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 peopleā€¦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

  • Caleb

    Apparently you think you can know what other people think.

  • Caleb

    [sarcasm]I’m glad to know I can turn to strangers on the internet for validation of my efforts.[/sarcasm]

  • Caleb

    You’re not convinced of what? What does being convinced have to do with the project?

  • Caleb

    Might presumptions like yours contribute to an “over imaginative sense of self”?

  • Caleb

    Why are you, like so many others, already convinced she has a deluded sense of her self?

  • VirginiaWoolfpack

    There are worse things that being overweight–like being condescending and rude which most of these posters are. I’m sick of thin, anxious voyeurs talking about the “obesity problem in the United States.” The problem the US has is in having compassion and recognizing people as individuals, valuing them for their intelligence, humor, resourcefulness, and creativity. There is definitely an issue with fatism in the US and Europe.

  • Caleb

    What I find silly is that you felt the need to say this when so many others had already expressed basically the same concept.

  • Caleb

    Since she mentioned people’s looks happen for reasons unknowable, I don’t think her perception of the project lacks such considerations as you’ve mentioned here.

  • Caleb

    Wow…do you really presume she has yet to start questioning her size?

  • Caleb

    Can adults not enjoy (or find miserable) playgrounds without being a pedophile?

  • Caleb

    That’s what her web site says about her project titled “something to weigh”.

  • Caleb

    That no condition is stated is no logical reason to assume no conditions exist.

    Similarly, perceiving her comments as indicative of accepting defeat is only your own interpretation.

  • Caleb

    I wasn’t aware that getting offended had anything to do with “rights”. What exactly is the “right to be offended”?

  • Caleb

    Judging by her statement that people question her appearance for unknowable reason, I don’t think she’s surprised, either.

  • Caleb

    What makes you think she isn’t aware of these ideas you’ve shared?

  • Caleb

    Maybe she had intentions different from your own expectations.

  • Caleb

    She’s not big enough to attract odd looks from you, perhaps…but that says nothing about what warrants odd looks in anyone else.

  • Caleb

    Believing people don’t look at her for reasons other than loathing is not a logical conclusion.

  • Caleb

    Perhaps she already acknowledged such a possibility. Please read again what she wrote about the project.

  • ane

    I like this project. People in the photos might have been just glancing at her (which in most cases I don’t believe is the case), but we as a society sure as hell are guilty of looking down on other people. Some commenters say that people aren’t laughing because she is fat, but actually because she is standing on their ways, or dressing bad, or reading a map. How is this different or better from laughing at someone because they’re fat?

  • Caleb

    We can clearly see that the teenage girls are smiling or laughing, but we can’t clearly see what they feel and think, let alone why they think and feel what they do.

  • Caleb

    What exactly is one’s “own business” when in a public space?

  • Caleb

    Who is staring at you, and why can’t you just live with it?

    Yes, I intentionally interpreted your statement as I wanted to…much like you apparently interpreted her intentions for the project to cry foul and desist on people staring at her.

  • Caleb

    Have you any reason to believe this impression is lost on her, given that she wrote people question her appearance for unknowable reasons?

  • Zos Xavius

    While i think that she was taking selfies probably drew some attention, i find it rather sad to read these comments. She wanted to tell her story and i think she did effectively. Why don’t you naysayers trade places with her for one day. There is a great prejudice against obese people that most people don’t even realize. These comments say just as much as her pictures. No wonder i would rather take pictures of anything but people.

  • Bartholo

    Exactly what I was thinking.

  • Fati

    this is idiotic. instead of shaming the people staring at her, she should be trying to improve her own health. she is clearly at an unhealthy weight and not just simply ‘curvy’ as american women like to say

  • Margaret O’Donoghue

    I think it would be a bit odd to see anyone no matter their shape or size setting up a tripod in public to take a photo of themselves doing everyday things. However, looking at these photos I can’t help but feel disheartened by people’s reactions.

  • thecitylights

    i know this lady, she is an art teacher at a college in this US, and I have seen her work. A lot of her pictures are taken in a different city.

  • S.

    We all struggle with something. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. It may be that this woman has a terribly difficult time loosing weight. It could be that she exercises for an hour each day. Could be this is the first step in her healing from something. Could be that she is under so much stress and the only comfort she finds is in ice cream…you just don’t know her circumstances!

    It is just very easy for people to judge obese people because they have a very visible and socially unacceptable problem. (Smoking would be equally or more frowned upon if it had not been portrayed as “cool” for decades.) But, can you pick out the dude with a porn addiction? Can you guess which woman verbally abuses her children? Can you find the bulemic in the crowd? Which is worse? Can we just accept that this woman is hurting and real, or perceived, she feels judged for her appearance.

    If you are thin, if you are healthy and can lose weight when you gain a few, if you have never been in this lady’s shoes…thank your lucky stars and then ask yourself, “if my vices/weeknesses/struggles were visible, would they look this bad?”

    Try to have a bit of understanding and love. No one ever lost weight because of riducle and shame, but super courageous and strong people have lost weight inspite of them.

  • alice

    So much of the comments on here are so fat-phobic. “They could be staring at her for any number of reasons!” isn’t the point. The point is that, most people, when they see someone “overweight,” they stare and judge. Just because you (people commenting) don’t want to own up to the fact that you do that, doesn’t mean that’s not what the background people in these photographs are doing.

  • deborah

    Hmmm… What else can you teach us based on your personal experience? Is the earth flat? A little scientific evidence would be good for you.

  • bob cooley

    You merely are repeating what I wrote, but are trying to attach some additional weight to it? no pun intended – from the 25+ trolling comments you’ve added to this dialog, one can only assume that you are the failed artist behind this ‘project’, a friend of said, or just a troll. Please crawl back under your bridge…

  • Caleb

    How have I repeated what you wrote?

    Rereading your comment, I agree that I did attach additional weight to your stated guess. I apologize for that.

    But I disagree with your stated limitations on what one can only assume. I am not the artist, I have never met her nor heard of her before reading this page, and I don’t believe I’m a “troll”, though I would need your definition to confirm or deny it. How do you define “trolling”?

  • Mick Gallagher

    I think the most brilliant thing to remember is that a human being had a creative idea and everything else that doesn’t speak to that genius is merely an opinion for fodder.
    I applaud her bravery. BRAVO.

  • Jake Tinkham

    some of them like the black lady sees the bigger white chick as someone that she can look down on in disguat because it gets the attention off her nastiness and onto the bigger one’s legs its written all over her face. i bet she looked up right after to see if anyone was friowning too. Judgemental America at it’s finest!
    And ofcourse another skeptic just HAS to say they think it’s photochopped : x

  • Staring Back

    It’s strange, but people think we fat folk don’t know how the world looks at us, how they stare, the dirty looks and nudging and pointing. They think we’re either blind, or too stupid to notice. The world is openly derisive of fat people and then when you call it out, as this amazing woman has done, they make excuses and deny it. We know. And we are watching you back. We are turning the lens back on you so that the decent people of the world know just how disgusting your behaviour is. It’s time that the looks of disgust were aimed at the rude people who think they get to judge others for their bodies, how they dress or how they look. We are watching YOU. How does that make you feel.

  • eraserhead12

    apparently you didn’t read the concept behind her series.

  • Rebecca Jane Weinstein

    The ignorance in the comments about weight, while not surprising, is disturbing. Science acknowledges the complexities of weight, though most average people don’t. It’s a bit like still believing the earth is flat. That said, even as a someone who supports “size acceptance” after nearly 40 years of yo yo weight loss, I question whether these photos show what the photographer claims they do. I certainly believe in weight discrimination, but it’s very difficult to tell what a person is thinking because of a glance. Even the laughter is hard to judge. Why is a teenager with her friends laughing, even if she happens to glace a certain way? Who knows? It might be mocking, it might not. My issue is that the lack of clarity does not seem to help the cause. There is plenty of research on weight bigotry, we don’t need questionable photos to prove it. I don’t have a problem with the project per se. It’s interesting, but not as conclusive as she claims. That is my interpretation anyhow.

  • Caleb

    I read the entire write-up by Michael Zhang as seen on this page, and I read the part of her site pertaining to that concept, as well. That you believed it apparent I did otherwise required you to assume something pertaining to me beyond what I stated. I only spoke to what you stated, because that’s all I could know of you at the time, so I hope in the future you will please extend that same courtesy to me.

    The often-overlooked problem with implications is that they aren’t evident, but are instead subject to interpretation. “Juxtapose” doesn’t inherently mean more than just placing things side by side or close together. While the word is also conventionally defined as often intending comparison and contrast, it is not conventionally defined as implying anything about that comparison and contrast.

    Yes, maybe in every case she thought they were questioning her appearance, and yes, maybe she never considered people might have been questioning her behavior, but because such things are not evident or even explicitly stated, we can not logically assume these conditions were/are true.

    The only explicit mention by her of onlookers’ reasons labels them as “unknowable”. If we can assume she believes certain things about people based on her use of the word “juxtapose”, why can we not assume she has a broader mindset than that based on her use of the word “unknowable”?

    Also, something can be “abnormal” or obstructive and still be “mundane”.

  • Pide

    I found this fascinating for the very same reason people complained in these comments. I do wonder if these people are actually looking at her. Obviously the guy in the first shot, yes, but all those other times? It’s like a couple of bad experiences with the odd rude person and now she interprets every look or smirk from people negatively. This is interesting because it shows how just a minority of hostile or unfriendly people make the whole world seem more unfriendly. It’s also interesting because I fear people stare at me, and at first I thought these photos confirmed my worst fears… now I think maybe I do the same thing that she does.

  • Igor Ken

    You are right, it is. And everything I write is only based on my opinion, and in my opinion those pictures aren’t interesting enough to be featured on petapixel or any other site/blog I regularly read.
    :) Cheers

  • Tax

    Never read the comments. When a fat person is involved in the story it always ends in arguments over THEIR bodies. (Note: THEIR and the distinct difference between that word and YOURS). The photography project is valid. If she were skinny there is no doubt in my mind people would find her behaviour less strange. But because her body is different and takes up a different kind of space people are looking. It’s so obvious in a couple of them that people are laughing. Even if they’re not laughing at her size, they’re laughing at whatever she’s doing and in most of the photos she is literally just existing. Most of you commenters should be ashamed of yourself. This FAT woman is a brave person. She decided to put herself into the public eye, in spaces that would make many other fat people feel vulnerable or frightened of ridicule. Stop discussing her diet and health and discuss what she is doing! She’s existing! As a fat woman! And fat people are not going to stop existing: not even because of your excellent diet and health advice. Fat people are forever being side eyed and ridiculed and bullied and I think many of you are just defending the people looking because you’re scared one day it will be you. Your reaction to a human being will be captured on camera or called out and if it is, you should be horrified at your behaviour for being a terrible person and making other people’s lives a misery. Instead of criticising her, check yourself and your own reaction.

  • TB Black

    I read these comments from peanut gallery and think…excuses, excuses, excuses. It’s interesting that these people comment the way they do. They likely relate to those with the facial expressions.

  • myrna

    Several of these seem like the person is just staring at her because she’s behaving a bit oddly, the one where she is struggling with a map or on her phone in the middle of the street. I like the idea of the project, but it seems awkwardly executed.

  • Ariel

    This work has seemed to my brilliant and courageous. I feel sorry for the comments I’ve read, jealous that someone had a good idea, and full of discrimination, blame and resentment. She got her purpose and here are all talking like crazy.

  • Dven Hologram

    My new hero!!!

  • arugula234 rose

    anyone wondering if this is a ‘valid’ project should just read the comment thread. Sheesh people. Your devolution into the abysses of fat hatred are communicating her exact point. What’s it to you? Do we really need to police each other’s bodies and clothes? (and anyways I think she looks neat)

  • Fletcher West

    She’s obviously only picking out photos where people are looking at her in a way that makes the viewer think they (the other subjects) are disgusted or bothered by her appearance. Really, what the people are actually thinking when they look at her is irrelevant. In fact, it looks to me like people in several of the photos are only looking in her general direction, or making a face because they’re coughing. The photos are not portraying an absolute reality, but rather are orchestrated and then selected to comment on a specific issue. That shows an artistic intent, and that’s what makes this a “valid photo project.”

  • Rhiannon Lee Smith

    If you were standing in the middle of the street posing or just being in my way, I would give you an off-color look too. Stop trying to perpetuate this “oh, I’m fat and society hates me” image.