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Title: Mature women and 'bulimia' : narrative perspectives
Author: Robertson, Janet
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Winchester
Date of Award: 2002
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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 phenomenon.
Supervisor: Walker, Jan ; Payne, Sheila Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available