EXPLORING WOMEN’S EXPERIENCE OF SELF AND BODY IN CHRONIC WEIGHT-LOSS DIETING
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Objective: This research project explored women’s experience of selfhood and embodiment in relation to chronic weight-loss dieting. Method: The project included two phenomenological studies. Study One explored the meanings of self and body in relation to weight-loss dieting across the narrative accounts of six women (age 20-55) seeking to change their body weight/shape. Study Two explored the lived experience of self and body over time with weight-loss dieting through the in-depth study of a single case. A young woman (age 25) offers an exceptionally rich narrative account of struggling to overcome body-image issues and establish a healthy sense of embodied self over her journey from girlhood to womanhood. Both studies utilized multiple in-depth interviews and participant-generated photographs to produce detailed narratives. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to analyze the textual and visual data as integrated, along with a mode of embodied interpretation. Results: The thematic findings from these studies illuminate the complex relation between body and self in women’s lived experience. Women’s meaningful endeavor to positively (re)inhabit the body and (re)construct a healthy sense of wholeness, self-worth, self-acceptance, empowerment, and resilience in their embodied selves is examined in the context of weight stigma and sociocultural pressure toward thinness. The participants regard themselves as active agents in the process of re-storying their lived experience of embodiment and selfhood as well as weight-loss. Their narratives interpret a recovery of positivity by shifting away from notions of restrictive dieting into a discourse of healthy lifestyle and self-care. Conclusions: The present research opens up the “mess” that is women’s lived experience of chronic dieting; it sheds light on the complexity and scope of women’s understandings of embodiment and selfhood in relation to existing sociocultural systems of meaning about thinness versus fatness, weight-loss, and self-improvement. Approaching the research questions from an integrative theoretical framework and as an embodied researcher enabled me to give voice to women’s stories of strength, coherence, and growth amidst struggle, ambiguity, untidy and unfinished meanings about the body-self. The powerful union of verbal and visual description, and dual vantage points of shared and idiographic also aided in conveying a deeply nuanced sense of women’s lived experiences. Findings are discussed in relation existing research and theory on the development of healthy embodiment, personal growth and resilience, as well as implications for health-promotion discourse.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteeMcDougall, Patricia; McMullen, Linda; Kowalski, Kent
Copyright DateDecember 2020