A story telling platform on the human experience of living with obesity
Photography and text Abbie Trayler-Smith

Drawing on my own experiences of growing up fat in the 1990s in the UK, I knew I had to turn my lens on the stigma of obesity and what it means to be obese in a world largely obsessed with junk food, body image, sex and perfection. The Big O tells the story of what it’s like to be one of the 2.1 billion people in the world deemed medically overweight or obese.

It all started when I met Shannon in 2010 and heard her read out a poem at the launch of a health website for young people. She was 13 and on her first trip to London; she was so brave and eloquent the room went silent. I have been photographing her ever since and you can see in this website the depth of our commitment to this story. I have dived into my archives to interweave Shannon’s stories with those of Byron, Chelsea, Spoon, and others I have photographed over the past decade.

I believe how we talk about obesity informs how we feel about it and how we address it as a global society. This year, through the magnifying glass of Covid-19, the alarms sounding about the consequences of obesity have become louder. In the coming years, I aim to investigate how people living with obesity experience it in different parts of the world in a documentary.

Abbie Trayler-Smith is a self-taught documentary and portrait photographer born in Wales and based in Devon, UK. Trayler-Smith studied law at King’s College London before working for eight years as a photographer for the Daily Telegraph, covering world events such as the Iraq War, the conflict in Darfur and the 2004 Asian tsunami. She began working independently in 2007 and has since focused on work that portrays the essence of her subjects’ private everyday issues. At the heart of each image lies an intense, personal connection to each and every subject, which reveals the anguish, humility and extraordinary courage of those behind her lens.

Trayler-Smith works for a wide variety of clients including the Guardian, Huck, Monocle, Vice, Oxfam, Save the Children, UNICEF, Sony and BBC Worldwide. Her work has been published and exhibited internationally and her awards include second (2017) and fourth (2010) prize in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London and a World Press Photo Award 2009. Kiss It!, a book about Shannon from the Big O project, will be published in late 2020 by GOST Books. Trayler-Smith is represented editorially by Panos Pictures and commercially by Wyatt-Clarke & Jones.

The platform is an initiative of creative director Claudine Boeglin Dandy Vagabonds with developer Jérôme Guckenheim, designer Gianluca Alla (allagianluca.com) and producer Marina Vitaglione / Panos Pictures.

This project was entirely self-produced as a multidisciplinary collaboration during Covid-19 lockdown.
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