Doing stigma: online commenting around weight-related news media

Phillip Brooker, Julie Barnett, John Vines, Shaun Lawson, Tom Feltwell, Kiel Long

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (SciVal)
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Weight stigma is acknowledged by researchers as a culturally contingent, highly-mediatised phenomenon. The dominant discourse around weight is to cast it as 'obesity'; a medicalised problem ascribed to the personal irresponsibility of individuals. Researchers have argued that this stigmatising discourse stems from an increasingly neoliberal attitude to health where thinness is the normative marker of 'good' consumption practices. However, studies also suggest that weight stigma is more damaging to health than being obese. Though more critical attitudes to obesity and weight stigma do exist, these are typically
accorded the status of counter-narratives. In order to deepen our understanding of the rhetorical practices deployed around obesity we undertake a frame analysis of 1452 user-generated comments on an obesity related online news article, identifying three themes: weight as a lifestyle choice or disability; weight as an irresponsible choice, and weight as a simple or complex issue. We contend that the design of the commenting platform influences the semantic content of the discussion such that counter-narratives are unable to challenge the dominant obesity framing for three reasons: discursive content is driven by comments appearing earlier in the corpus; binary rhetorical positions delimit the
boundaries of the debate, and there are difficulties in establishing a lexicon through which counter-narratives might flourish. In this way, we explore how weight stigma is propagated through online media, and how users' comments intersect with the affordances of the platform itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3201-3222
Number of pages22
JournalNew Media & Society
Issue number9
Early online date7 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • weight stigma
  • obesity
  • online news commentary
  • socio-political discourse


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