"But you don't look sick": An Examination of Visual Representations of the Clinical and Lived Experiences of Chronic Illness in Instagram.

Brian Timm, Minnesota State University, Mankato


The current project examines how people living with a chronic illness use social media imagery to communicate the complexities of their lived experiences. A blended methodological approach utilizing narrative analysis and focused semiotic analysis was used to examine the imagery posted to the social media site Instagram. Images selected were posted by individual users who associated their images with the experience of living with chronic illness through the use of hashtags related to chronic illness, such as #chronicillness, #invisibleillness, and #spoonie. The research questions proposed explore how people living with chronic illness use visual imagery to present the various facets of their identities online and communicate multiple narratives of the experience of living with a chronic illness. This study provides insight into how social media users use images on social media to create a collective narrative of living with a chronic condition, engage in self-expression, and reclaim control over how broader society views and politicizes their bodies and health.