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Self-presentation in digital media among adolescent patients with obesity: Striving for integrity, risk-reduction, and social recognition

Journal article
Authors Christopher Holmberg
Christina Berg
Thomas Hillman
Lauren Lissner
John Chaplin
Published in Digital Health
Volume 4
Pages 1-15
ISSN 2055-2076
Publication year 2018
Published at Institute of Medicine, School of Public Health and Community Medicine
Department of Education, Communication and Learning
Institute of Clinical Sciences, Department of Pediatrics
Institute of Health and Care Sciences
Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science
Pages 1-15
Language en
Keywords Adolescence, digital media, Goffman, healthcare privacy, obesity, pediatrics, self-presentation, weight stigma
Subject categories Human Aspects of ICT, Nursing, Domestic science and nutrition


Background Emerging research suggests that social media has the potential in clinical settings to enhance interaction with and between pediatric patients with various conditions. However, appearance norms and weight stigmatization can make adolescents with obesity uncomfortable about using these visual-based media. It is therefore important to explore these adolescents’ perspectives to identify the implications and concerns regarding the use of social media in clinical settings. Objective To explore the experiences of adolescents in treatment for obesity in terms of how they present themselves on social media, their rationale behind their presentations, and their feelings related to self-presentation. Methods Interviews were conducted with 20 adolescents enrolled in a pediatric outpatient obesity clinic, then transcribed and categorized using qualitative content analysis and Goffman’s dramaturgical model. Participants used a screen-recorded laptop to demonstrate their online self-presentation practices. Findings: Adolescent girls and boys undergoing treatment for obesity used visual-based social media, but girls in particular experienced weight stigma online and undertook self-presentation strategies to conceal weight-related content such as avoiding showing close-up photos of their bodies and not posting images of unhealthy “fattening” foods. Participants perceived the potential use of social media in clinical settings as being too risky and private. Conclusions Given the complexity of general visual-based social media use by adolescents, and not wanting their patient status to be visible to peers, healthcare should primarily focus on working with more restricted instant messaging when engaging with adolescents with obesity.

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