Professional photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero has been using her camera to capture people’s reactions to her weight.
Her collection of powerful photographs, aptly titled “Wait Watchers”, was first inspired in 2010, when Morris-Cafiero noticed a man staring at her in a self-portrait she took in Times Square.
“When I got the film back – even though we were in the visual overload capital of the world – he was looking at me,” she tells PEOPLE. “I had nothing to do with him, and to capture something so quickly is interesting, so I’ve been doing that ever since.”
In locations around the world – New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Berlin, Paris, Prague, Peru and Barcelona – Morris-Cafiero, 38, takes her photographs in various public settings doing everyday tasks, such as shopping, sunbathing or simply walking down the street.
Although her camera often catches strangers giving her judgmental glares, Morris-Cafiero, a professor and assistant dean at the Memphis College of Art, doesn’t let other people’s reactions affect her self-image.
“I want to make it clear that I don t know what most of the people in my pictures are thinking,” she says. “But the idea that a glance and gaze is able to be captured is just really thrilling and interesting to me. It doesn’t hurt my feelings at all.”
Despite some negative feedback – Morris-Cafiero says she has received “thousands of comments criticizing the way I look, and how the world would be better if I got a makeover and lost weight” – she is happy with her appearance.
“I’m not trying to improve myself,” she says. “I love myself. I’m not trying to change.”
However, she admits she wasn’t always so comfortable with her body.
“I had an undiagnosed eating disorder in high school,” says Morris-Cafiero. “I was playing soccer several times a day and hardly eating. [Finally,] I was just like, ‘You know what, I’ve just got to get over it. This is the body you have and you’ve got to love it and appreciate it and do what you can with it.’ ”
Morris-Cafiero is now raising funds through a Kickstarter campaign to turn her photos into a book titled, The Watchers, which will contain the “Wait Watchers” images and at least 30 never-before-seen ones.
“Having a book, it’s like an exhibition catalogue,” she said. “People can experience the images as if they were in a gallery. The goal with the book is to inspire people to love their bodies and themselves.”