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Weight-related stigma in online spaces: challenges, responses and opportunities for change

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posted on 28.02.2017, 04:51 by Dickins, Marissa Louise
The issue of adiposity is one of the most salient health issues within our society today. As individuals and as a society we are constantly reminded about our weight and encouraged to transform ourselves through the utilisation of methods such as diet, exercise and willpower that are put forth by the health and diet industries. As a result of this constant negative discourse, individuals deemed fat, overweight or obese within our society are constantly faced with judgement that their bodies are unacceptable and are subjected to routine stigma and discrimination based on their weight. One avenue that has been left largely unexplored is the role that computer-mediated communication (CMC) and the internet can have on the experience and response that corpulent individuals may have to weight-related stigma. This thesis takes the unique approach to the stigma of adiposity in that it aims to examine how individuals utilise the internet in order to mediate, navigate, and ameliorate the stigma and discrimination that they experience within their day-to-day lives. Because the medium of the internet is incredibly vast, however, the field of inquiry relevant to this thesis has been narrowed to that of weblogs (or ‘blogs’). Utilising a complementary component design, this thesis aims to examine how individuals experience, mediate and change their experiences of weight-related stigma utilising blogs. In order to meet this aim, three qualitative studies have been designed, each utilising distinct methods depending on the study aims and data. The first study, a case study of weight-related stigma, utilises thematic analysis in order to examine the reaction to an episode of weight-related stigma that takes place on a blog. The second, a study of online support, utilises an approach informed by grounded theory to examine a community of bloggers known as the Fatosphere. The third utilises discourse analysis to examine an internet-based campaign called I Stand that attempts to challenge the common perceptions of the corpulent individual. This research has identified five key findings. The first finding highlights individuals’ use of justification and suppression methods to rationalise their compliance or resistance with the dominant perspectives of adiposity. The second finding highlights individuals’ use of the structural components of CMC to facilitate their engagement within these areas of discourse – namely asynchronicity, anonymity, and disinhibition. The third finding shows that individuals challenge the beliefs, expectations and views of not only themselves but of others within these online environments. The fourth finding illustrates that through challenging these behaviours, individuals also challenge the utilisation of stigma as a method of behaviour change. Finally, the fifth finding demonstrates that individuals emphasise health and wellbeing over weight loss when countering the beliefs of others. This thesis extends the current body of knowledge regarding weight-related stigma through the novel approach of utilising blogs and the internet. The findings of this study may allow for further new and novel approaches to be taken by any number of stigmatised identities in attempting to mediate, navigate and change the stigma and discrimination that they experience in their day-to-day lives.


Principal supervisor

Colette Browning

Additional supervisor 1

Susan Feldman, Samantha Thomas

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Primary Health Care. Primary Care Research Unit

Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences