Overweight photog turns lens on fat-shamers, gawkers

"Cops," a photo in Haley Morris-Cafiero's "Wait Watchers" series, featuring the artist.
Haley Morris-Cafiero

(CBS News) Photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero is turning the camera on her critics, in an attempt to capture how society views overweight people, like herself. Morris-Cafiero suffers from hypothyroidism -- a condition that can lead to weight gain -- and says diet and exercise have always been a struggle.

"Reversing the gaze, that's what I'm doing," Morris-Cafiero told CBS News' John Blackstone of her "Wait Watchers" project, a photo series that captures the expressions of passersby as Morris-Cafiero stands or performs mundane tasks in public spaces.

She first started taking photos for the "Wait Watchers" project in 2010, when she says she "noticed the boys would snicker" in her direction. With the help of an assistant, she arranges the shot and sets the camera to shoot continuously before she takes her position in the midst of the scene. She never knows what happened around her until she looks at this results later.

Haley admits she can never really know what those in her photos are thinking, but she does receive considerable feedback when she posts her photos online.

"Some of the website comments are, 'You know, they're not looking at you because you're fat, they're looking at you because you're ugly'," she told Blackstone.

Not all the comments are so negative, however. Haley has also heard "from who people who say that they are thin and they have made fun of people, they have bullied, they have made faces and they now see how they look."

Haley says the project underscores her own self-perception. "I see [myself] as someone who has been told everyday by news or by media that she is overweight and ... I know from experience she has to do a lot of work to prove that she's not stupid, that she's not slow, that she's not lazy, she's not unemployed. She's not all of these things."

Haley calls her effort to push back against fat-shaming and societal stigma "a social experiment" that pushes people to change their views of others and themselves. And, she says it "does allow me to take control of the situation."