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Stigmatization and Its Invisible Damage


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 the 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 in the meantime reminding us that we are all equal human beings.

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The Invisible Wounds

Invisible wounds
Figure 1: Invisible wounds (Humans of New York par 1).

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 relates to underdeveloped nations signifying shame or inability to control circumstances surrounding one’s life. 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 feeling of rejection and inferiority. The background light-colored wall 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 isolation of an individual in a quiet environment without any activities indicates disgrace and despair. In this regard, the effect of despair and shame is trauma, social distress, and poor social life. The above image shows an individual with a wrinkled face indicating pain triggered by devastating life experiences. The wrinkles though do not always depict distress, as it can be associated with a phenotypic characteristic of an individual. The isolated life is an indication of poor social life caused by stigma resulting from social rejection. In the figure, the wide-opened eyes, and the turned posture provides a condemning outlook of shame and damaged self-image. Overall, the background, choice of color, and image characteristics combine to bring about stigma in a visual presentation.

Arguments of Visual images

The individual’s wrinkled facial appearance signifies distress that may be a result of social dissatisfaction. 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, a clear background brings a 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.

The individual dark complexity 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 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. 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.

Use of Image Caption

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 on the individual’s lives and society.

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 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.

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Intended Subject-Viewer Relationship

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 networks 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. 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.

Social Perspective

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 reduplicates reality leading to the blurred perception of an originally intended message. The caption and the unnatural background makes 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.

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 occurrences. 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 lives matter and deserve equal treatment.

Working against Social Change

The photograph evokes emotional pain and uncertainty over the events of the invisible wound amongst its viewers. According to the argument of Gonzalez-Polledo (2016), the constant sharing of images depicting 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 the 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 personal pain of social injustice and those related to the community making healing and reconciliation hard to achieve. 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.


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 decent 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 importance to all lives.

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.

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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.

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.

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