Weight is a very contentious issue in today’s world. One the one hand, our society has gone to great lengths to combat the way society views overweight people.
We are well aware that young people strive to be anything but “fat”, and sometimes go to quite extreme measures. In order to combat this kind of pressure, we reinforce positive messages concerning body image and self love through ambitious online campaigns. On the other hand, we also live in a world where the rise in obesity is taking its toll on the overall health of the nation. This has led to us talking about weight as thought it were a matter of right and wrong. If you’re slim, your health is a-okay. If you happen to be on the heavier side, you may as well live within a two mile radius of the Emergency Department. Yes, having excessive fat isn’t necessarily a healthy way to live, however, that doesn’t excuse the intolerance and pure disgust that overweight people are subjected to by total strangers. Photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero has sought to combat society’s perception of fat people with her own photography project, a project that has now been dubbed “The Watchers”. Through the project, she aims to show people how strangers tend to react to seeing bigger people out and about. For the past six years, Haley has jetted across the world, immortalizing people’s negative reactions to her body. Haley didn’t initially set out for the project to develop into what it later became:
“The origins of the project were serendipitous. In 2010, I was working on a photo project where I was taking self-portraits in social spaces. Those images were investigating my place in these spaces and had nothing to do with anyone else.”
Upon looking at the photos she had taken for an entirely different project, she realized something pretty eye-opening:
“I set up a shot on the Coca-Cola steps in Times Square and when I got the film back two weeks later, I found the image that became ‘Anonymity Isn’t for Everyone.’”
People that do not conform to society’s rigid and exclusionary standards are generally looked upon as outcasts. Often the only attention that such outcasts receive is from people who continuously stare and laugh at them, turning them into a spectacle:
“The project is really about how we use our gaze to communicate our opinions of others.”
“So to me, it is not just about being overweight; it is about how our identity is embedded in our image. So it’s about being overweight, gender, clothing choices, etc.”
People have reacted to the ambitious project in various ways. Some people have even hurled verbal abuse Haley’s way. This kind of reaction clearly stems from the damaging perception people have about “conventionally unattractive” body types. Although there is no way we can know for sure what the people in the photographs are thinking, we can still draw reasonable conclusions based on their facial expressions:
“I also have to say that I do not know what the people are thinking or reacting to in the photographs. They are strangers. But the images are meant to start a conversation about how we use the gaze.”
The negative reaction to Haley’s project is such that Haley is now working on a follow up project whereby she will respond to the harsh comments she has endured from strangers on the internet. So, watch out for her next photo series, it’s sure to be a good one! Weight issues can plague many people – but as long as that individual is happy in their own skin, that’s the important thing. In the meantime, why not delve into the heartwarming story of the bullied teen who managed to lose 193 lbs thanks to her pet dog?
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