Mature women and 'bulimia' : narrative perspectives
This thesis focuses on the question 'what is bulimia?' A purposive sample of thirteen
mature bulimic women were accessed via local newspapers. Multiple, in depth, nondirective
interviews were carried out following a narrative story-telling approach.
The women all told stories of how their bulimia started with a set of behaviours that
provided a logical solution to a problem; the need to maintain control over body
weight and shape in keeping with perceived norms of society. Following this they soon
came to experience a sense of shame generated by a social gaze that views over-eating
as indicative of a lack of personal control, and purging as disgusting. Their response
was to maintain secrecy and attempt to find out more about bulimia.
A social constructionist approach gave insights into the complex meaning-making
processes that the women engage with. Popular material found in the public domain,
constructed by health 'experts', functions to make up the dominant discourses of
bulimia. Poststructuralist analyses focused on the relations of power and knowledge
which allow certain powerful groups access to promote versions of 'bulimia' as truths.
Foucault's poststructural approach goes beyond social constructionism by suggesting
that discourse constitutes the individual and actually produces the 'bulimic'.
Poststructural feminist perspectives, along with Foucault's concept of disciplinary
power, provides understandings into how the female body as 'slim and beautiful' is
used as a means by which women are regulated within Western societies.
The dominant conceptualisation of bulimia as a condition that adolescent women
predominantly suffer functioned to increase the shame that mature women experienced.
Consequently, the analysis located narratives of resistance which involved rejections of
dominant discourses. These resistant narratives challenge the notion of irrationality and
uncontrollability that constructs both 'bulimia' and 'woman/femininity'. This in tum
functions to challenge the shame and secrecy that surrounds 'bulimia'.
These unique insights suggest that any definition of 'bulimia' is dependent upon the
angle at which the 'lens' is focused or upon which the 'gaze' is fixed. There is not one,
but many definitions of 'bulimia' that contradict, compete with and constrain each
other. 'Bulimia' has been shown to be a multiple, fluid, and ever-changing