Haley Morris-Cafiero has struggled with her body weight ever since she finished high school. Diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition that causes weight gain, Morris-Cafiero has tried and failed to slim down by restricting her diet and furiously exercising. But that hasn’t stopped others from ridiculing her weight.
So, the Memphis, Tenn. photographer decided to fight back against her tormentors. As she describes in an article published by Salon, Morris-Cafiero sets up a shot, hands her camera to an assistant or fixes it to a tripod, and has photos taken of unsuspecting strangers as they mock or gawk at her behind her back. The compilation of photos, which she calls Wait Watchers, includes images of people’s reactions to her taken from all over the world. There’s one of a girl slapping her belly as she watches Morris-Cafiero eat ice cream, another of two policemen looking at her while she’s on her cellphone, with one of the officers appearing as though he’s about to plunk his hat on her head, and another of a couple taking a photo as the man smirks behind her.
“I’m constantly fighting strangers’ criticisms that I am lazy and slow-witted, or that I am an overly emotional slob,” Morris-Cafiero writes. “I suspect that if I confronted these narrow-minded people, my words would have no effect. So, rather than using the attackers’ actions to beat myself up, I just prove them wrong. The camera gave me my voice.”
She explains she doesn’t feel hurt when she looks at the images she’s captured since the photos turn the gaze back to those mocking her, and that she has received hundreds of e-mails from people thanking her for the project.
As the Globe’s Zosia Bielski previously pointed out on The Hot Button, there has been a strong backlash against bullying as of late, with targeted individuals publicly confronting those who are unkind to them. Morris-Cafiero’s project seems to be part of that movement.
But not everyone is convinced that the photographer’s images are capturing looks or gestures of malice.
“She judges people who respond with smirks or laughter, because she assumes they are making fun of her weight,” one commenter wrote. “"I can’t speak to people’s intent, but this seems like a huge assumption. People could be responding more to the camera, and just being wise guys.”
Added another: “I don’t doubt that some are reacting to her appearance, but when she insists that everyone is, it’s presumptive and she deserves to have her interpretation challenged.”
Check out Morris-Cafiero’s pictures and judge for yourself. Let us know what you think.