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

  • bianca

    i have to agree with the other posters – people are looking oddly at her because of the set up camera on a tri-pod pointed at herself. maybe this experiment would have been more impartial if she had a second photographer in the distance taking photos serruptitiously.

  • Magalie

    I completely agree with this. Most of these people could easily just be glancing at their surroundings. How obvious is the camera during the shot? Seeing a camera pointed at something generally causes me to look at the subject matter. A few of the people seem like they’re judging her, but that’s typical for anyone. Other photos, she’s doing stuff like looking at a map, bending over for something. People are just curious by nature, they want to check out any movement that is grander than walking. Some of these people aren’t even looking AT her, they’re looking at what she’s holding.

  • Caleb

    You misunderstood me if you believe I ever said or intended to say her project is not “valid”.

  • Caleb

    Thanks for letting me know. :)

  • beep

    How old are you…..just curious

  • beep

    can you explain to me how her attire is abysmal???? Look at the people around her and see what they are wearing.

  • Girl using brain

    I think its pretty unfair to assume what these people are thinking. You can catch anyone at an odd moment looking off to the side, or down, or laughing for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with you. I have several larger friends and I have never noticed anyone anyone snickering or throwing shade in their direction. And I tend to be super conscious of the reactions of people around me (thats my own disfunction!).

    Stopping in the middle of a crowded sidewalk is more likely the reason people are noticing you – if they were at all.

  • jen

    Mekick you are an idiot.

  • jen

    Your comment is very rude and calling people “fatties” is incredibly disrespectful.

  • Richard Baxter

    There’s a way to promote your victim mentality and feel sorry for yourself. People look at people all the time, overweight, skinny, and in-between. If I thought every person who looked at me was judging me badly for something I’d be a mess. It’s hard not to look at people in public, they’re everywhere!

  • mtwtrf

    Her quote reeks of undergraduate artist’s statement. The project has a decent premise, but most of these shots fail to convey her supposedly clevery ¨reversal of the gaze¨. Moreover, the majority of the photos are crap.

  • rin

    It is a little presumptive that the people are looking at her, a few it appears they are looking down the street to see if any cars are coming, one is looking at her map, not her, many are looking at the camera. The only one without doubt staring at her is the guy pushing his kid on the swing and lets face it if I was at the park with my child and a stranger came up and set up a tripod and proceeded to take photos with my son in shot not only would I feel uncomfortable I would ask them to stop. It is inappropriate to take the photo of any child in a park except your own. His “wtf” look is completely valid.

  • anotherkate

    Wanna bet that the people saying people aren’t staring or looking at her negatively aren’t fat, or have never received nasty comments/looks/laughter from strangers themselves.

  • anotherkate

    Her ‘abysmal attire’? So as long as someone is dressed ‘poorly’ in your opinion it makes it okay to stare, laugh and be rude to them?

    May I suggest you have never experienced anything like this?


  • iamthegreatcornholio

    SFW. All with me now, “Those who can’t do, teach.”

  • Old Vet

    The “because I’m fat” is only in her mind, not evident in the expressions of the other people. Those are ordinary, everyday glances anyone is likely to give to others whether fat or slim if they are in the way or doing something unusual. However she characterizes it, this project is about her inner angst, not about rude people staring.

  • steph_c1

    The last photo bothers me, the person behind her is clearly a child, firstly she is posting a picture of a young girl in her bikini all over the internet and secondly she is holding this child up as an example of the judgemental people in society without any evidence that this kid is even looking at her because of her weight, and saying to the world that this kid is a bad person for judging her ( obviously she isn’t directly saying it but I would say that that could certainly be implied from her “project”)

  • Guest

    She’s actually stopping in most of the shots and look out of sorts. If you’ve acting odd your going to get a look even if it’s a second. Plus she is extremely sloppy looking. That has nothing to do with her weight.

  • Guest

    She’s stopping and looking out of sorts in the shots. I would calling it posing. The people are only reacting with a glance because she’s in the way or acting. Looking that sloppy has nothing to do with weight.

  • Julie Wayland

    Looking that sloppy has nothing to do with weight. She acting odd and sitting being strange. I think she’s getting the same look anyone else that’s dressed and or walking around like her would get.

  • Sonnielee

    I’d stare with a face of confusion if I saw someone taking pictures of themselves/ being photographed in inconvenient or strange places too.

  • Name

    There is a lot of validity in what you say but realize,
    overeating, addiction, whatever, is obviously nothing you are familiar with or capable of understanding. Do you honestly believe telling someone they have a problem and telling them to change it will cure their disease? Just like that? Jesus.
    You have no understanding of what the brain is like or what it is capable of. Just as people in developing countries have their major issues to deal with, unfortunately, people in developed countries have issues too (disease of the modern age). And I do think it is or may be partially attributed to one’s lifestyles but what is their business should be none of your concern. As for self pity, I feel most people have experienced it in their life. Obviously it will get you no where. “Slobs” Ha! You are an ignorant person, even though you
    were overweight and grew up among “slobs.” I think the real issue here is people who are quick to condemn without having any understanding of any underlying issues. Human beings are much more complex than people like you seem to think. I could go off on my life story and it would completely contradict your views but I choose not to. And I know I could be completely wrong about you but anger has a way of appearing biased and unforgiving at times. I assume you know all about that.
    You have chosen to make a comment that has little relevance to the statement this artist was trying to make, even though you’d probably like to believe it wouldn’t.

  • Name


  • jessietee

    I’d venture to say that people were probably giving her weird looks for standing in the middle of a crowded street/sidewalk in everyone’s way and/or: standing in a weird pose, making a strange face while looking into the distance at nothing, being photographed. Pick one or all of the above. This likely has little to do with her fatness.

  • Raine

    Looks like the comments are riddled with generic assholes as per usual. It’s a decent project, while I understand some moments I can agree that people are only looking at her because she’s just standing there and self-timing–some look legitimate. My examples being the crosswalk and the guy giving her a face. None of us know the situations, but I see the point.

    Also we could do without the comments on “just lose weight”. You’re not raising any points, you’re just being an asshole. Men and Women come from all shapes and sizes and it’s a really big shame that unless you’re unhealthily tiny, you cannot be attractive. It’s absolutely sickening.

  • Guest

    This is ridiculous. How many times have you walked down the street and noticed an obscene or hilarious facial expression on a stranger? Quite often, I’m sure. This is not because you are overweight, or underweight, or because of you at all. It is because every individual is off in their own little worlds, reacting to what is happening in their lives, not necessarily you interrupting theirs. Any reaction to her is probably a result of her standing still in the way of everyone else, or having a tripod set pointed at herself, or unraveling a giant map in the midst of a crowd. You never know what is going on in the minds of those who “give you a strange look”. Most of the time, it is not even slightly related to you at all. Fat people make themselves much too important. This “fatphobia” movement is ridiculous. You’re overweight. So what? When I see a fat person, I don’t waste my time glaring at them as though they’re doing the world a great injustice. Most of the time, I don’t notice them any more than I would anyone else. Us underweight or average weight individuals are not out to get the “fat ones”. Stop putting yourself on a pedestal. We’re all the same. We’re all human. And we all have equally undesirable qualities.

  • Yummy Prosciutto

    Oh you poor, poor man … laying the smack down with the first law of thermodynamics and still getting down voted.

    Diets fail because people don’t stick to them. If you expend 2000 calories a day, and consume only 1500 calories a day (from whatever source: carrots, ice-cream, frogs legs, etc.) you will lose weight.

  • Atlanta Owner

    While I know there is a certain amount of ridicule toward overweight people, how do we know she doesn’t have a sign or banner on her back that’s also causing a reaction to get certain shots, too?

  • Emily Boyd

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  • teggers

    the best thing about this is………………………………….. she has a leica

  • Skysong263

    Yes, it would be interesting for someone else to do the same project, someone who is not overweight, and see what the camera would capture.

  • desya

    Omg, this is ridic! These people are looking at her because she’s a random in the middle of the street just standing there for no apparent reason with a tripod!! Come on! This is what happens when you do public stunts, ask anyone in a flash mob!

  • Kristan Kincade

    There are plenty of badly-dressed non-heavy people around her in these pictures. Her attire is not the point. Given that some may be wondering what she is doing and viewing her with curiosity, I see plenty of faces that are displaying contempt…. towards her.

  • darkconnections

    allow me to speak on behalf of all new yorkers… if you are standing in the middle of the f*cking sidewalk during rush hour, it does not matter if you look like a super model, you will get mean mugged.. you might even get pushed out of the way depending on the time of day. and you will get an especially dirty look if you are holding a map or taking pictures during rush hour.

  • lorigt

    I feel like this project was less about capturing “candid” moments of looking and more about the experience of an “other” (in this case an overweight woman) in a public space… these scenes could have been manipulated/staged or shot in a studio and still contained that meaning…

  • Jen

    I wish she would have had someone slyly take the photos instead of having a camera positioned right on her. Honestly, if I was walking behind her and saw this happening, I’d be wary or look at her simply because I’d wonder what she was doing. Also, I happen to just make “bitchy” faces; it’s not something I mean to do and I have done it when I accidentally laid my eyes on someone. It doesn’t mean I was thinking badly of them. Honestly, I was probably thinking of work or something, but because I happen to be making a bad face, people assume it’s THEM I’m making the face at. I like the idea, in fact I love it, but it was poorly executed.

    Exception: A few of the photos include people staring at her and not seeming to notice the camera. My favorite is the one of Haley at the cross walk. THAT was done well. The women giving her the nasty look doesn’t notice the camera because it isn’t right. in. her. face.

  • Lady

    Some of the pics they are definitely laughing at her. It’s mostly teenage girls though. But some, like the one with map, I think the woman is looking at her because she is holding map.

  • Bliss Aru Ennis

    You win ALL the awards!!!!!!!

  • Liz

    The last photo disturbs me – the photographer/subject would seemingly have us believe that the young/teen girl is showing disapproval of her size. However, I would consider it very likely that the girl has noticed the camera and is feeling surprise or alarm and being photographed. She might be feeling vulnerable or self-conscious because she is being photographed by a complete stranger while she is in her bathers. Low self-esteem in regards to body size and the perception of being judged can affect anyone, not just larger people.
    While some of these photographs do no doubt document incidences of ‘sizeism’, I think that photo documents a lack of empathy on the part of the photographer.

  • Marc

    Um…. I am going to go out on a limb here, and you probably won’t like it. But I don’t think we really should be sensitive to obesity. It’s a huge drain on public health and resources, gumming up healthcare far more than smoking, drinking or even drugs. We spend so much time trying to convince ourselves that these sorts of things are ‘OK’ that we tend to overlook how detrimental it is to society as a whole. As to the genetic and medical aspects, let me just point out that that is the vast minority. And, just like any other medical issues, there are steps you can take to avoid the condition getting this bad or worse. The way we look at it, it has just become an excuse for a sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary choices. Almost every obese person will blame it on their genetics. And because of that, we let them get away with it. There is a certain amount of tolerance for medical issues that we can and should observe. For example, if you saw someone suffering from schizophrenia talking to themselves, you should shrug it off. If you saw them smearing the walls with feces, or going around lighting fires, you would call the police and try and get them the help they needed. Well our tolerance has obese people lighting the metaphorical fires without repercussion. This needs to change. While I do not condone ‘fat shaming’, the rise in obesity has gotten to the point where sitting down and doing nothing about it is becoming less and less of an option. Unfortunate genetics and diseases don’t work the same way that many people seem to think they do. You cannot gain more weight than you put into your body, plain and simple. If you put 1000Kcal of food into your system, the MAXIMUM amount of weight you could gain is 1000Kcal worth of fat (actually less because of the energy it takes to process the food, eat the food, pass the waste etc.). I know many people who suffer from hyperthyroidism (or hypo, the hyper/hypo confuses me at times), and yes, they have a hard time managing weight, because the body holds onto every bit of energy it is given (very efficiently I might add) and stores it as fat. The intelligent ones know how this works, and worth with it, by limiting their caloric intake and increasing their amount of physical activity. And it works. These genetics/diseases do NOT magically create energy for the system, it can only use what it is given, and with someone who weighs 300lbs or more, they burn much more than a regular size person even simply sitting there, which means the weight gain stems entirely from an entirely too high caloric intake. We all have our problems, but making it an excuse rather than an issue to overcome has lead to the place we are at now. There is little room an obesity epidemic to worry about hurt feelings, because for some, that is exactly what they need to make a change. You can’t convince people to make a life change by telling them they are perfect how they are, because it becomes a non-issue if there is no problem with it. If on the other hand, they realise that their lifestyle is fundamentally wrong, and that is needs to change, we can start making progress. People SHOULD look at them with disdain, just like you would feel a mix of pity and revulsion at a drug addict, we should view obesity in the exact same light.

  • kuzy

    I’ve never seen this done before, I though she did a really good job. Love the pictures.

  • Sam

    I would guess people are looking at her because she seems
    So unhappy. Weight has little to do with people’s perceptions of you. It’s how you feel and carry yourself. Ba posture and frowning, frumpy clothes gets you nowhere

  • Alan

    Most people would give strange looks to a woman setting a self-timer and taking pictures of herself. This has nothing to do with weight and can be deemed invalid.

  • RealityCheck

    Fatties gonna fat.

  • You nonce

    Nice picture of a kid at the beech you goddamn pervert!

  • FukYouAssholes

    Wow the people in these comments make me sick.

  • Tori

    The idea of this is very intriguing, but most of the pictures don’t really seem to show people glaring or making fun of her weight. If you are in public people are going to have to glance at you in order to not bump into you regardless of your weight. Seeing someone standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk or using a huge map isn’t really something you see everyday, not to mention there is a tripod a few feet in front of her. Having been overweight in my childhood and into young adulthood, yes you get mean looks and remarks occasionally, but it seems like she just assumes everyone who passes her is disgusted at her weight. It would be interesting to see this done with people with a variety of dress and body sizes if the pictures could be captured in a way that draws less attention.

  • bp

    I judge and I was 320 pounds. I have compassion but don’t think making excuses for people is right. The guilt of being fat is natural, it’s painful on the back and on the heart and the gastrointestinal. There’s a lot of misinformation about what’s right and wrong to eat, but sorting fact from fiction isn’t too tough. Cut out sugars and simple carbs, if you want to lose weight fast use South Beach, Atkins, or Paleo, each of which has a different set of advantages and disadvantages, and oh yeah, don’t pathologize dieting as some awful struggle. I was obese and through diet I quickly realized I was in love with pleasure and avoidance, not food. Ungrateful attitudes about food and how to cope with sadness are making this into a mental illness, I’ve known quite a few people who were obese, we didn’t pay attention to what I ate, we didn’t let hunger motivate our eating, we ate fast and in large quantities. People who say don’t diet are right when the person treats not getting to eat their favorite treat as a punishment, or as a way to be deserving of love, because then the diet is using fear as a motivator, instead of the obese viewing it as a way to honor their bodies, to not waste, to eat to feel right, all the virtues that can be reinforced by dieting.

  • John Macedo Jr.

    Um… It’s about ‘pattern recogntion’ and the fact that she dresses like she does, takes a stance in inappropriate surroundings in some instances (like the middle of a busy sidewalk) and as such, people would react in such ways as it breaks the flow of their routine (even if they are on the phone, listening to earbuds and simply going from point a to point b).
    Now, if she was well dressed, stood properly (and not in a dishevled, slouching, oafish manner) she would receive A LOT less attention.
    And by the way… It’s “nice” that everyone likes to be told that “it’s the beauty on the inside that counts”, but guess what, there are many people who have a greater disdain for the morbidly obese and why? Because they see it for what it is (at the core level), as being in a state of unhealthiness (and/or other less desireable attributes which may accompany it) and the look of disapproval is their body language which states it simply, “I don’t care for, nor want to be, like that, or associated with it.” It’s all about personal perogative I suppose?

  • ok

    the problem with this is it’s not because she’s fat, more likely because oh i don’t know, she’s in the middle of a crowded place setting up a tripod awkwardly posing.