Body size, food and women's identity : a qualitative psychological study across the life span
This thesis investigates the subjective meanings surrounding body size and food for women from three different stages of the life span. A qualitative feminist psychological perspective is adopted, which shifts the emphasis from models of individual deficiency to a model of subjective meanings shaped in relation to social and historical discourses surrounding femininity, sexual attractiveness and a `thin ideal' of body size. The life span perspective reduces the emphasis on young women, and explores sexual attractiveness and relationships in relation to ageing discourses which construct women's sexual attractiveness as declining after early adulthood. In addition, the contribution of women's experiences of feeding their families to the meanings of body size and food are explored. The research is located within the tradition of symbolic interactionism (Mead, 1934; Blumer, 1969). It develops a methodology incorporating social constructionist grounded theory (Henwood and Pidgeon, 1995; Charmaz, 1990) and feminist standpoint methodology (Griffin, 1995; Oakley, 1981). The individual is conceptualised as constructing the meanings of her experiences in relation to extra-local discourses through a process of interaction with, and reflection upon, discourses. The empirical research comprised a pilot study (N=3), which used a group interview methodology to explore the experiences of three women in their early twenties. The main studies of the thesis used in-depth individual interviews to explore the meanings of body size and food for women aged between sixteen and eighteen (Study One, N=15); women in the thirty to forty five age group (Study Two, N=18); and women in the over sixty age group (Study Three, N=12). The findings of the thesis indicate that there were a range of different meanings surrounding body size and food for women from the different age groups of the studies. These meanings were related to the different sexual and family relationships in which the women were involved and to the women's sense of themselves in these relationships. The women's experiences of the relationship between self and others were constructed in relation to the social discourses surrounding femininity and women's roles, where there was a reflection upon these discourses in the context of the women's lives and experiences. In addition, some women also constructed their experiences in relation to alternative discourses which minimised the importance of body size and rejected the traditional expectations of women's lives and relationships.