Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS:
Title: An all-consuming passion : a sociological analysis comparing the self-perceptions of bulimic and non-bulimic women
Author: Clarke, Dawn
ISNI:       0000 0004 2717 1539
Awarding Body: University of Reading
Current Institution: University of Reading
Date of Award: 2000
Availability of Full Text:
Access from EThOS:
Bulimia may be regarded as a form of behaviour consisting of episodic bouts of massive overeating followed by vomiting and sometimes purging. It has been studied mainly by medical doctors and psychologists who have tended to regard it as a pathological form of behaviour, perhaps symptomatic of more general psychological disorders. Previous studies of bulimics have tended to use clinical samples of (mainly) women who are undergoing therapy in order to eliminate their behaviour and its consequences and supposed psychological precursers. Bulimia has often been studied alongside other so-called eating disorders such as anorexia. Like anorexia, it has also attracted the attention of feminists who have tended to study samples of women taken from either clinical or self-help groups. The main problem with these earlier studies is that they have been based upon highly selected and atypical samples of bulimic women and have then sought to generalize their findings to bulimics in general. This thesis seeks to supplement and complement these earlier studies by sampling bulimic women in a different way so as to be able to study bulimics who are not undergoing any kind of therapy. The purpose of the study is to examine a neglected aspect of bulimia, namely the meaning that the behaviour has for the women themselves and to try to relate the meanings that they themselves formulate to other aspects of their social situation and experience. A pilot sample of volunteers was obtained who had read an article on this subject written by the author of this thesis and then supplemented by 'snowball sampling'. For comparative purposes samples of anorexics, dieters, exercisers and 'normals' were also interviewed. In all, depth-interviews were conducted with 54 women. The interviews were preceeded by a period if participant observation of women in an eating disorder self-help group and in a health and fitness club, and a dieting club. From an intensive and detailed study of the interview data, it was possible to identify certain recurring themes. Among these were a sense among the women that they lacked control over their daily lives and that eating was an area where in the short run at least, a strong symbolic control could be exercised, a sense of disgust at not merely their repetitive behaviour but at their own inner self. Accordingly, they were very concerned to binge and vomit in a private place and to conceal their behaviour from others. For them it was a very private and secret form of deviance. This aspect of bulimic behaviour has not been studied in detail before. What also became clear, which had not been observed before, was that there was a third phase to bulimic behaviour following the earlier phases of bingeing and vomiting. This may be termed the phase of purification and return to wholeness; this took the form of a very thorough and ritualistic period of cleaning-up including the cleaning of the bulimic's own physical self. From this it became clear that the appropriate sociological models to employ to understand the behaviour of the bulimics seen in its social context, were those provided by Erving Goffman and Mary Douglas respectively. The interview data showed that bulimics are very concerned with the proper 'presentation of self' in order to conceal a form of behaviour that they knew was seen by others as deviant and pathological and thus stigmatized; this was compounded by the fact that to some extent they shared this sense of stigma. It is possible to keep up this concealment in a way that is obviously impossible for anorexics. Perhaps from a sociological point of view bulimia is best classified along with other forms of stigmatized but concealable, i.e. disceditable, behaviour or statuses such as homosexuality or illegitimacy which have been earlier studied and analysed by Goffman. Likewise, the bulimics' sense of departure from and return to wholeness, parallels Mary Douglas' work on dietary and pollution rules in which she equates wholeness and holiness. In this way we can see that bulimia far from being merely an individual psychological abberation is similar to other patterns of behaviour that have been noted by an anthropologist whose primary interest was in questions of religion and identity.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available