Invisible Wounds of Stigmatized Individuals

Stigma affects several many people around the world and results in great suffering among them. Several causes of stigma include abuse, sexual assault, violence, and discrimination. The effect of stigma is detrimental and varies from a loss of self-worth, trauma, stress, and mental illness that affect personal life as well as family life. Richman and Hatzenbuehler (2014) point out that stigma leads to the poor social life of individuals due to associated illnesses, poor education, isolation, stress, low self-esteem, anxiety, and may even result in death (215). The effects of stigma compromise individuals’ willingness to live a healthy social life, leading to desperation and misery. Individuals suffer in isolation as society categorizes them as marginalized and hence deprived of social rights. This leads to social dissatisfaction and painful social wounds (Figure 1). In this regard, individuals shy off and lead isolated lives away from society. Therefore, this essay examines the invisible wounds of a stigmatized individual caused by racial discrimination at the meantime examining the relationship between visual media and its effect on people’s perceptions.

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Invisible Wounds of Stigmatized Individuals

We can see a distressed individual depicted in the picture above. He is isolated and does not have social engagement with other humans, trees, or animals; thus the picture presents a stressed individual in an isolated life. The dark complexion of the person shows that the issue that caused the person’s distress or shame is likely to be specific to people of color. According to Richman and Hatzenbuehler (2014), poor policies, undeveloped human practices, and backward culture lead to social stigma (214). The complexion and t-shirt color is a mark of self-defect of the individual and condemning feelings of rejection and inferiority. The light-colored wall in the background indicates a displacement of an individual’s social life. Based on this, the light wall brings shame and the presence of a hopeless individual in a lively environment. However, this image presentation does not imply that a dark complexion or black color is a representation of disgrace as purported.

The facial expression of the person is very severe, and the wrinkles especially show the weight of the issues the person is experiencing. The wrinkle in the face is an illustration of emotional pain experienced due to social injustice. The background of the picture is a clear wall that does not show the presence of other living things or trees associated with a natural environment. Thus, the clear background brings the feeling of desolation and abandonment. The photographer’s ideal intention is to get people to have a personal interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the image. Gonzalez-Polledo (2016) alludes that the photographic use of an image with physical attributes of pain enables viewers to connect with the life of the photographed individual and establish a relationship to share the pain (5-6). In the above figure, therefore, the act of isolation and wrinkles on the face of the individual sends a message of distress and trauma to a viewer. This message can create an emotional connection between the viewer and the image, which is essential for addressing the issues of racial discrimination. If the picture elicits empathy in the viewer, it also helps to humanize the people suffering from racial discrimination. This is one of the effects visual media can have on the viewer.

The individual’s dark complexion and black T-shirt add taste to the power of visual cues. In this aspect, the background appearance of obscured images draws the audience’s perception of the world that is drifting away to infinity living the individual in agony. The despair in the individual’s face is a result of his inability to control the events and the shame of being in the situation. The wide eyesight and turned posture signify the individual desire for intervention to change the circumstances. However, this posture may also indicate that the individual’s position connotes surrendered life, disgrace, and humiliation. The depiction does not mean entirely that the individual is facing social injustices and pain but rather the whole photography may have been to communicate an intended photographer’s message of the consequences of social discrimination.

In this figure, the use of dark complexion and black t-shirt indicates the futility of efforts aimed at changing the bad experiences in his life. All the visual elements of the photo in one way or another connect to the theme of social discrimination. Through these elements, the photographer can provide a wide range of feelings that are caused by social and especially racial discrimination. It is not just an impression of shame and sadness. The viewer can feel the isolation that social discrimination brings to people of color. They could feel the hopelessness of people left with no support system and without a clear path to recovery. When political systems fail to provide equal treatment to people of different racial backgrounds, and when the public sentiment does not support your value as a human being, the isolation must feel truly devastating. This is the impression the photo can deliver to the viewer.

The use of caption in imagery helps give direction on the actual situation of the facts surrounding the picture. Photographers engage the use of caption to educate, clarify, cement, or reprove the viewers’ perception of events. Caption enhances direct disclosure and understanding of the events surrounding the individual’s life. Miguel (2016) explains that captions use highlighted phrases or statements that briefly describe the situation of a particular image (5). The important aspect of a caption is establishing the relevant context of the image. The use of a caption in the above picture complicates the readers’ interpretation of the image by briefly describing the reason behind the stigmatized individual. The word “invisible wound” attracts the reader’s interest and creates curiosity over what has caused the wounds. The viewer identifies the individual as of black origin as the caption did not provide any identification. The absence of the caption makes viewers relate the events that might have caused the invisible wounds to injustices of nations in the individual’s lives and society.

Susan Sontag points out the dangers of leaving the powerless individual anonymous: “a portrait that declines to name its subject becomes complicit, if inadvertently in the cult of celebrity that has fueled an insatiable appetite for the opposite sort of photograph: to grant only the famous their names demotes the rest to representative instances of their occupations, their ethnicities, their plights (62).” This idea describes the effect this caption can have on the viewer. “Invisible wound” is an abstract concept that can be applied even without any connection to social injustices. Without the image, it could represent the psychological trauma of people returning from war or any form of PTSD that stays with the person after any physical wounds have healed. The content of the photo, however, suggests a focus on emotional trauma caused by social injustice. Unfortunately, the lack of identity of the person generalizes their struggle, almost literally making them the face of the issue. However, these “invisible wounds” are common in people of color who this specific man does not represent. African-American women and children experience unique forms of social discrimination, which this image does not represent. This is the danger created by the very general caption of “invisible wounds.”

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The invisible wound is either emotional pain or damage of body organs due to inhuman treatment to the individual or the society he represents. Based on the background, the caption complicates the viewer’s understanding of the events caused by the wounds and of the stigmatized individual. The caption “invisible wounds” thus engages the viewers’ emotions and raises the feelings of humanity informing the need to consider other people’s rights to life. However, the background does not provide a natural setup environment thus make the viewer doubt the reality of the context. Based on this, the viewer gets confused about how to interpret the image.

The photographer intends to build a truthful claim relationship on the existence of invisible pain and injustice in the society that stigmatizes individuals. This relationship makes the viewer believe the image is real by creating an illusion of authenticity that builds a network based on social unity and emotional sharing. According to Senft and Baym (2015), the use of nearly real images of events that carry emotionally provocative statements in photography creates network-based solidarity amongst the viewers (1596). In the above figure, the photographer intends to create a real relationship between the viewer and the image and raise the feelings of togetherness of humanity through eliciting empathy.

The feeling of hopelessness and isolation is common for most people, even those not affected by social discrimination. Attained realism and network relationships influence the viewer’s perception and interpretation of the context of the image. In this sense, the photographer uses a persuasive approach to convince the viewer of the existence of inhuman acts and stigmatization. Realism and relationship enhance the creation of a memorable event by the viewer through sharing the individual adversaries. This aspect of the image helps increase the effect it has on the viewer. It is also unique to the visual mediums because it taps into the human ability to read and interpret visual information based on previous experiences and knowledge. The more realistic the image is, the more prominent the emotional effect it has on the viewer.

Photography portrays the lives of its subjects as desperate and traumatized. The use of body gestures to indicate the emotional condition of the subjects creates the perfect impression of real-life events. According to Gonzalez-Polledo (2016), body gesture communicates the relevant emotional conditions within a photographed image (5-6). The outward presentation of wrinkles and undesired talk by the individual in the above figure clearly describes the bad stigmatizing experiences and pain as communicated in the caption. The photography reduplicated reality is leading to the blurred perception of an originally intended message. The caption and the unnatural background make the life of the individual and related society look miserable, as the understanding of the truth is a result of the available image and caption. This though might not be the case as it entirely depends on the viewer’s perception and interpretation of the image.

The intention of the photograph is unknown. However, the emotional effect it has is clear. According to the argument of Gonzalez-Polledo (2016), constant sharing of images depicting, On the contrary, the photographer’s reason behind the choice of the image for communication remains undisclosed. The true-life experiences of the individual and the society may be exactly different from the communicated message. The photograph does not catch an accurate picture of the events, and the pain of the individuals represented as the image lacks a natural background to support real-life occurrence. Additionally, the photographer intended result on the creation of the image or photograph may be different from the global understanding of the message. However, the clear message that replicates in the image is the need to acknowledge that all deserve equal treatment, and no one should experience the invisible wounds of discrimination.

Frequent depiction of painful experiences in social media reduces the impact of pain and makes atrocity look ordinary (5). Thus, this image reduces the social intention to achieve equal rights for all humans. The creation of the painful network-based emotional relationship between the image and the viewer keeps bad memories that haunt the viewer due to the inability to change the circumstances enhancing hate and social differences.

Additionally, the image does not give a real picture of the events surrounding the photography that can help in finding a lasting solution to the social issues. In this case, the image only serves to renew the personal pain of social injustice and those related to the community making healing and reconciliation hard to achieve. This image provides little new information for people suffering from discrimination. They can sympathize with the person in the image, but this only brings confirmation to the information they already know. Moreover, this image provides no additional information to put it into context. If the people who suffer injustice daily can relate to the person in this image, it could only be a feeling of general familiarity. Nothing about this man is specific, due to the lack of visual information or a clear caption. This is not a clear negative for the picture. The intention of the author is unknown, but it could be perceived that he tried to show that discrimination can exist anywhere, but this approach can make it harder to relate to the person. Overall, the viewer has to guess the occurrence of the stigmatizing events, image context, and current circumstances valuable to enhancing the good social cohesion of respectful human lives.

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Although this photo can humanize the people suffering from social injustices, it does so in a very general way. The composition and content of the photo present an emotional and realistic portrayal of a man of color experiencing emotional trauma. However, as mentioned before, there is no clear context given for his trauma. The connection to social discrimination is likely valid in the context of Stanton’s book and the social environment this image was taken in, but there is no guarantee that the emotions of the depicted person are caused by discrimination.

A less socially conscious viewer can perceive this just as a man being depressed over emotional trauma. Therefore this image is not fully capable of changing the position a person has on social discrimination. This point does not work against the argument that this image represents the consequences of racial discrimination because a person familiar with the realities of social injustice should immediately recognize the slightly obscured meaning of the photo. Nevertheless, it is essential to mention that visual media is reliant on the knowledge and experiences of the viewer, especially media that relies on interpretation. The person might experience all the emotional effects of the image, but completely miss the connection between the skin color of the person, their emotions, and the caption.

Stigma affects a lot of individuals around the world regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity causing poor social life that leads to trauma, social desolation, emotional pain, and illnesses. Individuals and social media should be concerned with the best way to communicate stigmatizing events through photography as it results in a network-based relationship. However, such sensitive matters need a thoughtful approach to the creation and exchange of these stigmatizing events to prevent the loss of human touch on atrocities that are significant in achieving equal rights for every person.

The last five years have shown how visual media can have a tremendous effect on how people perceive events and people. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter often shape the ideas of their users, and unfortunately, they lack proper filtration tools to avoid false information. Susan Sontag wrote about how false captions for photos can be used for propaganda during highly emotional and tragic events (11). This situation is magnified by the inability to check the sources of the images on social media. Therefore, it is essential to consider all aspects of the image during its creation process to avoid false perceptions that could lead to further discrimination.

Work Cited

Gonzalez-Polledo, Elena. “Chronic Media Worlds: Social Media and the problem of Pain Communication on Tumblr.” Social Media and Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 2016, pp 1-11.

Humans of New York. “Invisible Wounds.” Humans of New York, 2017, Web.

Miguel, Cristina. “Visual Intimacy on Social Media: From Selfies to the Co-Construction of Intimacies through Shared Pictures.” Social Media and Society, vol. 2, no. 1, 2016, pp. 1-10.

Richman, Laura, and Mark Hatzenbuehler. “A Multilevel Analysis of Stigma and Health: Implication for Research and Policy.” Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 1, no. 1, 2014, pp. 213-221.

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Senft, Theresa, and Nancy Baym. “What Does the Selfie say? Investigating a Global Phenomenon.” International Journal of Communication, vol. 9, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1588-1606.

Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.

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StudyCorgi. "Invisible Wounds of Stigmatized Individuals." May 25, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Invisible Wounds of Stigmatized Individuals." May 25, 2021.


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