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The Stereotypical Image of a Person With Migraine According to Mass Media

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BACKGROUND: People with migraine have historically been depicted as "frail and perfectionist women." While these presentations are from a different cultural context, we may today still be at risk of stereotyping and stigmatizing this patient group. Portrayals of people with migraine on the Internet and in mass media offer a window of how society today views this patient group. The aim of this study was to explore how persons with migraine are being portrayed according to 2 popular sources of photographic images.

METHODS: Using the search term "migraine," we retrieved the 200 highest-indexed images of people with migraine from each of 2 popular image-searching websites, Shutterstock and Google Images. For each included image, we analyzed different attributes including (1) gender; (2) age; (3) race; (4) body type; (5) posture; (6) extent of eye closure; (7) clothing attire; (8) environment/setting; (9) lighting; (10) position of left hand; and (11) position of right hand.

RESULTS: We included 283 images. The 283 images depicted 305 persons with migraine. The images representing persons with migraine were predominately female (82%), of adult age (90%), white (64%), and with an ectomorph body type (86%). The eyes were closed in most of the portrayals (82%). The hands were on both temporal regions at the same time in half of the portrayals (49%).

CONCLUSION: The demographics in terms of gender, race, and age reflect large population studies of migraine; however, we are concerned about the stereotypical depiction of "acute pain behavior" (ie, eye closed, hands on temples) on these images as this is inconsistent with the actual presentations of people with migraine in our clinical experience. This disparity may both derive from, and further contribute to, social stigmatization and lack of public and employer validation of migraine-related disability. We suggest that future efforts in migraine advocacy may focus on ensuring the portrayal in mass media of an accurate representation of people with migraine.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2020

ID: 60054276