WSTA01H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 12: Bulimia Nervosa, Medicalization

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CHAPTER 12: Contours of Everyday Life: Women's Reflections on Embodiment and Health over Time
analysts tended to focus upon representations of the female body in the professional discourses of medicine and science or the popular discourses of media and
advertising, and to presume a direct link between these representations and women's experiences of the body
largely influenced by writers like Foucault, analysts have carefully documented the ways in which media and advertising serve to promote and normalize
disciplinary practices of the female body towards the achievement of unhealthy ideals
Susan Bordo's much cited essay 'Reading the Slender Body' brilliantly deconstructs the pathologized, individuated image that both medicine and media present us
with – the women who 'succeeds' in achieving these ideals only to damage her own health and perhaps risk her life in the process
Bordo's analysis clearly shows the importance of seeing the 'everyday-ness' of these disciplinary practices and how they inscribe on the surface (and increasing
the interior) of women's bodies the 'bulimic personality' of contemporary American capitalist society
this society requires, at one and the same time, unrestrained consumption to achieve health and happiness and intense repression of desire and body boundaries
to meet narrowly prescribed moral and cultural standards
yet Bordo's analysis, along with those of many others who address this topic, leaves us with little, if any, indication of how women 'read' and respond to – or
perhaps even resist – these dominant ideals
we get little sense of the extent to which these dominant ideals may or may not be significant or predominant in women's identity construction and how this may
shift over time and in different social contexts, as well as in relation to other aspects of the multiple-subject positions women hold (such as class, ethnicity, age,
sexuality, regional identity, and so on)
Defining Health and Healthiness
for many, ideas about health and healthiness have evolved from a more conventional biomedical notion of health as the absence of disease (adhered to at an
earlier age), to the assessment of well-being in more environmental or holistic terms
women's notions of health discuss levels of physical energy, comfort in carrying out and balancing multiple roles, satisfaction with quality of work and family
relations, and concerns about time for self and leisure
many women indicated that they did little consciously to stay healthy when they were younger, but now were much more conscientious about eating well, getting
regular exercise, and rest
for most, time was the more important constraint in achieving optimal health
- class differences were also apparent in the women’s definitions of health over the life course
- many middle-class women identified with current ‘healthiest’ discourses that emphasize health as an individual phenomenon, and blamed themselves for failing to
live up to the ideals of dietary and exercise regimes promoted in public health rhetoric
- in general, the women were attentive to, and aware of, body image issues through the course of their lives, yet the importance and meanings attributed to them
had changed significantly for most
- many had previously dieted and monitored their weight carefully as adolescents and in their early twenties , yet most had abandoned these practices, either due to
a sense of frustration with their lack of success, or emptily as a form of resistance to what they perceived as inappropriate medicalization and monitoring of their
bodies by parents, doctors, partners and others
- consciousness of the body was also described as situational and, again, varied along class and gender lines
- many of the women indicated that they were not conscious of their bodies on an ongoing basis
- a few women who were particularly concerned about weight described their bodies as constraints, which they had difficulty transcending
- however, most others indicated that body consciousness was situational, brought on by a particularly serious or sudden illness episode, by concerns about what to
wear to a particular social event
- for many of the women, body consciousness and anxiety were also heightened by medical concerns encounters that frequently raised concerns about unhealthy
weight, independent of a women’s own assessment of her state of healthiness
Media and Other Representations of the Female Body and Health
- responses to predominant media images of the idealized female body had also changed in the women’s reflections
- they differed on opinions about the extent to which ideals of slenderness and feminine beauty were more predominant or widely circulated today than when they
were younger
- medical information and advice columns in the magazines were frequently read by the women and taken much more seriously than fashion layouts
- many of the women found these columns to be an important source of personal and family health information and said they discussed them with friends
- but even this information could be dismissed or resisted if the women didn’t feel that it matched their own perspective
- constructing the self was done in relation to a constructed ‘other
- thus, norms or expectations of femininity were contrasted with norms of masculinity
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