Shocking Truth: 50 Facts About Global Social Stigmas


1Shoplifted Pregnancy Tests

Shoplifted Pregnancy Tests

Due to the stigma associated with pregnancy, pregnancy tests are among the most shoplifted items in the U.S.

2. In China, 20% of rural doctors believe that nearsighted students should not wear glasses, and 90% believe that eye exercises can correct myopia. There is a common view in China that poor vision is a handicap, and therefore wearing glasses is a social stigma and may even weaken one's eyes further.

3. Princess Diana, on live TV, shook the hand of an AIDS patient without wearing gloves, challenging the belief that AIDS could be passed via contact. The act was seen as a huge moment for those suffering from the disease, as it helped remove the stigma around the disease.

4. In Japan, the term for schizophrenia was changed from "mind-split disease" to "integration disorder" in 2002 to reduce the stigma associated with it. Within three years, the percentage of people who were informed of the diagnosis of schizophrenia rose from 37 to 70%. A similar change was made in South Korea.

5. Chinese factories sometimes label their goods "Made in PRC" (People's Republic of China) instead of "Made in China" due to the stigma attached to the name, which is associated with low-quality products.

6Executioner Stigma

Executioner Stigma

Albrecht II of Bayreuth, a famously cruel ruler, once picked a random man from a crowd and ordered him to perform an execution. Due to the severe social stigma attached to executioners, the man couldn't return to his job as a woodcutter. He was condemned to carry on as an executioner, and so was his son.

7. In North Korea, there is little stigma attached to using meth. "If you go to somebody's house, it is a polite way to greet somebody by offering them a sniff," said one North Korean.

8. The Nigerian version of Sesame Street, Sesame Square, features an HIV-positive muppet to help remove the stigma of being HIV-positive.

9. President Grover Cleveland had cancer and underwent surgery in secret on his yacht to avoid the stigma of cancer at the time.

10. In South Korea, it is such a stigma to adopt children that women are recommended to wear a maternity pillow to appear pregnant until the adoption is finalized.

11HIV Stigma and Silence

HIV Stigma and Silence

Isaac Asimov contracted HIV from a transfusion during triple bypass surgery in 1983, but the social stigma surrounding the disease at the time led his family to keep it quiet for over ten years after his death in 1992.

12. Actress Salma Hayek breastfed another woman's baby during a goodwill trip to Sierra Leone in an attempt to diminish the stigma placed on women for breastfeeding.

13. The current herpes stigma is a result of an intentional "disease-mongering" campaign by a drug company developing a treatment. "There were no markets for this compound. Most had hardly heard of genital herpes. Marketing the medical condition as a 'stigmatized genital infection' was key."

14. In feudal Japan, there was an untouchable caste comprising "impure" professions such as executioners, undertakers, workers in slaughterhouses, butchers, or tanners. 400 years later, descendants of this caste still face discrimination due to the stigma associated with their ancestors' professions.

15. During WWI (and briefly WWII), the British would shame men into joining the military by recruiting young women to call them cowards on the streets of their hometowns. These women would also pin a white feather on them to symbolize their cowardice, contributing to the stigma associated with not serving in the military.

16Unmarried Men Stigma

Unmarried Men Stigma

In ancient Sparta, unmarried men were forced to march naked through the streets during the winter while singing about their dishonor, resulting in the social stigma associated with being unmarried.

17. Fried brain sandwiches used to be a popular dish in the St. Louis area and are still a local delicacy in Evansville, Indiana, despite the stigma associated with mad cow disease. Many restaurants, however, have replaced cow brains with pig brains.

18. The Guilt-Shame-Fear Spectrum of Cultures distinguishes between guilt societies, shame societies, and fear societies. In a guilt society, control is maintained by creating and reinforcing `feelings of guilt for certain behaviors. In a shame society, the means of control are the inculcation of shame and the threat of ostracism. In a fear society, control is achieved through retribution, resulting in the stigmatization of certain behaviors.

19. MSG is generally accepted as harmless by the scientific community, with the negative stigma arising from a handful of anecdotal complaints in the 1960s.

20. Doctors have the highest suicide rate of any profession, more than double the rate of the general population. Psychiatry is near the top in terms of suicide rates, with many doctors who have mental health issues reluctant to seek professional help due to the fear of stigma.

21Dishonorable Dead Stigma

Dishonorable Dead Stigma

In a WWII cemetery in France, there is a section dedicated to over 90 US soldiers who were executed, mostly for rape and murder, and are considered the "dishonorable dead". The graves all face in the opposite direction of the other graves in the cemetery and are marked only with serial numbers due to the stigma attached to their crimes. This section is also inaccessible to the public.

22. The full name of the "king" puppet from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was "King Friday the 13th," so they could celebrate his birthday every Friday the 13th in the hopes that children wouldn't view the day with the same stigma.

23. Despite the social stigma surrounding nurses being prostitutes and alcoholics, Florence Nightingale left her comfortable bourgeois lifestyle to become a nurse, inventing the modern hospital ward, pie charts, and the death certificate.

24. Tattoos in Japan (Irezumi) were banned from 1868-1948. Traditional Japanese tattoos were associated with the yakuza (Japanese Mafia), as they were used to mark the skin of outlaws. To this day, they retain a stigma of criminality, and many businesses still ban customers with tattoos.

25. The term "public relations" was popularized by Edward Bernays, nephew of Freud, who promoted the term to avoid the stigma of the word "propaganda."