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Becoming known: Disclosure and exposure of (in)visible difference

Sharratt, Nicholas D; Williamson, Heidi; Zucchelli, Fabio; Kiff, James


Heidi Williamson
Associate Professor in Applied Health Research

James Kiff
Occasional Associate Lecturer - HAS HSS


Bodily or physical differences constitute one class of potentially stigmatized characteristics. The existing literature confirms that those with appearance altering or disfiguring conditions (‘visible differences’) may experience both felt and enacted stigma and seek to conceal their difference. Furthermore, issues relating to the disclosure or revelation of visible difference are frequently cited. The present study used qualitative methods to explore participants’ experiences of having disclosed otherwise unknown or hidden visible differences to others, and considered these experiences within the context of existing theories on the disclosure of stigmatized characteristics. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 participants who had a variety of visible differences. The data were analyzed through inductive thematic analysis with the resultant themes indicating participants concerns and anxieties related to disclosing their differences, variable levels of agency within, preparation for, and control over the disclosure scenario, the importance of their difference being seen by others, and the personal and inter-personal changes that disclosure could facilitate. In consideration of participants’ experiences of the disclosure of visible difference and the applicability of existing models of disclosure to this scenario, a working framework that incorporates the specific issues relevant to the disclosure of visible differences is proposed.


Sharratt, N. D., Williamson, H., Zucchelli, F., & Kiff, J. (in press). Becoming known: Disclosure and exposure of (in)visible difference. Stigma and Health,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 19, 2019
Deposit Date Nov 19, 2019
Publicly Available Date Dec 5, 2019
Journal Stigma and Health
Print ISSN 2376-6972
Publisher American Psychological Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords visible difference; appearance; stigma; disclosure; thematic analysis
Public URL
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