Woman Photographs Herself Receiving Strange Looks in Public


Memphis-based photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero has long been aware of strangers making fun of her behind her back due to her size. So aware, in fact, that she has turned the whole concept into a full-blown photography project. Titled Wait Watchers, the series consists of Morris-Cafiero’s self-portraits in public in which strangers can be seen in the background giving her strange looks and/or laughing.

The project was born when Morris-Cafiero was working on a separate project titled Something to Weigh. For one of the photos in that project, she snapped a self-portrait while sitting on some steps in Times Square.

After processing the film, she noticed that there was a man behind her making a face at her while being photographed by a female friend:


She noticed something similar in a photograph captured just five minutes later at a different location.

Morris-Cafiero then began setting up her camera in heavily trafficked public areas, composing the shots, setting a self-timer, and then stepping into the frame. The camera snaps a photo while she’s doing everyday things (e.g. chatting on her phone or grabbing a bite to eat), and her hope is that the image also captures an interesting expression from at least one passing stranger.

I now reverse the gaze and record their reactions to me while I perform mundane tasks in public spaces. I seek out spaces that are visually interesting and geographically diverse. I try to place myself in compositions that contain feminine icons or advertisements. Otherwise, I position myself and the camera in a pool of people…and wait [#]

The images capture the gazer in a microsecond moment where they, for unknowable reasons, have a look on their face that questions my presence. Whether they are questioning my position in front of the lens or questioning my body size, the gazer appears to be visually troubled that I am in front of them [#]










You can find more photos from this series over on Haley Morris-Cafiero’s personal website.

Image credits: Photographs by Haley Morris-Cafiero and used with permission

  • nelly0042

    Hey Richard! I’ve figured out why so many comments referred to her weight! It’s hidden in the first sentence of the article: “Memphis-based photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero has long been aware of strangers making fun of her behind her back due to her size.”
    Hope that clears up the mystery.

  • bob cooley

    This is a late reply, but I was just reading this article – I can speak with some experience on the front of depression/anxiety disorders (thankfully long in my past), because I made the choice to seek help when I was suffering from it, and to do the work to help myself to get better.

    Even under a doctor’s care (actually many doctors over the course of a number of years) and with the help of meds to make the symptoms more tolerable, I had to make the choice every day (sometimes every hour) to help myself get better.

    Minor depression/anxiety can usually be self-regulated easily, just as dropping a few pounds can be done on your own.

    Clinical or severe depression/anxiety will need the help of doc and a support network, as will extreme (thyroid-based) obesity.

    But in both cases, the patient has to make the choice to get help, and the choice to do the work that it takes to get better. Its not an easy choice – and there is a lot of hard work. But ultimately it is a choice.

  • The Truth Hurts

    You must have never been to NYC if you think all of those photos are from New York. There’s pictures of her walking along a beach and some town architecture and traffic lights that are clearly European

  • jay

    So, you’re going about your day as usual and you see a woman who is:
    -obese (nothing special)
    -not too attractive (still nothing special)
    Here’s where it gets tricky:
    -she’s making strange expressions
    -she’s acting strangely for the place she is (not guaranteed, but likely)
    -she has awful body language
    -terrible fashion sense
    -for some puzzling reason, there’s someone taking her photo while doing the above things
    -they’re both likely blocking pedestrian traffic while doing it all

    Wouldn’t you be bewildered, too? Just look at the swing photo. Who does that?

  • doodahdoodoo_pierre

    I’d stare at someone fumbling with a gigantic map, too, regardless of what the person looked like.

  • Stina

    I don’t think its about size necessarily but where shes standing, which looked like blocking some peoples path, or what she was doing like having a large map out or being an adult sitting on a swing while not swinging which would make most people look. Don’t think you can base this project on reaction to size

  • ddnlj

    You’re probably about 21 years old. Just wait. It’ll catch up to you

  • LaurieAC

    I feel sad for any person who is harassed and regarded in a negative
    manner. I believe people should show compassion and empathy for others
    and not be hateful and cruel. Some of these photos clearly show cruel responses, but other people appear to only be looking curious about what she is doing. I wish someone would let Haley know about the Paleolithic diet, because not only does it help people lose weight in an almost effortless manner, the weight stays off,
    it provides an abundance of energy and allows for optimal health because the toxic foods such as refined sugar, gluten, grains, dairy and soy are removed from the diet.

  • Chloe

    Maybe people are staring at her poor clothing choices OR the fact she has a camera pointed at herself while she is doing nothing but standing there looking weird!

  • Nicholas Walker

    As a professional Photographer and studio artist My opinion is that The project is Valid no matter what the passers by are looking at. Your comment just validated her even more.Her statement seems to be people who don’t know her or her situation make assumptions like you just did. And many ignorant people are unable to keep their rudeness, whether they be laughs looks or ignorant comments like yours, in check.

  • bio

    obesogens are not a thing you absolute idiot. there’s nothing inherently bad about gmo’s. read a book.

  • ira

    i agree with the others. i would give her a weird look only because she is taking photos of herself not doing anything in a busy area.

    any person who breaks up the flow of foot traffic or is standing still while people are moving around them gets a weird look. Yes, some of those people may be looking at her “due to her weight”. But she is really not even that big. I think it is a little ego centric to immediately assume that people are judging your weight and not any of the other factors.


  • John is Awake

    sgoldmoon found the vegan!

  • Constantine Koynov

    Actually i do believe Emest Nitka is correct. Some people stare out of curiousity and others are just teenagers laughing cuz , let’s face it , kids are mean when they’re in school. Apart from one or two that are plain obvious the others are just overly curious people

  • Josie

    Perhaps it’s the attitude of onlookers to the person inside the clothes that makes them say she’s badly dressed in ordinary casual clothes that look no worse than what the people around her are wearing. If a waif-like woman was wearing these clothes, I think it’s unlikely anyone would criticise her style.

  • Josie

    I can certainly believe that. I lived in Germany for a few years, after a year in Austria, and, after finding the Austrians quite polite and friendly (which may depend on which part of the country you’re in) was quite taken aback at how ready some Germans were to comment on other people’s business!

  • Josie

    That would be interesting. Especially if they were in the same clothes.

  • Josie

    If they were aware of the camera, wouldn’t they be giving it an odd look rather than her?

  • needingrelease

    It’s too bad you never heard of a thyroid. Or a thing called a metabolism.

  • Patrick Duff

    The truth is that in every picture she just let out a huge fart!

  • spaghettifrier

    I often find that if I turn to look at someone and i’m not already smiling, the look is easily mistaken for hostile or snobby. In reality, people look because they sense something is going on, and are curious what it is. In this case, something is going on. The woman is doing a photo project, and there is a camera planted nearby. The photographer may have thought she was blending into the crowd, but perhaps something about her body language paired with the nearby camera was enough to get people to turn for a moment.

    We don’t really know what any of these people were thinking.

  • meh

    yes im fat ,and thats why people are looking at me. just a photographer with low self esteem. these people could be laughing at the fact shes sitting in a kiddie swing looking like she wants to die. not because shes obese.

  • laura

    Agreed, there are no such thing as obesogens, but GMOs are illegal in many European countries. Look it up.

  • thom

    yeah but she doesn’t have a medical condition, she just eats a lot. if you look at her website, she mentions this.

  • K

    Are you really claiming that things are “objectively” less aesthetically pleasing? Based on what grounds?

    Fashion and asethetics have both changed enormously throughout history. Look at 17th century paintings – obesity was attractive then where it is not now. That’s one simple, relevant example.

  • Silvia Squirre

    Should have taken video. Having been fat, I know what she’s talking about, it’s just hard to get these reactions in a single photo. A video would have shown more context. You can get a succession of stills from video.

  • Dave Mace

    I am a bit suspicious of what’s going on here. Cameras have the ability to freeze a moment in time that in reality is thousands of a second. It would be very easy to take a
    thousand pictures and find 100 where people seem to be looking, laughing or frowning at you. We don’t know what was going on… maybe she humming loudly, had a sign on her back, or any other number of distractions. In fact, a couple of the photos look as if the people are looking at the photographer. Photography always seems to show the undeniable truth but any photographer will tell you, it’s only an illusion.