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I don't think that's normal': Exploring the anorexification of 'healthy' weight management Helen Malson Centre for Appearance Research, Dept of Psychology, University of the West of England.
A reflection on: A discourse analytic investigation of in-patients’ experiences of treatment for eating disorders in Australia and the UK With Simon, Clarke, Janet Treasure, Gail Anderson, Mark Finn and Lin Bailey Interviews with 38 girls & women & 1 man, aged 14-45, majority in teens/early 20s, hospitalised (in UK or Australia) at least once for an ‘eating disorder’ (See Malson et al, in press, Malson et al., 2008; Malson et al 2004, for further details)
Aims To explore convergences in discursive constructions ofweight management Normative regimes Pathologised ‘anorexic’/‘bulimic’ regimes Therapeutically intended regimes The normal, ordinary,desirable, pathological & therapeutic become tangled together Reading critiques of in-patient treatment as critiques of global ‘anti-obesity’ health care policies
Context Anorexia already theorised as ‘crystallization of culture’ (Bordo, 1993), expressing numerous cultural values Corpo/hyper-real gendered ideals of thinness & food-restriction ‘War against obesity’ & focus on body-weight as the key indicator of health Thinness as beautiful & heteronormative constructions of femininity as palimpsest Conflation ‘health’ & ‘beauty’ Neo-liberalisation of health
Neo-liberalised body management “We need to understand the psychology of obesity, take control of our own minds, change our habits, lose the weight and stay slim … we all must take responsibility for our own choices.” (Obesity hits the headlines, Lighter Life, Nov/Dec 2006, p.8)
Prioritising weight-management Clare: I feel all what’s happening is I’m just being fattened up. Georgina: Um I think you can use the place to get your weight up. Use it as a food house. I mean that. This is what it is. It’s a case of you eat your way out of here. Everyone does it. That was all you will gain. Barbara: It seems to be a constant round of eating here /Int: yeah/ so the only time you’re free is at night and then you’re thinking about tomorrow.
Treatment as only about weight Alice: And then I got out and I was fine for a while and then things just went back down hill again ‘cos I s’pose all I’d done was put on weight. I didn’t actually feel any better. … like they could put me on supplements [high-calorie canned drinks] and yeah I’d put on weight /Int: mm/ but that’s only ‘cos they’d be packing me full of food. And then as soon as they’d stop that I’d just be like: I still don’t want to eat. /Int: yeah/ That did nothing for me.
Factory-farmed bodies Liam: The issue here is putting weight on at the moment. It’s the re-feeding. It’s a factory feeding farm. Justine: One girl … comes up to me and she goes: All I’ve got to say to you is eat because if you don’t they’ll give you cans [of supplements]. If you don’t have the cans you’ll get the [naso-gastric] tube. So eat. Kate: I hated being forced to eat. I hated it so much. I used to just cry and cry and cry after every meal because they’d made me eat so much food. It was very food, like everything was revolved around the food and what you ate and how much you ate.
Factory-farmed bodies as cultural norm Cartesian construction of body as object to be controlled by the mind/will/spirit Denaturalisation of the body: body as sign commodity & a project to be worked on The ‘healthier’, more toned ‘ideal’ of feminine beauty Neo-liberalisation of health & therefore weight
Fit femininity These girls look fantastic - and its their muscle tone that does it. Having an incredible body doesn’t have to mean looking like you missed breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can’t simply starve yourself into a great body anymore. The look these days is more toned, more shapely, healthier and more, well, muscular. ... Think about Madonna in her American Pie video clip. She’s over 40 and looks fabulous. Would she look that great if she wasn’t toned? Uh, no. She’d look like an older woman with saggy skin and floppy upper arms. (Cosmpolitan, 2000, p.167)
Hyper-Cartesian bodies “The ideal here is of a body that is absolutely tight, contained, ‘bolted down,’ firm (in other words, a body that is protected against eruption from within, whose internal processes are under control). Areas that are soft, loose or ‘wiggly’ are unacceptable, even on extremely thin bodies.”(Bordo, 1990: 90)
‘Anorexic’/therapeutically intended weight-management Justine: I mean the whole point is you know anorexics generally are so ritualistic and so rigid in everything. I mean you’re just doing exactly the same thing [in treatment] by weighing three times a week. You’re getting obsessed with putting on. You’re still obsessing. Amalia: But I’m coming to a clinic that’s making me constantly obsessed with my body-weight, my food. Cas: Everything becomes all about weight, numbers, um and calories and kilojoules. I had no idea before I came in here what they were. Came out of here and I knew it pretty well. Um and weighing things, stuff like that. All that, yep, I learnt in here. Didn’t know it before.
Weight as metonymic of everything Cas: I mean who gets up every morning at six o’clock or every second day to get on some scales? And your whole week or your whole day is gunna be stuffed or it’s gunna be good because of one set of scales. I don’t think that’s normal. Melissa: Yeah you have to put on weight to gain privileges …I mean weight, everything depends on your weight. I mean it doesn’t depend on how clearly or how mentally alert you are, or how much you want to get better. It depends on your weight.
Perfect little eating plans Justine: Like you get out of hospital and you realise that this perfect little eating plan you’re on is not normal. You look at people and they skip breakfast all the time. And then you, I mean you need it to keep you going but, and they don’t. But you don’t realise that. You think: hang on, these people aren’t eating these perfect little set up meals. They’re not having mid meal, afternoon snacks, supper. Like why should I? I’m trying to be normal.
I don’t think that’s normal Cas: I mean who gets up every morning at six o’clock or every second day to get on some scales? And your whole week or your whole day is gunna be stuffed or it’s gunna be good because of one set of scales. I don’t think that’s normal.