Abbie Trayler-Smith

Abbie-Trayler Smith, From The Big O

Abbie-Trayler Smith, From The Big O

about the work

The Big O is an intimate study of the children behind the obesity statistics here in the UK. Evidence suggests that obesity has reached epidemic proportions with an estimated 1 in 3 children in Britain classified as overweight or obese. I began this project in 2011 by photographing 2 teenage girls whose lives I have been documenting ever since. I am now working with 10 young boys and girls from different walks of life with the aim of creating a definitive body of work on the subject of childhood obesity showing how complex and nuanced it is.

 

As a fat teenager it was inevitable that at some point I would have to summon the courage to turn my camera on the subject that is making headlines worldwide.  Obesity is now rapidly becoming a global concern but it has always been personal for me.  The psychological effects of being fat in a society that values thin, interests me as much as the obvious health impairments. Being overweight or obese is deemed to be self-inflicted, or even a lifestyle choice, and the ‘culprit’ labeled. Obesity has taken over from cancer as the thing to fear, The Big “O”, with its stigma and discrimination following the overweight from the schoolyard to the workplace and beyond.

Alarmist headlines fail to examine the everyday reality of struggling with weight and self-image and through my images I want to tap into the wider youthful experiences of insecurity and the disquiet that so many of us, myself included, went through with our own bodies and self-image during those formative and insecure teenage years.  As Shannon (the first girl I photographed) wrote so eloquently in a poem: “Please don’t patronize me with ‘eat less and exercise more. Walk in my shoes for a day and then tell me what you think”.

When I embarked on this work I had no idea how difficult it would be to find the kids in the first place: I was very lucky to meet Shannon early on who says, “people judge fat people and I wanted to get involved in the project to put across my view” but finding other young people with that courage was not so easy.  In 2013 I realized that if I was to show the enormity of my subject I needed to expand the work to include more kids: kids at an earlier age and those whose stories encompass gender, class and racial divides. I now have a great group of kids I am working with from all walks of life and at crucial ages and I am seeking funding in order to make the journeys to visit them and record their stories as they unfold.

I was photographing one of the kids playing in a paddling pool when her dad turned to me and said, “She’s our daughter and we love her no matter what.  But she can’t afford to get any bigger”.  Now I’m a parent myself I understand even more that the way my own Dad mishandled my weight getting out of control, was the best he could do.  But what I realize now: from research, from talking to professionals across the field, from spending time at fat camps and after school clubs, observing kids as they grow up and from my own journey towards a healthy life, is that ‘recovery’ starts with feeling good about yourself, from within.  How we explain obesity drives how policy makers seek to address it and I strongly feel that this work, the view of the people behind the statistics, can significantly inform that debate.

about the artist

I am a self taught documentary and portrait Photographer born in Wales and based in London. Photography has become a way of life for me, something you just have to live and breathe. My work draws primarily on my emotional responses and engagements with my subjects. I embrace the personal and private aspects of people’s lives and am driven by a desire to get under the skin and straight to the heart of the issues they strive to deal with.

 

I spent eight, amazing years as a photographer with The Daily Telegraph covering news and features around the world such as the Darfur Crisis, the Iraq war and the Asian tsunami, before making the decision to go freelance in 2007. It was time to determine and develop the issues and subjects that held meaning for me and proved to be absolutely the right decision. I now work for a wide variety of clients including The Sunday Times, The Independent Review, Newsweek, Marie-Claire, Oxfam, UNICEF and BBC worldwide.

 

I joined Panos Pictures in 2008 and held my first major solo show ‘Still Human Still Here’ in 2009 at HOST Gallery in London, along with the accompanying award winning multi-media short.  My portrait of Chelsea from the series ‘The Big O’ won 4th prize in The National Portrait Gallery’s Taylor Wessing Prize 2010.  I enjoy collaboration and just recently have helped to set up a Welsh Photography Collective called A Fine Beginning.  We launched the first issue of our magazine in Cardiff at Diffusion 2013, which features the work of four Welsh photographers – in my case the most recent work from my ongoing personal project, The Big O.

 

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