjects rather than objects? If so, I would love to hear your voice.



You should never, EVER wear sandals. Your feet are SOOOOOOO ugly.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

I beg to differ.

I don’t remember his name, but I can’t forget his words.

Most of us are surrounded by a cacophony of voices. That was a stupid thing to say. I’m never going to get this done. I’m running late…again.

For women, the voices often go for the jugular – they attack our bodies and/or our sexuality.  Eat this. Don’t eat that. My eyes are up here. Is that another wrinkle? Are my roots showing? Do these pants make my butt look big? Did he think I was asking for it?

Have you ever wondered where these voices come from?

Unfortunately, we often carry the words of others with us long after they voiced them. Perhaps a well-intentioned friend tried to help us pick out clothes that would be flattering for our trouble spots. Our mothers complained about their legs growing up, revealing to us that we were genetically destined to have cankles. A lover may have made an off-handed comment about our breasts, or waists, or hips, or nose, or eyes, or whatever.  Even compliments can be backhanded criticisms – Have you lost weight? You look so great. Did I look so bad before?

I hate my feet. Seriously. Hate them. Actually, it’s not my feet per se. It’s my toes. I blame my parents. My dad’s toes are crooked, but long and lanky. My mom’s feet are short, but very well proportioned. I inherited the crookedness from my dad and the shortness from my mom, leaving me with short, crooked toes. Pedicures help. The right shoes (wide please) can also make them acceptable for public viewing. Often times, however, I’ll wear sneakers instead of sandals even when its 100 degrees outside.

There is something very powerful, however, about calling this voice out. What did you say? Who do you think you are?

There are a few steps to reclaiming these imposter voices.

1)   Identify the negative voice. If we aren’t conscious of the negative things we say to ourselves daily, then it is very hard to combat them. Your feet are ugly.

2)   Write the words down. Although writing it down may be scary, it gives us something tangible to work with.

3)   Identify whose voice it actually is (the most unexpected people – friends, family, strangers – have often taken up residence in our minds).  I can’t remember the name of my attacker, but I call him Foot Festish Fred (where does he get off making comments about my feet).

4)   Change the words from criticisms to affirmations. Although there is something powerful about criticisms, affirmations can be just as powerful. My feet are unique. My feet support my running. My feet have helped me walk all over the world.

This isn’t a panacea. But I’m working through it. You can too. Summer and sandals…here I come!

What words are ringing in your head? How are you combating them?

re-picturing PREGNANCY

How has pregnancy changed the way you and others think about your body?

Today we’re talking about the paradoxical consequences of pregnancy for Re-Picturing Women Wednesday.

On the one hand, pregnancy can be a time of great wisdom, connection, and strength for women and their bodies.

The body can be a source of new knowledge. It requires different foods, rest, and movement than it did before.

The body can also be a source of connection. The connection to the being growing within is completely unlike past relationships.

New strength is found as body literally creates and births another being.

On the other hand, it can be a time of additional sexual objectification experiences.

Appearance commentary and body evaluation from others is a relatively frequent experience for women. Pregnancy can make sexual objectification even more frequent, but it may take on a decidedly different flavor.

Suddenly, a swollen belly becomes the object of other people’s attention.

People may feel perfectly comfortable staring at (and often touching) women’s pregnant mid-sections. Although touch can be a form of connection, when it comes from complete strangers it is hardly the welcome connection that most women are seeking. Although the bodily changes are one important part of pregnancy, women are often trying negotiate profound changes, including changes in the body, new roles as expecting mothers, and sometimes what seem to be entirely different lives.

Vanessa Roof is re-pictured here. Below she shares her experience with pregnancy and her body. Vanessa is a fierce woman who is also a psychologist, researcher, mother, artist, student, and many other things. I am honored and delighted to have her share her experience as she expects her third child!

How did it feel to be photographed? It was strange – I don’t think I have been photographed since my wedding – nearly 9 years ago.  I usually try to stay out of pictures. It made me realize that I really need to try to be in more pictures – especially with my kids.

Tell us a little bit about the story of your body. I normally think about my body from a health standpoint.  I think that being healthy is most important – eating right, staying active, sleeping enough, taking care of yourself.  As an adolescent, I thought there were a lot of things that were wrong with my body – that seems to be a normal phase.  As an adult, especially with 2.5 kids, I have realized that each year my body changes a little more, so I try to appreciate where I am right now because next year….things will look a little different.  I think that over the past 3-5 years, I have become completely comfortable in my body – and not just with my body – with my whole self.  That was nice.

How has this changed when you’ve been pregnant? Some women really enjoy being pregnant, and I am really not one of them.  I have a short torso which means I am very uncomfortable for about four months.  It means simple things – like my son had to help me take my boots off last week.  I can’t paint my own toenails.  This baby is a boy, and the extra testosterone also affects me in some way – I really just don’t feel ‘cute’ very often.  I didn’t feel that way when I was pregnant with my daughter.

What struggles have you had with your body? I always wish I was stronger.  I am not an athlete, and I wish that I could develop those long and lean muscles that come with athletes.  My struggle with my body is that I am so busy, I really do not have much time to workout, and I like how fit bodies look.  Some women figure out how to keep working out with small kids and full time work – I am not one of them.  I try to run, but that is sporadic as well.

What makes you feel alive and energized in your body? Sun and Water.  I love swimming, being at the pool, laying out.  I also like when I use my body for something physical and I accomplish what I set out to do – like running a long distance.  I also like wearing a great pair of jeans and boots or flip-flops.  That makes me feel cute.

If you could tell women (or men) one thing about women’s bodies, what would it be? Growing up, I was involved in dance, and I continued with dance through college.  My dance teacher in college was amazing, and when we were working on something that was difficult, she would tell us to close our eyes and ‘just feel it.’  I loved that approach – she told us to shut our eyes and find what felt right from within.  I wish women could shut their eyes and do what ‘feels’ right rather than what they see as right.  My daughter is going to start dance with the same teacher this fall, and I can’t wait.  

Anything else to share? Women’s bodies really are amazing.  They are powerful, capable of amazing things, and really beautiful.

What was your experience of pregnancy?  How did it change how you experienced your body? Did you experience it as empowering, objectifying, or some of both?

re-picturing CELINA

Hi Folks! Welcome back to Re-Picturing Women Wednesday. Today, I’m honored and humbled to have a guest post from an amazing woman, artist, gamer, photographer, and dreamer…meet Celina Wyss!

Celina writes the blog Steps and Snips in which she documents with amazing honesty her love of travel and crafting. I find myself clicking back to Steps and Snips often (like multiple times a day!), hoping for an updated post. Celina puts into words the truths that most of us experience, whether talking about the tragedy in Japan or poll dancing.

The post below includes Celina’s words and self-portraits. Thank you for having the courage and vulnerability to share your story, Celina. Your words of love and self-acceptance ring true in my heart and I know they will touch the heart of others as well.

Guest Post by Celina Wyss

Do you love your body?

When presented with this question most women will probably give quite a weighted answer. Most will tell you what they don’t love instead. I face all the same struggles with self acceptance. As a child, I was immersed early on with images of beautiful movie stars, models and princesses in fairy tales. I thought I had a pretty good idea on what women should look like. I thought if I looked like they did then I would be fabulously successful and happy. When I was in 8th grade I struggled daily with sexual harassment and physical prodding from boys in my small rural school. Being blessed (or cursed) with a large chest at an early age can bring on some very unwanted attention to a girl who is struggling to find her sense of self. I started to feel like I needed to hear the sexual comments to reaffirm that I was pretty enough. That if I was receiving that kind of attention it meant I was doing something right. Only it didn’t really feel right in the end.

Fast forward to me now at age 30. I am working towards having a healthier attitude about my body and learning to love and accept it for what it can do. It is an exercise in learning how to love all the little pieces of me that make me unique. Like the way I have beauty marks almost forming a perfect necklace across my chest. Or the way I have a big splat of a birthmark on my lower back right in the spot that most women get a tattoo. More recently it was learning how to come to terms with the 5 scars on my stomach from the Nissen Fundiplication surgery I had this summer. Or the acceptance that the stretch marks on my hips will never really fade away and instead act as a badge of honor for being blessed with the ability to carry a child inside of me.

Recently I came across this video of Eve Ensler talking about loving your tree. I found it to be a beautiful message. I got to thinking about ways my body would be considered beautiful in other cultures. More importantly it helped me understand that there is no correct term for outer beauty. Only what others think it should be.

Today I continue on my path of self-love and acceptance. Will I still dye my hair? Probably. Will I still fantasize about liposuction? Maybe. But I can work towards doing those things with a more mindful choice about why I am making the decision instead of a lusting to fit into the ideal body image we all have created in our own heads.

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!

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.


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 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) 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.