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Palgrave Macmillan

21st Century Media and Female Mental Health

Profitable Vulnerability and Sad Girl Culture

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  • Open Access
  • © 2023

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  • Examines the discourse around female mental health in 21st century media
  • Identifies two conflicting aspects of mental illness awareness, profitable vulnerability and sad girl culture
  • Takes a feminist media studies approach to examine mental health in magazines and on social media
  • This open access book charts a brief history of gendered madness

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Table of contents (6 chapters)


About this book

This open access book examines the conversations around gendered mental health in contemporary Western media culture. While early 21st century-media was marked by a distinct focus on happiness, productivity and success, during the 2010s negative feelings and discussions around mental health have become increasingly common in that same media landscape. This book traces this turn to sadness in women’s media culture and shows that it emerged indirectly as a result of a culture overtly focused on happiness. By tracing the coverage of mental health issues in magazines, among female celebrities, and on social media this book shows how an increasingly intimate media environment has made way for a profitable vulnerability, that takes the shape of marketable and brand-friendly mental illness awareness that strengthens the authenticity of those who embrace it. But at the same time sad girl cultures are proliferating on social media platforms, creating radically honest spaces where those who suffer get support, and more capacious ways of feeling bad are formed.
Using discourse analysis and digital ethnography to study contemporary representations of mental illness and sadness in Western popular media and social media, this book takes a feminist media studies approach to popular discourse, understanding the conversations happening around mental health in these sites to function as scripts for how to think about and experience mental illness and sadness


In this original and insightful book Fredrika Thelandersson charts the new visibility and audibility of emotional distress in popular culture. Looking across women’s magazines, celebrity culture and social media, she suggests that compulsory positivity is giving way to something more ambivalent: a ‘profitable vulnerability’ alongside a new cultural space for experiences of sadness, anxiety and depression. An important and thought-provoking book about media, gender and mental health.

--Rosalind Gill, City, University of London. 

Authors and Affiliations

  • Media and Communication Studies, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

    Fredrika Thelandersson

About the author

 Fredrika Thelandersson is Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Communication and Media at Lund University. She obtained her PhD from Rutgers University.

She has had chapters published in The International Encyclopedia of Gender, Media and Communication, and articles published in Feminist Media Studies and Capacious: Journal for Emerging Affect Inquiry.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: 21st Century Media and Female Mental Health

  • Book Subtitle: Profitable Vulnerability and Sad Girl Culture

  • Authors: Fredrika Thelandersson

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: Literature, Cultural and Media Studies, Literature, Cultural and Media Studies (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2023

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-031-16755-3Published: 23 October 2022

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-031-16758-4Published: 23 October 2022

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-031-16756-0Published: 22 October 2022

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XIII, 224

  • Number of Illustrations: 9 b/w illustrations

  • Topics: Media and Communication, Gender Studies

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