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

  • Alstar

    That doesn’t prove these people are doing that – her past experience could be making her more likely to presume intent. But without proof, she has potentially harmed any one depicted with this insinuation about their character, especially if they are recognised by employers or friends. It could harm a teacher for example. If this goes viral that’s likely to happen. In this form, I dont think the project is ‘valid’ in any normal sense as it provides insufficient proof, just one person acting as judge and jury. Its valid if valid includes being reckless and damaging to innocent people and potentially likely to end up with a letter from someones lawyer and a trip to court. I know if my photo appeared here with such an insinuation, I would not be happy.

  • Amanda Guyton

    Its amazing how many people do not realize that photography is a manipulatable art medium. It doesn’t matter why those people were staring at her right then- what the project i about is knowing that people are often uncomfortable sharing space with people who are different or outside what is considered socially acceptable in appearance. She then set up the situation to capture what that would look like. This is how it often feels to be out in public when you are different: that people stare, sneer, snicker, and make faces at you, judging you based not kno knowing who you are, but what you look like.

    Perhaps if we gave it some thought, we’d all understand the real meaning of accepting people as they are.

  • Robin Moad

    I think a lot of the looks have to do with a camera pointing their direction.

  • adamantine

    I was confused by some of these shots (like the swing set one) because it does seem like the looks could be about about her actions, not appearance but looking at in the way you’ve explained it made me *get* the project so thank you.

  • ii

    Thats a heavy dose of paranoia right there. pun entirely intended. if you take enough pictures of yourself, in public, doing things.. ppl are bound to look at some point. ppl dont always have smiles on their faces when theyre curious.. its more “what is she doing there?” the camera isnt even concealed…shes taking these pics of herself.. Id look at her like “wtf is she doing” too. also..there is no proof some of those ppl are ACTUALLY looking AT her.. they could very well be laughing at something the person next to them said about something completely different and just happen to be looking in that ladys general direction. Im not buyin it.

  • Neen

    I really don’t think she’s so big that people would stare everywhere she goes. If anything, this shoot seems to show her own insecurities – she thinks people are always staring at her and the intention of the shoot is “Look at how people always give me dirty looks just because of my size.” But perhaps the ‘looks’ are all in her head because she’s ashamed of her size – not because people care.

  • jayjam

    Of course people are going to look if you’re snapping photos next to them. Geez.

  • Ingemar Smith

    This is the best project I’ve ever come across on Petapixel. I hope the editors don’t let the negative responses prevent them from seeking out future projects like this with real creativity and courage.

  • TwoHoots

    Well, She is fat. Looks to have a funny/lost expression on her face in the middle of people going about in a busy street. She is bound to have this… many of the expressions of people around her are inconclusive.. she should just not be so self centered in thinking that people are giving her the looks. interesting pictures, but I think the term is ‘imagined slights’.

  • Harry

    People will stare, she’s very overweight, she can lose weight or live with it!
    Living with it is easier than losing weight.

  • Karin

    Love the pictures and I think what you do is important. Read some comments below, and I can see that the it’s dangerous to reflect upon norms and to question human behaviour in the same way that it’s in Sweden. You show your everyday reactions from people and question them. People see your pictures and are not even willing to recognize your experiences. Keep up what you’re doing!
    /Karin från Sweden

  • David Eickhoff

    I dont see the big thing here. (pun intended) It’s not strange to find people looking behind someones back if they look like that. In my opinon, having lived in 3rd world countries for a while, where people struggle to get food on their plate. Being that overweight is just disgusting, and a big mocking on poor countries…

  • Marie

    This is actually very disturbing – passerby’s give a judgemental look to a stranger, I thought things were better

  • JC

    I’m interested in learning more about that. I recently, like last week, just bought a Breville juicer as I started having some health issues in recent years. I’m thinking it’s all from the poor quality food choices available at most restaurants here in the U.S.

  • Anya M

    There are no such things as ‘obesogens’ and GMO foods are not labelled in ‘Europe’ (as if Europe is one state anyway?) any more than they are in the US. If you’re going to be one of those stupid American conspiracy theorists, leave the rest of the world out of it.

  • Sarma Burdeu

    Perhaps the looks are b/c of Hayley’s weight, but I’m more inclined to think it’s b/c of the dour and negative attitude she puts forward with the way she carries herself. If she didn’t dress like a child and smiled I think the reactions would be totally different. Ok, we shouldn’t be judged by any aspect of how we look – but we are. Sad, but true and I bet each and every one of us is guilty of giving someone, somewhere such a look.

  • Sandra Earles Downs

    Does she not see the legal liaboility of what she has done? She wants to publicly publish and a profit from photos of people she doesn’t have permission to photograph.

  • Amanda Flowers

    Humans are such dicks sometimes.

  • Elijah Heal

    really, you actually used that long assed word? No one knows what it means dude, why use a word like that? it doesnt make you sound smart when your rambling on about this lame assed topic.

  • joseph

    well unfortunately here in america, a mc donalds burger is cheaper than a salad, a 2L bottle of pepsi is cheaper than milk, and a bag of chips is cheaper than fresh produce. ‘Merica, f- yeah. So economics should be considered before you judge someone. Health should also be considered, just because someones fat doesnt necessarily mean they are gluttonous, they just make very poor health choices. That could be for social reasons, economic reasons or yeah just not giving a damn can also be a reason but you dont know what the reason is unless you get to know a person. Health and weight in america is a very multifaceted subject and regardless of the reasons for a person being over weight, people shouldn’t be so judgmental.

  • Alana Springsteen

    Having had to help larger friends shop for clothing, I will say that the styles they make for overweight women half her size are appalling unless you want to pay through the nose for clothing. The fact that she is dressed badly has as much to do with poor selection as it does with poor taste. I agree that the looks may not have had anything to do with her, but the project does point out one thing that the “artist” herslef may have overlooked: body image issues cause insecurity. Whether real or imagined, she is given reason to interpret them or herself in this manner. The fact is, Western societies glamorize waif like women. Art is meant to spark discussion and debate. Whether anyone agrees with the project or its interpretation, this was a mission accomplished.

  • Alana Springsteen

    I don’t understand why the answer has to be for her to loose weight. Hypothetically, if these people are truly laughing at her, and I’m not saying that they are, there seems to be a problem on both ends. We ridicult people that are different from us and them pass it off as their fault. What buisness is it of others if you do not fit into society exactly? Why is the answer not also “people should mind their own business?”

  • Alana Springsteen

    I don’t see how anyone can disagree with you here.

  • jaci

    so true angela

  • Lisa Nortman

    I commend you for being courageous enough to do this. As a large woman I have spent my life receiving similar looks from people where ever I’ve gone. It’s particularly fun when people talk about you in a foreign language too – not realizing you speak their language. People don’t usually believe me or brush aside my hurt feelings or stories of how I’ve been treated by complete strangers – your pictures help prove that I was not and have not been over sensitive, that people can and are publicly disdainful and mean – particularly in regards to overweight women.

  • Lisa Nortman

    YES it is. so often I’ve had Germans, Swiss and Austrians making comments about my size – while standing next to me – not realizing I’m fluent in German. Trust me – this happens in Europe – at least in the 12 I’ve been to.

  • Brad Reason

    verging off-topic here onto an interesting thought: What if the artist never makes a statement, then by your definition, that artist’s work or specific project is not valid?

    Mr Brainwash comes to mind. His intentions and his validity are on completely different paths.

  • min

    wow this is dumb, i always look at random people while walking down streets and stuff. besides, half of those people weren’t even looking at her. does she think the world revolves around her bc she’s fat? WOOWW I’VE NEVER SEEN A FAT PERSON BEFORE MUST STARE… no, nobody thinks like that, except maybe little children. grow up.

  • Colleen

    For one thing the title reads that she is photographing herself which isn’t right unless she had a tripod which I doubt in those kinds of crowds. Two, I think a lot of the people were just caught in a thought and were not judging her although some looked to be but who knows.

  • Son

    a lot of these pictures seem to have people staring at her maybe because she is standing turned in a huge rush of people walking the other way… or because she is an adult woman alone on a swing… or because she has a huge map out… I don’t know I would immediately assume people are staring because of her weight… skinny or large if someone bends over right next to me to pick something I will probably notice and look at the movement…

  • Son

    would NOT immediately assume***

  • Steven Lourie

    If I went outside with a monkey hat on, I’d get some strange looks. Maybe I could take a picture of that and call myself an artist.

  • gober


  • gober

    I eat horribly fattening food yet I never gain weight, I dont exercise or anything like that ad I am slim ad trim. Your statement is false and horribly filled with holes.

  • gober

    do you see the numbers changing?

  • Guy

    If a Smoker lights up a cigarette when they look gaunt and ill I’ll look at them with disdain, equally if an obese person is stuffing their face with high calorific food I will equally give them the same look. It’s my expression of opinion and is protected.

  • Jesuschian

    What she doesn’t say about these pictures is that she is blocking a commonly used pathway (reason 1 to give her the stink eye) and also that she has a large tripod setup to take the pictures. If you think you can act like this and people wont be annoyed or stare, then you are more delusional than I thought.

  • jesus chian

    The genetic disorders that make losing weight difficult and can even cause weight gain are firstly very rare. I understand that she may still have one, but the average weight gain from these diseases is 15-30 lbs. She is more than 30 lbs overweight. And even IF she actually had one of these genetic conditions (which fat people say they have all the time but rarely do) she would know that her weight is actually not in her control and probably wouldn’t go out of her way to create an article. She should lose some weight. That is objective fact.

  • jesus chian

    The problem is that most fat people get hungry and assume immediately that they are legitimately starving. Our stomachs are elastic, they can increase in size if you eat huge portions consistently just as they can shrink in size if you eat less. Our bodies do not need nearly as much food to live than most fat people believe. There is always a choice. Someone eating 6000 calories a day can be just fine with 3000 and not be starving.

  • jesuschian

    The problem is most fat people do not have any health problems, except for those that stem from being overweight. A fat person says “oh my knees hurt so I can’t excersize as much” when their knees hurt BECAUSE they have an extra 100 lbs on their frame. And dude the number of people with a legitimate thyroid condition is very small. And the amount of weight gain you speak of is in the most extreme cases, when in average the weight gain from a thyroid problem will not make someone obese. It takes being lazy and eating poorly combined with the thyroid to cause morbid obesity.

  • jesuschian

    But I feel the real problem is that people with these problems don’t even bother trying anymore. Yes it takes a tremendous load of “re-wiring” to get into healthier shape, and yet people will use this as an excuse constantly to stop tying to fix these problems. By saying it is the most difficult type of problem to overcome, you are, probably unintentionally, providing an excuse to obese people too lazy to change.

  • jesuschian

    Most people are. The exceptions that are not capable are a very very small minority. Thyroid problems cause an average gain of 15-30 lbs at most, and yet people 100 lbs overweight will use the thyroid as their excuse why they weren’t able to lose the last 70 lbs even when the fault is their own. And skinny people get mocked a lot. Women are told they have eating disorders and are disgusting and men are told they look pathetic and weak. People with LEGITIMATE health problems are allowed to use genetics/health problems as an excuse. The problem is that most obese people hop on the pity-train of disease and use it to comfort themselves as they continue to gain more and more weight.

  • jesuschian

    But you are taking the steps and have already lost weight. I know at minimum 10 people (7 girls 3 guys) who complain about “health issues” making them fat, and yet their is never any discussion of medications they could use and I continually see them eat terribly. A majority of people with medical conditions like yours do not act like you do. You are about 20 times more productive than the average obese American so don’t assume other fat people actually have a similar condition.

  • jesuschian

    I like how you assume too that anyone who says losing weight is possible can’t possibly have been fat. It is easy to judge when you have been in the same position but didn’t wallow and actually tried to make positive movement in a healthier direction.

  • Jessica

    I lived and traveled in Europe for five years. Trust me, they exist.

  • anon

    I’d like to see your evidence that GMO’s make you fatter than non-GMO food. I’m pretty sure Europe doesn’t have the obesity problem we do because they don’t have a culture of instant indulgence and greed.

  • Richard Lettau

    How odd – After looking at the comments it seems this article has proven the premise – These comments seemed to spiral about her weight, weight in general and loosing weight and not about the photos. I think a couple of how she looks are very interesting – Just my thought -

  • Kayla Ann Stockman

    Maybe she should lose some weight then. If it wasn’t unhealthy then I personally would not have an issue. If she doesn’t want people staring at her then she should do something about what they’re staring at.

  • Net89

    She takes these photos herself which means she sets up a tripod in the most random public places. The reaction from the public is most likely not due to her size, but due to the way she executes her project. It makes for some interesting photos, but I think that if a size 4 woman did the same thing she would receive similar looks. It would be a more convincing project if the camera were not visible.

  • bob

    Most of these people seem to just be noticing the photographer exists, or perhaps looking at the camera. Most of the looks aren’t really strange. The title is poor