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Narratives of Slimming (or not) in a Commercial Dieting Group. 14 May 2010 Debra Gimlin, PhD Department of Sociology University of Aberdeen, Scotland. The Study. Research in a commercial dieting group: Six months of participant-observation Interviews with 20 female members:

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Narratives of slimming or not in a commercial dieting group

Narratives of Slimming (or not) in a Commercial Dieting Group

14 May 2010

Debra Gimlin, PhD

Department of Sociology

University of Aberdeen, Scotland


The study
The Study Group

  • Research in a commercial dieting group:

    • Six months of participant-observation

    • Interviews with 20 female members:

      • 15 aged 55-76, five aged 18-25 years

  • Two main goals:

    • To contextualise the concept of ‘narrative resistance’ (Cordell and Ronai 1998)

    • To examine the relevance of cultural constructions of ageing for members’ experiences


Narrative resistance
Narrative resistance Group

  • Concept draws from the literature on deviance disavowal - e.g., ‘accounts’ (Scott and Lyman 1968)

  • Three forms:

    • Exemplars

    • Continuums

    • Loopholes

  • Perpetuates sizism by reinforcing stereotypes


Women weight and ageing
Women, weight and ageing Group

  • Recent research suggests that ageing may provide some detachment from beauty ideals

  • Older women resist pressures to lose weight by drawing upon (otherwise negative) discourses of ageing (Tunaley et al. 1999)

    But are such processes relevant to organised slimming?


Weight loss continuums and exemplars
Weight loss: Groupcontinuums and exemplars

  • Older women attribute dieting to health concerns

    ‘My doctor told me that my blood pressure was high and…I needed to lose weight…It’s also wanting to look nice in my clothes’. (67 years)

    • Their continuums emphasise age-related appearance demands

      ‘Maybe it’s easier because I’m not a young girl. You see them in town wearing the wee tops and trousers...Those clothes aren’t really right for someone my age’.(67 years)


Weight loss continuums and exemplars1
Weight loss: Groupcontinuums and exemplars

  • Younger women’s comparisons reflect negatively on their body’s acceptability

    ‘When you look in the magazines it’s all size eight or ten and here’s me a size 20. You know what I mean, I’d like…to be able to go into a shop and pick up even a size 12 and have it fit’. (21 years)


Setbacks and loopholes
Setbacks and loopholes Group

  • Older women can make light of an unsuccessful ‘weigh in’

    'I dinna lose weight, but it stops me from getting even huger. You want to do it for …[the leader] if not for yourself. I just haven’t got round to doing it’ (laugh). (70 years)

    • Old age excuses (a bit of) indulgence

      ‘I would like to be slimmer, but then I think, “I’ve worked hard all my life. What’s the harm in a few sweeties?”’ (70 years)


Setbacks and loopholes1
Setbacks and loopholes Group

  • Younger women emphasise the shame of dieting failure

    ‘You try to lose weight because of the scales. You might be really embarrassed because... They know if you’ve been bad’. (25 years)

    • They compare the weigh in to other humiliating experiences

      ‘When I get weighed and I’ve gained, it’s like being back in gym class with all the other girls thinner than me...Y’ know, I’m the only one who can’t lose weight’. (23 years)


Conclusions
Conclusions Group

  • Within organised slimming:

    • Forms of narrative resistance are not equally available to all members

    • They are mediated by both cultural discourses and organizational structures

    • They reinforce the discursive constraint of beauty ideals and constructions of ageing


Questions
Questions? Group


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