In this progressive day and age, discussing weight still makes people markedly uncomfortable. Despite the promotion of self-acceptance and body-positivity, many people still maintain deep-seated prejudices concerning plus-size individuals.
Performance artist and photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero has embarked on a recent project to focus in and shine a light on this particular discomfort. The idea came to her when she was taking selfies in Times Square and noticed a man staring at her for a lengthy amount of time, presumably due to her weight. When she captured a photo of the moment, Haley realized that photos of these silent, judgmental stare could be incredibly powerful.
“I’ve heard people make comments on my weight, but I never thought I’d be able to capture that on film,” she says.
Since then, Haley has created her project, entitled “Wait Watchers,” to capture images of strangers staring at her body while out in public.
Haley says that she doesn’t take the photos to shame anyone — rather, she believes that the project is an attempt to highlight what this kind of judgment actually looks like from the other side.
“I don’t do it out of anger. I consider it a social experiment. It’s not a ‘gotcha!’ kind of sensationalism. But it is taking the camera and reversing the gaze of the stranger back on to them. I think it’s a barometer of society, really.”
“While I do not know what the passerby is thinking, my goal is to reverse the gaze back onto the stranger and start a conversation,” Haley writes on her website. “I am very interested in how society uses their gaze to project emotions and then how we interpret the looks of others.”
Of course, with every posted photo, Haley says she received a barrage of unsolicited advice on diets and exercise — not to mention the completely useless comments from rampant trolls.
“With the viral exposure (of the project) came comment sections and blogs that hosted thousands of anonymous comments that said my life and, in some cases, the world would be better if I lost weight and got a makeover,” she writes.
This sort of reaction, however, only makes the project that much more powerful and imperative.
Haley has compiled the photos into a book called Wait Watchers — which is certainly a good example of taking some judgmental lemons and making lemonade.
Haley isn’t stopping with this particular photo project, either. She’s currently creating a series called “The Bully Pulpit” in which she photographs herself dressed up as the people who have attempted to bully her (with the help of wigs, costuming and, in some cases, prosthetics).
It’s artists like this who serve as a reminder that even the most unpleasant aspects of the world can be transformed into learning tools for others — and that, with the right mindset, nobody has the power to make you feel lesser-than.