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

  • mtnmomma

    Other than her sitting on the swingset looking a bit creepy, I see nothing other than normal every day photos.. I say this as a fat woman (much larger than the photographer), these expressions and gestures are normal everyday happenings for most people.

  • templestark

    Can you post and actually make a statement, rather than just ask question after pointless question?

  • templestark

    Signs of controversy does not equal intelligence or a worthy subject. People who think so are other attention whores, subconsciously or otherwise.

  • templestark

    I think some of us realize we’re fat or could lose some pounds at least (and want to) and accept the responsibility. That doesn’t deny there are medical issues sometimes, but a lot of us HAVE been there and we don’t create a poorly formed photography project to highlight the fact.

  • templestark

    >> I think the fact there are more than 120 comments to this work proves the point of the art — to elicit a response. Can people still think this is the point of art? That because it got some attention it’s art. To think so you would have to accept that all art that is ignored or doesn’t get attention is not in fact art.

  • templestark

    The project was about bodies and perception so of course people are talking about bodies.

  • templestark

    And it’s worth repeating, how many “non-reaction” photos were thrown out; these would invalidate the point of her project.

  • templestark

    not provocative, misleading.

  • templestark

    >> not because looks are EVERYTHING, but they do count for something… and that’s okay. Ding ding.

  • Sandra Beaton Kraus

    Having read many of the comments below, it seems like people are trying to justify or negate that the looks are not because she is fat. Society usually tries to do that when they are being rude. Having been fat, I say 100 % they are looking in such fashion because she is fat. Has nothing to do with busy NY sidewalks. If she where a buxtom, beautiful 5’10” blonde, would the expressions be different? YOU BETCHA!!!

  • Michael Spinelli

    I tend to agree, except for the one of the girl taking a photo of the boy. I expect that’s because they saw her set up a tripod and just sit right in front of him, to take a photo. It would be a weird thing to see no?

    I think where this failed is the fact that the camera is in no way concealed. We see many of the people looking directly into the camera. How do we know the reactions aren’t just “What is she doing?” you know?

  • Jennifer Chan

    laughing all the way home at the dismissiveness of the comments

  • templestark

    nope attention does not automatically make it good art. Then you would have to assume the opposite, that bad art equals no attention.

  • Dave

    At some point in everyones life, they need to realize that the world does not revolve around them now matter how hard they try. In these pictures I saw a lady getting her picture taken and also acting strangely in certain situations. People that are aware of their surroundings will glance and look at anything that is doing something strange or out of the ordinary. She is very presumptuous to believe that these reactions are to her being overweight. Not everything is about you darling.

  • Caleb

    Perhaps it was rude, but it was a rhetorical question. That you don’t see the implication does not mean the question was pointless. I ask questions like that, because I often think people are “too quick” to make statements, just like my rhetorical question might have been a “knee-jerk” reaction.

    In the time that I made that post, many people had made comments about how the photographer thinks she knows what other people think, but she had made a statement which clearly indicates she doesn’t assume her speculations about other people’s motives are true. The people accusing her of thinking she knows what others think, however, did not give any indication they considered the possibility they misunderstood her, so I asked my questions hoping they might consider the possibility they are guilty of the same act they accuse her of.

    As for the question you replied to: 7enderbender explicitly stated, “Hopefully she starts to question […] her unhealthy size”, and I thought that seemed a rather ignorant statement given her own statements pertaining to her awareness of her size. 7enderbender went on to imply her lack of questioning her size contributed to her accusing people of certain things, but she had not actually stated any such accusations. I asked my question hoping 7enderbender would think about his/her motives for making those statements.

    So now that you know my reasoning for thinking my question had a “point”, if you think my question was “pointless”, please explain why.

  • JackieJJisk

    Exactly. This photography doesn’t really prove anything, because the camera is visible and that alone is enough to cause people to give odd looks.

    At first I thought this was a great idea, but then when I found out the camera was in plain sight I realized that the photographer was lazy in her approach. This idea has potential but it’s not reaching that potential.

  • john

    It’s not because she’s fat.. it’s cuz she’s doing wierd things in public.. she is being overly self-concious

  • Staciehew

    Does it really matter if these people were actually giving her dirty looks/laughing at her or not? She set out to make a point and it worked. Even if these particular people weren’t staring at her for her size, it’s still an everyday reality for overweight people.

  • Kieran

    So essentially this lady stands in noticably bad clothing, awkward positions, in an inconvenient spot, with a photographer, and uses this situation to point the finger at people who are supposedly annoyed by fat people?

    Also, she just looks unhealthy.

  • Nathan Mccreery

    Looked to me like she was just being an annoyance rather. People weren’t looking at her any different than they do anyone else doing something odd in public. “Get over yourself girl. You’re as ordinary as anyone else.”

  • xavier

    Everybody thinks they’re an artist.

  • Dudy Braun

    The concept is right the enactment not so I would prefer if the lady being photographed behaved more laid back and posed, then one would be able to see how people react to that, if they feel that the god given right to be photographed is for the ultra thin its a shame that these pictures are not there yet.

  • Akynos Shekera

    lol seriously! this chic’s got issues with the way she looks. not much else going on to me.

  • @josiefairfax

    People can be really mean…

  • Tasia-Jana Wagner

    made me lol

  • Tasia-Jana Wagner

    I’m pretty sure she just looks like that.

  • Cesc

    Some of the pics have been taken in Spain. In general, Mediterranean people tend to stare at other people and this does not mean that they’re perverts or they are judging others by their look. It is just cultural matters. When you are surrounded by people who you know, you tend to look at them longer than when you have been surrounded all your life by strangers in a big city. I think that this work overestimates the reasons why other people are looking at this woman.

  • batgirl8328

    There are many, many people out there as least as overweight as this woman. I wonder if some of the looks are due to the way she’s interacting with the crowd (standing still in the middle of a moving group?) or her clothing choices, which in some of the pictures are very bright and in original color combinations. People get looks when they stand out. I have had people look at me if I wear my black leather biker jacket or if I have bright colors on.

  • Minicran

    Fat chance that any of these photographs will ever get to a museum wall !
    You really even need to enlarge them.

  • Minicran

    Whoops, I meant, You really DON’T even need to enlarge them

  • Kris

    wow, passive aggressive much?

  • joshsmith237b

    she should spend less time on this “project” and more time at the gym.

  • Lost Boy

    I resent the notion that we are not allowed to passively express authentic reactions in public now. I dread the day when it would become politically incorrect to even crinkle your nose when someone foul-smelling passes by. This woman would not have even noticed these people without having caught them on film so how exactly is this bullying?

  • Dude, seriously?

    That photograph with the person making faces was taken by a friend.
    It wasn’t conspicuous, she was just sitting there.
    Explain that.

  • Mayhem

    Only in NYC does “rush hour” include the sidewalk.

  • midugs

    The only photo I saw of anyone making fun of her was the jerk on the steps of Times Square. The photo with the teen girl laughing actually looks like she was reacting to something her friend said. Seeing an overweight person in the USA really isn’t a big deal anymore.

  • DudeThatsErin

    I agree. They should have concealed the camera. That would have made this more legit. Maybe if someone was constantly walking around with her on their phone and people on the other side didn’t realize he/she was taking pictures/video of the events.

  • DudeThatsErin

    Overall, what this is trying to say is true and just awful. So awful.

  • Heather

    People aren’t necessarily looking at her because of the way she looks. She’s got a tripod with a camera set up on it. They see that and then are bound to look at the subject of what that camera will be photographing. I would be more interested to see this series of these photos were taken secretly, not an elaborate setup. I bet she wouldn’t get as many shots.

  • sid vicious

    if this is whats cool i no longer have any connection with this planet!!!

  • sparroe

    This is ridiculous. If you set up a tripod and stand in front of it, waiting for it to take a picture of what you’re doing, OBVIOUSLY people will give you weird looks. Especially in NY, where everyone is walking and it’s busy as hell. This has nothing to do with weight. It’s to do with the odd fact of her photographing herself doing well, nothing. Not only that, but pretty much EVERYONE gets a weird look every now and then, if not more- people judge by looks anyways. The same could happen to someone thinner. But either way, I’m almost 100% sure it’s because of her strange behavior.

  • jalaffan

    All massive cities that I’ve been to had busy sidewalks/pavements during rush hour. Though in London you mostly get loud tutting and the odd sneaky elbow when you’re in the way, in Paris you get whacked with bags, in Beijing you get ignored, in Tehran you get invited to dinner, in Cairo a street hustler will tell you in English that you ‘look like an Egyptian’, in Singapore you’ll be made to pay a fine etc. etc. You will of course get weird looks in all of them, whoever you are.

  • Liam Eian James Lowenthal

    I’ve… seen a lot lot lot bigger women -not- get strange looks.. So this entire thing is confusing the hell out of me. She’s not really that big considering what most real women look like. (Yes children, the media does lie to you) I live in one of the healthiest towns in the US (Colorado Springs) And I have to tell you, plenty of ladies around here are just a little chubby. And they still go hiking, eat just fine, and keep a healthy lifestyle. This lady is obviously overweight, yes but.. Seriously? I’m not seeing why she’s being stared at. She’s really not that big..

  • Slicer

    What does she expect? When you see a bumbling obese person it is more often than not comical.

  • Danielle

    No, I live in a city with 1.3 million people and downtown rush hour includes the sideswalk. If you are touristing around getting in people’s way you are going to get some side-eye.

  • beenthere

    I don’t think its the weight…its the inappropriate attire.

  • MQuinn

    So what exactly is the problem here? If you don’t want people to make disgusted looks as your fat gut waddles by, then perhaps it is time to do something about it, eh? Go to a gym more. Go to the McDonalds drive-thru less. It isn’t complicated.

  • Walter White


    Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

    The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them.

    Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.

    What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?

    How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a RACE problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?

    And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?

    But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

    They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.

    Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.

  • Nigel

    That ass is a dime piece…

  • Daisy

    Oh please, you can have authentic reactions and people are allowed to authentically think you’re a jackass for callously displaying them and mocking another human being. Nobody can stop what you think in your head. Making faces at someone because they’re different than you puts you on par with a 2nd grader who has no control over himself. Congrats to those rebel authentic reactors.