It is no secret that people who are overweight are often judged, ridiculed, and bullied by society. On the internet, where people are “anonymous”, this has gotten even worse. This photographer, after being made fun of for some self-portraits that she took, decided to not just capture herself in the photos, but also the judgmental gazes of those around her. The images, though controversial, send quite a profound message about how society treats the overweight and obese. (1)
How The World Sees Overweight People
Whether we try to or not, we all have implicit biases towards various types of people. Usually, these behaviors are learned based on the environment we grew up in. When it comes to overweight and obese people, often they get painted with labels such as “lazy”, “gross”, and “unintelligent”. While we may not notice it, members of this community do. They notice the stares, glares, and smirks. They hear the snide remarks, laughter, and mean jokes. Of course, they see the nasty comments online, now, too.
Photographer Hailey Morris-Cafiero noticed this after she completed a series of self-portraits in Times Square, New York City. After seeing some of the judgemental stares of people in the background, she decided to change her focus and try to capture more of this on film. This is what lead her to her series Wait Watchers. The series went viral and so is now published in a hardcover copy called The Watchers.
This photo series is one that turns the focus not on herself as the subject of the pictures, but rather onto those in the background. We likely don’t even notice how often we look at others and judge or criticize them based on their physical appearance. Morris-Cafiero does notice, however, and decides to turn that gaze back on those background pedestrians.
“Each frame is chosen based on the strangers in the background, if they have a critical or questioning look, or if there is a gesture in their body language. By reversing the gaze back on the strangers, the collection begins a conversation about nonverbal interaction and the view society has on body image.” reads the Amazon book description. (2)
She took photos in scenarios that often make her feel somewhat uncomfortable – for example, bending over to pick something up, eating in public, on the beach, and on vacation. Photos captured include people smirking at her, openly gaping while walking by, and some even with disgusted looks or laughing in her direction.
Morris-Cafiero knows that, naturally, she can’t be 100% sure that if every gaze or facial expression she caught on film was
- Directed toward her
- Was indicative of what the person was thinking
She says that it is ultimately up to the viewer to decide. Some people agree with her and say that it is clear that the background people are judging her. Others say no.
While she received many positive responses to this project, she still received an overwhelming amount of negative comments, emails, and other notifications about her body. She then took those comments and made them into another series called The Bully Pulpit. In this series, she investigated her haters, posed and dressed up like them based on their social media profiles, and worse clothing with their mean comments written somewhere in the photo. (3)
“I have received hundreds of emails from supportive people who have found inspiration in my photographs. Some say ‘thank you’ and others tell stories of my images helping them love their body, overcome bullying or not commit suicide.” she said.
Both of her projects are a good reminder to check our own biases and the ways in which we treat people who look different from ourselves.