Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Thick: Social Censorship in an Empathetic Online Community

Thick: Social Censorship in an Empathetic Online Community

Molly Hilton

Giving “voice” to marginalized populations has become an influential theme in contemporary anthropological literature. In this paper I assert that the opposition to voice, “silence” is equally as important, though not as thoroughly studied. The silences that represent taboo topics of discourse and the methods by which topics are constrained, or silenced, reveal inequities of power and the normalizing effect of social censorship. Public discourse regarding personal weight is conducted only within highly-scripted, socially-censored boundaries. Euphemisms, coded-talk such as “thick” and “big” perpetuate the authority of the thin ideal. The question is, what talk is acceptable within an empathetic, online community self-described as devoted to conversation about weight and how do they enforce those boundaries? Drawing from the discourse of the Weight Watchers online community, this paper examines taboos and topic boundaries and the means by which the community socially censors discourse. An alternative boundary emerges that removes the physical body from conversation and privileges the self-help, self-management themes of Weight Watchers. The tone of discourse shifts to empathetic and positive language with distinct acceptable forms including narrative, confessional, self-talk and one unacceptable form, dependent.

April 16, 2011 - Posted by | abstract


  1. I hope you’ll make a point of looking at HAES sites as well as WW and that ilk, as the perspective is likely to be quite different.

    Great topic!

    Comment by Kate | April 16, 2011 | Reply

    • Thanks Kate. I will take a look at HAES. This research specifically targets WW, but I am curious about a comparison.

      Comment by Molly | April 22, 2011 | Reply

  2. Molly, this sounds like a very interesting topic. Good job!

    Comment by Jen | April 21, 2011 | Reply

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