Wait Watchers: Exposing Fat-Shaming One Frame at a Time

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How would you respond to public shaming about your weight? Would you yell at someone who called you fat? Would you cry? Photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero did neither. She picked up a camera and reclaimed her power through a series of striking photos aptly titled Wait Watchers.

While shooting for another project Morris-Cafiero happened to catch a young man staring down at her in Times Square with a mocking smirk plastered across his face. Though it is impossible for her to know exactly what strangers in her photos are thinking (something she acknowledges when talking about her work) a lifetime of fat-shaming helped her interpret his message. In response to the serendipitous Times Square photo, she started setting up her camera in public spaces and photographing herself performing mundane tasks.

The resulting photos are a powerful conversation starter.

Unfortunately for Haley (and anyone else not Cosmopolitan ready) some people feel the right to mock and devalue total strangers who don’t measure up to the collective image of an idealized body. If someone, especially a woman, isn’t bikini ready there is always someone out there to point it out. Usually the mockery happens behind a person’s back via stares, giggles, and jokes. Fat-shaming is all of those things. Fat-shaming includes negative jokes, admonitions against food choices, and the media’s portrayals of fat people as lazy/stupid/dirty.

The pictures in Wait Watchers captured the unfortunate reality Haley had been living with for years–people were making fun of her for her weight.

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Haley’s struggle for body acceptance started after high school when she stopped playing soccer and started gaining weight. Add to her lifestyle change a diagnosis of hypothyroidism, and the struggle for self-love intensified. Her work behind (and in front of) the camera is one way she navigates her relationship to her body, and though she feels at peace with her body now, she recognizes that her comfort isn’t shared by everyone.

The beauty of Wait Watchers is how she takes back her power using the very same tool her tormentors employ: the gaze.

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Have you ever been stared at by a stranger and have it send chills up your spine? Or have you ever gotten goosebumps because you feel someone staring at you from behind? That’s the power of the gaze–it’s very real for people on the receiving end, and those who use their gaze to assault someone they want to exercise power over.

By capturing their gaze via photo, she turns the power dynamic on its head.

Wait Watchers is one of the best responses to fat-shaming we can imagine. Haley Morris-Cafiero is a brilliant photographer who uses her talent to show the world what fat-shaming looks like. These photos capture a truly disgusting sight, and it isn’t her body, it’s a culture that treats talented, smart, and honest people like caricatures.

Ed. Note: We asked Ms. Morris-Cafiero for permission to use her pictures, and she graciously agreed. Please do the same if you feel compelled to share her work on your personal blog, website, or other medium. You can contact her through her professional site. 

Comments

  1. I can’t help but feel that some of the looks from strangers she’s capturing are because she’s set up a tripod in busy areas and people are wondering what’s going on. I’ve seen very similar “watchers” on style blogs where people are making the same faces at women who would be considered attractive or thin. I definitely know what it’s like to feel like people are looking at you and judging you based on your weight/appearance, and fat shaming is definitely a serious problem that needs to be addressed, but I’m not completely convinced that’s what she’s captured in these photos.

    • slcfeminist says:

      Rebecca,

      Several people share your reaction to the pictures. Some of the gazes appear more casual than anything else, but others convey a more straightforward “disgust.”

  2. I find this very inaccurate. I am also a fat girl.

    Aside from what Rebecca said, which i fully agree with; there are more flaws to this. First off, in two out of the three photos her clothes are not flattering, they don’t fit well, they don’t really match, and they are wrinkled on top of that. She is dressed like a child to me.

    I can guarantee that if this same girl were wearing flattering clothes that were stylish and well thought out, a good percent of her “fat shaming” onlookers would probably not even care or bat an eye at her. She might even get some good looks.

    I know I gawk a bit when someone is dressed kind of funny. It’s hard not to sometimes.

    As far as the police photo, I don’t see that as fat shaming at all. I see that as a photo op he saw to make a funny picture. like a photobomb. I’m certain the tripod was pretty obvious, as Rebecca said, and he probably would have done it to anyone just standing there with a camera pointed at them.

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