The Big O
“In England, most people are overweight or obese. This includes 61.3% of adults and 30% of children aged between 2 and 15. People who are overweight have a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Excess weight can also make it more difficult for people to find and keep work, and it can affect self-esteem and mental health.”
Department of Health, British Government, 25th March 2013
In her ongoing project, The Big O, Abbie Trayler-Smith, spends time with some of the young women behind the obesity statistics that are shaking the core of contemporary British society. Evidence suggests that obesity has reached epidemic proportions, with an estimated 1 in 3 of our children considered overweight or obese. An expert recently stated that the situation is now so critical that many of our children may not survive their parents.
Through her very intimate and empathetic approach to her subjects, Abbie takes the viewer on a journey to explore the psychological effects of being fat in a society that values thinness and beyond the surface to the young person within. Even in the early stages of this work it is palpably apparent how complicated and nuanced is the subject of childhood obesity. For many young people battling with their weight and their self- image is incredibly common during the formative and insecure teenage years, so much so that it cuts across gender, class and racial divides.
“This project stems from a period in my life I only now feel able to examine. The stigma that surrounds and engulfs obesity has meant my fat teenage years have remained buried, gnawing away at me, and leaving me with unanswered questions and uncomfortable feelings. Why did I get fat? How did it happen? And in truth what effect has it had on my life? Would things have been different if I’d been a perfect size 10?”
For many of us, Abbie’s sensitive portrayal of these young people, built upon gaining an unparalleled level of trust, taps into our own youthful experiences of insecurity and the disquiet that so many of us went through with our own bodies and self- image. Slowly we learn of their daily fight against the tide of stigma and self–loathing, of their resolution to be themselves in the face of taunts and misunderstanding; and finally, their plea for society to support and listen to them.
Excerpt from Shannon’s Poem:
So you say you understand me, then please don’t judge me help me.
You want to know how to manage obesity in children and young people, and then ask me,
For I am one of millions of children who fit this category,
I am the one who has so many health risks; they are too scary to think about.
I am the one you label fat, lazy and greedy when I am so desperate to change.
But I don’t know how, so what do I need.
So please don’t patronise me with eat less and exercise more,
Walk in my shoes for a day and then tell me what you think.
Abbie will continue her study of childhood obesity through further time with other young women as well as with overweight young men, who are equally marginalised and sometimes even less well understood.
Text by Francesca Sears, Director of Panos Profile
Abbie Trayler-Smith is a documentary and portrait photographer whose work draws primarily on an emotional response and engagement with her subject. Her work embraces the personal and private aspects of people’s lives and is driven by a desire to get under the skin and cut straight to the heart of the issues she chooses to explore.
Abbie grew up in South Wales, studied Law at Kings College, London and now spends her time living and working in London and Devon. After an initial period with the Telegraph as a photographer she now travels globally to complete assignments for a large variety of clients including Time Magazine, GEO, Marie Claire, Tatler, The New Review, The Independent on Sunday, Guardian Weekend, Oxfam, UNICEF and BBC Worldwide. She has covered major events such as the Iraq war, the Darfur crisis and the Asian tsunami as well as spending time on long-term projects in the UK. Her major project on the lives of asylum seekers in the UK, 'Still Human, Still Here' was exhibited at HOST Gallery, London, in 2009 with the accompanying multi-media film receiving critical acclaim and winning both The Nikon Award 2009 and The PPY Best Multimedia Piece 2009. In 2010 she won 4th prize in the prestigious Taylor Wessing Prize exhibited at The National Portrait Gallery for her portrait of Chelsea from the series Childhood Obesity, an ongoing personal project.
She joined Panos Pictures in 2007 and became a member of Panos Profile in 2010.
Francesca Sears is responsible for raising the profile of Panos, for business development and cultural projects. Before moving to Panos she worked at Magnum Photos as its Editorial Director in London, then as the agency’s Global Editorial Director and manager of the London office. During her time at Magnum she oversaw international sales in editorial and ran the press campaign for the agency’s 60th year anniversary book with Thames & Hudson as well as project managing Magnum Georgia, a group book, and touring exhibition.
Francesca started her professional career as a print journalist for Forbes magazine in New York, later turning to photography in 2002 when she re-trained and graduated from Goldsmiths with an MA in Image and Communication. During her 10 years in photography she has also been Associate Director of Proud Galleries in London, managing over 16 exhibitions per year, and has judged various competitions including for the BJP and the Magenta Flash Forward Award. Most recently she was editor on a workshop in Georgia, an initiative by the Open Society Foundation supporting photographers from Central Asia, the South Caucasus, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Pakistan.
The featured photographer for April 2013 was Abbie Trayler-Smith curated by Francesa Sears, Director of Panos Profile