Staring Back: A Response to Body Shamers in Haley Morris-Cafiero’s Self-Portraiture


  • Lucienne Auz Memphis College of Art



disability aesthetics, performance art, fat shaming, cyberbullying


In 2010, Memphis-based artist Haley Morris-Cafiero set out on a global photographic project entitled Wait Watchers (2010-2015), a series of self-portraits that explore the issue of body shaming. Within these works Morris-Cafiero performs the role of a vacationer, dressing in locale-appropriate attire and striking classic tourist poses. Nothing about her fashion or demeanor would strike many as unusual, but captured within the larger shot are onlookers, unaware of being photographed, who become characters in her performance as they react to her appearance. Though repeatedly capturing looks of disgust, contempt and ridicule, Morris-Cafiero does not claim to know the thoughts of passersby. She finds proof of viewers’ perceptions in hostile online comments posted to her work. Utilizing these comments Morris-Cafiero created a second performance-based series, In the Time of Trump (2015-present), in which she photographs herself adopting the role of the online trolls in order to subvert their gaze, strip the perception of online anonymity, and to re-present their words to the world. Exploring the intersection of fat studies and disability studies, this paper locates Morris-Cafiero’s two series within the framework of Tobin Siebers’ concept of disability aesthetics. Siebers argues to broaden our definition of aesthetics to encompass new conceptions of beauty and to recognize that our aesthetic response is based on an embodied experience. This paper argues that Morris-Cafiero’s work successfully embraces unique corporeality and challenges socio-cultural distinctions of the outsider‘ body.