"It's not all nice and fun": Narrating contested illness on YouTube and Instagram

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This empirical study draws on insights from narrative theory to tease out how women with a contested illness narrate their experiences on social media. Based on 13 months of online observations between 2017 and 2019, I analyse how a sample of eight highly active Dutch female social media users share their illness on YouTube and Instagram. In addition, I interviewed five of them. Through their online performances, the women in this study illustrate their investment in self-care practices, whilst simultaneously laying bare the limits of these practices in ensuring permanent well-being. Central to transmitting their experiences is the performance of balanced positivity; meaning that illness is dealt with in a predominantly ‘positive’ way, as well as through the occasional display of (moments of) hardship. I identify three main aspects of this performance of balanced positivity, namely: (1) appearances, (2) mindset, and (3) presence. The practice of balanced positivity is congruent with the concept of legitimacy narratives, because it allows women with a contested illness to show their efforts to cope with their condition as well as the myriad challenges that remain despite these efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalHealth. An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • balanced positivity
  • contested illness
  • moral legitimacy
  • online ethnography
  • self-care practices
  • social media


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