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Capturing a Stranger’s Sneer: What Happened When I Put On Spandex

November 15, 2014 in Blogs

By Haley Morris-Cafiero, Salon

People told me to lose weight and clean up. So I tried self-improvement—and photographed the critical responses

I remember when I found the idea for the new images in my “Wait Watchers” series. I was in a sports equipment store with my husband, who was buying new running shoes.  While I waited, I walked around the store. A pair of pink, shiny running shorts caught my eye.  I walked to the rack, picked up the hanger holding the shorts in front of my face and stared at the shiny fabric. 

“Yeah, right,” I heard someone say.

I looked up to see a young female employee smirking at me and moving her eyes up and down my body.  She then turned and walked away.

My first thought was to tell the manager what happened.  My second thought was to demand that my husband not patronize the store. But my third thought was the best:  I can take photographs.  And a new idea was born.

For the past few years, I’ve been developing a series I call “Wait Watchers.” I set up my camera as I travel through a city, capturing strangers’ reactions to me as I wear my everyday clothes and do everyday things. Last year, I ran some of these photos in a story on Salon, and in reading the voluminous response online, I noticed many of the commenters did not criticize the photographs, but the way my face, body and clothing look.

Here’s one: “Men: Arm the harpoons!”

Or another: “Fat lump of lard. Stay off the donuts and go runnings. Makes me ill just looking at her.”

Since so many people suggested the world would be better if I lost weight and got a makeover — I decided to put myself in a world where I was not comfortable:  shopping malls, exercise trails and beauty counters.  My goal was to show that even when I am happily engaging in how society wants me to behave in order to fit their standard, I am still surrounded by what can be considered a …read more


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