Narratives of slimming: women and weight management in Irish society
O'Toole, Jacqueline Anne Marie
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This PhD study presents a feminist sociological analysis of the construction of narratives of slimming in Irish society. Theoretically, the study is informed by three main arguments: firstly, that the pursuit/attainment of a normative lay defined body weight has become one central determinant of social acceptability for women; secondly, the social construction of obesity as 'crisis'; and thirdly, that women's lives are framed by continuities and change in contemporary Ireland. Located in the Northwest of Ireland, the data corpus for the final study is made up of one years observation in four commercial weight loss classes, double interviews with two class leaders and nine women participating n these classes and a narrative analysis of key documents from the weight loss organisation, Slim Ireland. Taking a different approach to previous ethnographic studies of slimming classes this study incorporates a narrative inquiry approach to develop a narrative ethnography. Adapting Gubrium and Holstein's (2009) threefold conceptual framework of the interplay between narrative frameworks, narrative environments and narrative practices, I interrogate the links between institutional storytelling and women's personal narratives of slimming. Deploying the use of exemplars, two of the women's narratives are presented as in-depth case studies. The study advances a rich understanding of the temporal, cyclical and complex nature of weight management for women immersed in slimming classes. The findings reveal that successful slimming is articulated in the slimming classes as a quest for a better body, involving a linear, progressive temporality. This generates a set of limited narrative resources for women that draw from weirder discourses of health, appearance and responsible citizenship. These are implicated in the women's personal narratives which are oriented towards accounting for and claiming a moral self, demonstrating that they are 'good women' both within and outside the classes. However, two storylines that emerge from the analysis of their narratives, episodic commitment and ambivalent participation, illustrate how the quest narrative is disrupted in women's narratives and further, how weight management contains paradoxical and ambiguous meanings for women. The women have a long and varied history of immersion in slimming and related practices which has had a drofound impact on how they live their everyday lives in Irish society. This study makes important contributions to women's everyday lives in Ireland, to narrative inquiry, and to critical weight studies.