Photographer mocks fat-shaming trolls
Haley Morris-Cafiero’s first cyberbully introduced themselves just minutes after HuffPost published a story about her 2013 photo series, ‘Wait Watchers.’
The sender told her that she “was going to die tomorrow from the diabetes caused by my obesity,” Morris-Cafiero recalls.
She didn’t die the next day, but she laughed when she read the message. The artist was stunned that a stranger would offer their input on her appearance when she could not ‘care less what they think,’ huffingtonpost.com reported.
In her newest project – five years and thousands of negative comments later –Morris-Cafiero takes an unconventional approach to disarming and confronting Internet trolls: She offers impersonations of them.
Morris-Cafiero writes in an artist statement that rather than respond to her trolls individually – a gesture that would likely fall on deaf ears – she wanted to “parody the bullies attempts by creating images and publishing them on the – the same vehicle used for their attack. And the images would be seen by millions, and would live again, again, and again.”
In the resulting photo series titled ‘The Bully Pulpit,’ Morris-Cafiero costumes herself as the very people who harass her. Saving more than 1,000 negative messages received via email and other social media, she ultimately chose 30 commenters to impersonate, taking care to ensure that the final image would not reveal the troll’s identity to anyone but themselves.
She selected those with the potential to make a strong visual impact, and whose public profiles revealed elements she could humorously exaggerate.
“I use humor as a way to dissolve the blow of their negative words,” Morris-Cafiero told HuffPost.
“Many of the bullies had photos on their profile that showed extremes: idyllic vacations, locations, and personal images. Then I searched the Internet to find props to accentuate the extremes.”
In each image, Morris-Cafiero fashions herself after a warped version of the subject based on details culled from their public-facing profiles, exaggerating elements of their physicality to match their excessive concern for hers.
Morris-Cafiero magnifies these imperfections to pierce through “the fallacy that the Internet will shield [the commenters] identities,” she said.
In inhabiting her subject’s performative social media presence, Morris-Confierio mocks their mockery and neuters its impact.
‘The Bully Pulpit’ images display the commenter’s original offending statement prominently, “almost as if I were ‘subtweeting’ them,” Morris-Cafiero said.
Ugly invectives are emblazoned on T-shirts and aprons, illuminated in a neon sign and scribbled on a mirror used for a satirical selfie. The commenters who inspired the images range from a 13-year-old video game enthusiast to a septuagenarian bodybuilder.
Morris-Cafiero hopes current and would-be Internet trolls will see the work and think, “I better stop or else I will be found.”
She also hopes that bullying victims see that their tormentors “can be outwitted, and that you can fight back in a different way,” she said.
Morris-Cafiero recently created a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to publish the series as a larger collection in print, after showing ‘The Bully Pulpit’ in galleries in London and San Francisco.
As for advice she has for an artist or content creator encountering cyberbullying for the first time, she urged them to “ignore critics... direct the viewer to the work and let the work do the talking.”
She added, “If the viewer can’t talk about the work and can only concentrate on the appearance of the artist, then the artist shouldn’t waste their time.”