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

  • Sensii Miller

    Some look like they are wondering why she has that psychotic look on her face. Especially true of the dad in the swing photo.

  • Ron van Middendorp

    What exactly is the point you are trying to make?

  • Ron van Middendorp

    Nobody needs permission to shoot anyone in a public area…

  • Ron van Middendorp

    There sure is a lot of judging going on… Mostly in the comments…

  • Sun

    No. It puts you on par with an idiot. Being a “human being” doesn’t mean squat as crazy as that sounds. It is amusing when “people” believe humanism is the above all criticism.

    Being obese is not something to be proud of. I wouldn’t expect you to understand why.

  • Patrick Landis

    I don’t know, maybe this has been said already, but I think a lot of those reactions are at someone standing there taking a photo of herself using a timed camera on a tripod. That’s not an every day occurrence. Like the one on the swing. His reaction is obviously, “why is this lady taking a picture of herself looking sad on a swing”. Regardless, it makes you think and I guess that’s the point after all.

  • Pavel Kounine

    “Issues” sounds negative. She may not feel negatively about herself.

    However, I can’t deny that she is acutely focused on her own weight, especially considering that the two photography projects she has created use the keyword “weight” in their titles.

  • gaurav srivastava

    wonderful pictures..found them really interesting..hats off!!!

  • Darnel Williams

    I would take notice to, If I saw a woman standing in the middle of any place, with a camera pointing at her… I would want to know what she is doing. This girl is just making herself, hate herself more. Maybe she should stop focusing on what others are doing and focus on herself, she would learn to lover herself and make changes that would encourage it.

  • B.A.R.B.

    I’m sorry. I don’t oppose things just to be oppositional – so rarely. Honestly though, she’s standing in busy areas with a camera pointed at her? She’s awkwardly trying to stay still in a very busy street? Looking at a map in NYC? I support her art, for art’s sake, but this seems ridiculous. She’s a pretty girl, too, just somewhat overweight. If I saw someone giggle, I would assume that it was due to the perturbed or lost, somewhat childish look on her face. Humans also check each other out. It’s like, one of our most basic behaviors. How about the fact that we’re criticizing people for looking at one another, and calling the faces they’re making ugly?

  • Mario Liedtke

    Maybe its not only the size, but her clothing style, the way she “smiles” and the the fact that she might be standing in the way…

  • Adolfo Mendez Segura

    Girl, it’s not about your weight it’s about being a FASHION WRECK, anyone can see that. Sorry to burst your bubble.

  • Alicia Vance

    why do you seem proud of such rude behavior?

  • AnonWho

    Pay a fine?!? That’s absolutely untrue. Where did you get that from?

  • Leanne Thompson-Hill

    totally agree, I would give her a look if she was standing there texting or being a pain in the ass

  • M. K. Hajdin

    I’d like to see a cage match between all the commenters who pretend so hard that they don’t really hate her for being fat (but for some other worthy reason, like being a ‘fashion wreck’) and those who openly admit they do hate her, but pretend that hating fat people is necessary because OMG OBESITY EPIDEMIC.

    Way to prove Haley’s point.

  • M. K. Hajdin

    And in case any of you don’t understand sarcasm:

    It’s not okay to hate fat people and you’re a bigot for doing it.

  • MzRie

    No one said you need to be proud of being obese. These people have the right to react how they want, whether it be indifference or judgement. Just the same, we have the right to judge the people judging the photographer in these pictures. People have the right to be judgmental of the obese. People also have the right to judge those being judgmental of the obese. Having a right to an opinion doesn’t mean that opinion deserves to be respected.

  • John Mooter

    KInd of silly. The photography does not prove anything. She is better off eating a plant based diet, getting healthy, and finding another profession.

  • Peyton Sherwood

    Mayhem needs to visit more cities. Try standing on K and Conn. Ave in DC at “rush hour” (morning or night). You’ll get bumped outta the way you lazy bastard! stand to the side! : )

  • Bec Wolfe-Thomas

    I don’t think these photos prove people are looking at her because
    of her weight at all. Hell in some of
    these shots it could just be her clothes, or a noise was made or the shear fact
    she’s taking photos in public. I’m a
    skinny blond chick that is considered reasonably attractive, when I start taking
    photo’s in public I typically get weird looks also, and anyone stopped in the
    middle of a city sidewalk is going to get dirty looks.

  • DConcepc

    Talk about a victim complex.

  • PoopfaceMcGee

    No it wasn’t, it says “self portrait”.

  • Anniebet

    Well, crazy people often don’t have points to make.

  • WangHo

    i feel sad

  • boris Bridva

    Maybe film would have been a better medium for this. I mean, it still conveys the message but people will hang on whether it is real or fake. Even though the choice was to not make it look staged staged.

  • Dafiq

    Wouldn’t it be easier to simply stop eating, rather than seeking out reactions from the public and acting indignant?

    Not only are you a slob with no self-discipline to allow your body to accumulate so much mass, but you’re also less than intelligent.

    There’s no such thing as equality. That’s why there is a 1% and millions of bottom-feeders like this stunted girl.

  • tipoo2

    Some of them seem like she unfairly planned it. Like, “What the heck is this lady doing sitting on a swing in a childrens park, not even swinging?”.
    Also seems like most of the more blatant stares are from women.

  • Ryan Johnson

    The greatest act of self-ownage I’ve ever seen.

  • jwpercussion

    Am I the only person who’s wondering about legal issues regarding the people making faces being included without their consent? If someone took a photo which included you making some facial expression and, without your consent, not only showed it to the public, but used it specifically to point out your facial expression as a negative and unwanted behavior, and the public regarded it negatively, is that right? And if the public then views these individuals in a negative manner (I’ve heard the term “bully” come up several times in these posts) and make negative comments on a public forum, doesn’t that constitute online bullying of some kind? While the phrase “fight fire with fire” is catchy, it simply doesn’t work. Fighting bullying with bullying, or hate with hate, or negativity with negativity only spreads more of the same. Does she appear to be unhealthy upon glance? Yes. Does this mean she is a worthless human being? Of course not. Do the people in the pictures appear to be making faces that could be construed as judgmental? Yes. Does this mean they are in fact being judgmental or, even if they are, that they are indecent and lowly human beings? Of course not. In my opinion, posting pictures on the web of their reactions is no better than posting pictures of obese individuals on the web with the connotation that they’re a negative part of society. Either way though, these individuals in the background should have been notified and consent given before being included in the project and certainly before being shared with the world.


    mMybe she should lose some weight and not block sidewalks with her prodigious girth if shes so concerned about the looks people give her?

  • fatunclesam

    I give looks of disgust to people who just stop in the middle of a busy sidewalk too, regardless of appearance

  • Jason

    I love this. Seriously. To me, this is pure art. I hope to see more. Also, I commend you for your bravery. It just shows how beautiful you really are.

  • rikkirikki

    the swing set one could be the father and son “why is there a sad lady on our swing set?” the meanest one is the 2nd pic.

  • Slkwont

    Firstly, the people in the photos are in a public place. It is not illegal for photographers to take pictures of other people in public places and post them online.

    Secondly, I believe it is wrong to assume that all of these people in the background are reacting to her body. Many of these people are reacting to this lady AND her tripod blocking their paths in the middle of a crowded sidewalk. She is being discourteous. People are rightfully annoyed that she and her photography equipment are in their way. New Yorkers are perpetually in a rush and don’t take kindly to people who waste their time, even if it’s for a few seconds.

  • Anon Anonsen

    I agree that these photos do not prove much of her point, as most of the people are reacting to her mysterious behaviour in the public space,. Also, she is not THAT fat! Okay she is obese, but not enough for people to stop, look at her, and giggle. I mean there is obese people everywhere, you don’t laugh at all of them.

  • SoulEater

    Maybe she was out of the ordinary but I would stop and stare at her just the same as if a completely ordinary person had a shoe brand I had never seen before.

  • jerk

    its not peoples fault she so ugly its like a train wreck how can u not look

  • Scott

    If someone was walking down the middle of a busy new york street carrying an oversized map that she was trying to read, I’d probably give them an odd look even if they were 5’11” and 140lbs.

  • theevilerone

    I think they are looking at those red shoes. Oof.

  • Johnny Drama

    she is repulsive to be honest.
    being a fat slob is nothing to be proud of.

  • Zephy

    You know, if she wore properly sized attire where she wasn’t muffin-topping over her pants and shirts that didn’t drape at the end (Which I know is difficult for plus sized people since my mother used to shop in that section) she’d probably not get so many looks. Frankly I’d probably gawk at her a moment simply because of her improper clothes for her size than just the size itself.

    That being said, some of these photos look rather harmless. In a busy area people may be looking around at other things than her. Some are even looking directly at the camera, showing that it’s in plain view. It’s hardly the truth when people know they’re being directly watched.

  • Alstar

    yeah, and putting these images on the internet constitutes a form of bullying and harassment against the quite probably innocent people at least in some of these photos. The woman is drawing attention to herself and obviously acting suspiciously. The woman could after all be somewhat paranoid, and one or two genuine examples do not make all glances somehow malicious. This woman needs to grow up and think about other peoples point of view. I mean the idea that people are shocked by seeing large people in America or Britain, is pretty implausible. The worst behavior I see happening here is the woman entrapping and assuming the character of innocent bystanders, some of which look pretty innocent to me. Abuse and bullying is exclusion at work or physical and psychological intense and sustained harassment, NOT DISAPPROVAL.

  • lauren

    the point isn’t that people can’t react to the things they see. the point is that their reactions are so viscerally negative just because of the way that she looks. maybe you should be asking yourself why you want to sneer or laugh at someone for daring to be overweight in public rather than ask why you can’t.

  • Alstar

    Which one? And so what? Make faces back or adapt. You cant control peoples subconscious and autonomic reactions, or are you going to start locking up children, teenagers, those with brain disorders like dementia that impacts on impulsion, and obviously Tourrette. Instinctive behaviors and reactions will happen and part of tolerance, is in fact accepting that people are behaviorally flawed and take time to mature, and dont always do. Unless its openly and sustained mocking, and it isn’t criminal, I dont think there is any thing that can be done and certainly assumptions cannot be made about most of the people in these photos, that is no better given its potential to impact on those people as ‘judgemental’ or ‘bigoted’ makes it itself potentially harassment, especially on an online forum. I think all these people have a right to privacy and not be posted on line with false accusations placed against them in a viral blog. If they are incidentally there in no negative context, thats fine, otherwise its potentially an intentional deformation against their character and further may land that lady in a lot of trouble. Expect cases like that in the future.

  • Alstar

    civilisation will partly collapse around about the time that happens, and we’ll have to start again / nobody will care about political correctness any more. There’s limits to how perfect people can be made to be at a neurological level, and people cannot monitor more than limited aspects of their own behavior, and only for periods of time, focus naturally changes in the day. So, eventually things will go full circle, and the law will reflect peoples rights more fully. When people are stressed, eventually they become intolerant – this is the madness of this modern Politics, it doesn’t know when to quit when its ahead and I can see it causing a situation which is eventually more intolerant and unsustainable than before.

  • [email protected]

    maybe, but you cant prove it in a lot of those photos, and it may be because she was drawing attention to herself by acting to deliberately do so. I see many of the images are likely quite innocent. In any given moment in a crowd, somebody might look at you which you think is strange – I get it. The amount you get and perceive this is down to how paranoid you are and more how you act than how you look. A few people there might be immature, they might be innocent of that ‘accusation’. I’m afraid I see this whole thread as evidence of immaturity, but thats part of life. This is something you must learn to accept, and ‘tolerance’ is actually a two way street (you have to tolerate behaviors and neurological differences as well as appearances. I know women as large as this, they dont get people making faces or staring at them with me there, and they have never said this happens or acted without confidence in themselves. Perhaps because they know how to act and dress? Its quite rediculous to claim in the modern West people are going to even notice you much or at all for being big, unless you stand in the way and make yourself stand out. I have had to adapt and look after myself, and I dont see any need for paranoia or calling on other people to get outraged on my behalf. I understand nobody is perfect, and I dont expect them to behave perfectly. Stop with this outrage and trying to insinuate we should all live in a world where we behave as you expect.

  • Alstar

    Agreed, and we have a right to judge the character of the person who originally blogged this as well….oh the irony. If she was to do this, she should be sure, and have better evidence of this mocking and of a negative intention as well, before insinuating anything. And, there are plenty of people out there with serious paranoid tendencies that actually need help, and I’m noticing in blogs like these, this problem is being given a platform and allowing the delusion of persecution to worsen instead of maybe getting diagnosed and treated. This could be such a circumstance.

  • Alstar

    yeah, there could be legal fall out from blogging such things and making insinuations, defamation of character. Then again, I do feel in instances when people do mock you behind your back, its not nice. I get it sometimes but I’ve learned to blank it. I realise and expect some people to be immature. There are circumstances when you know it will happen. But if you think back to yourself when younger and less mature, you dont feel so threatened by it and its easier to forgive. Some people however do take things very personally and cant get over themselves, and I’ve noticed that that mindset seems to actually attract bad Karma and reactions from others. Go looking for evil in others, and it seems to go looking for you too. Also, ‘evil’ isn’t always that. Peer pressure and bullying can be ultimately constructive, setting boundaries that are more thoughtful and healthy, including compatible language and codes of behavior to minimise violence and also encourage healthier life style. It might just save that womens life.

  • Alstar

    I can absolutely state I will get those looks and all I have to do is wear glasses and act a little bit differently. The world isn’t tolerant, but this isn’t violence or persecution like outsiders got in the old days and from strangers, I wouldn’t call it bullying. I think we should be grateful this is the limit of public immaturity. People didn’t necessarily wait until your back was turned and hold their tongues back then. I’m just glad the bigoted do, but no way can I expect them to actually think what I want them to and be watchful of every reaction and facial expression, even what they look at (and simply curious or mindless glancing when we dont know were being watched can very easily look negative and judgemental, its just down to facial muscles, and thats especially true initially (so called micro-expressions, which happen quickly and need a camera to catch out)). Thats just absurd in the extreme. We dont know in most of these photos.