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FAT TALK AND RELATED CONVERSATION:
WHAT WOMEN HAVE INT MIND WHEN THEY ENGAGE
IN FOOD AND BODY DISCOURSE
KARIN M. KRATINA
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Karin M. Kratina
This dissertation is dedicated to the three I lost during my studies, all passed after
extended illnesses: my mother, Sandra H. Kratina, Ph.D.; my love, Carl B. Davis, Esq.;
and my beloved companion, Wylie, a miniature long-haired dachshund. I miss them
My passion for this work is nurtured by my mother, the late Sandra H. Kratina,
Ph.D., whose acceptance of my ideas--even when she did not quite understand them--
made this work possible. It was from her presence as my ever-faithful editor while she
was alive that I learned to write well, allowing this proj ect to progress much more easily
than it might have otherwise.
I want to acknowledge my father, Fredric Kratina, M.D., who supported me
through graduate school; Sandy Greenwood, my ever-faithful cheerleader, who was
always willing to listen; Trisha Peterson, Ph.D., who, at a dance camp called Dance
Vortex, single-handedly shifted my approach to this dissertation. I also want to
acknowledge all the dancers who have offered support, especially those of Dance Vortex,
who put up with me in the corner with my computer as they went off dancing; and Bart
Ruark, who is convinced that Ph.D. stands for phenomenally hot dancer--that would be
nice! Also very important to me were Sister Waldia Warden, an undergraduate professor
who believed in me; the late Carl Davis, whose support and passion for my work were
invaluable; Logan (a miniature long-haired dachshund), who kept my lap warm, even if
she was put out when I wandered off to class or work; and Alan Taylor, who fed me
when I thought I could not leave the computer and who never questioned the process--
thanks for that meat loaf!
I would like to thank my doctoral committee: my Chair, Leslie Lieberman, Ph.D.,
who kept me on my toes and from whom I learned a great deal; Roberta Seldman, Ph.D.,
who kept me reined in; Connie Shehan, Ph.D., whose enthusiasm kept me going; and
Sharleen Simpson, Ph.D., whose feedback was invaluable.
Lastly, a special thanks goes to Roberta Seldman. It is because of you that I moved
to Gainesville, pursued a Ph.D., and became an insane mountain biker. The move
changed my life and I am forever grateful.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENT S .............. .................... iv
LIST OF TABLES ........._. ........_. ..............xi....
AB STRAC T ................ .............. xii
1 PROJECT OVERVIEW ........._. ........_. ...............1....
Statement of Problem ........._ ........_. ...............1....
Research Agenda .............. ...............4.....
Theoretical Framework............... ...............7
W hy M etaphor? ............. ...............7.....
W hat Is M etaphor? ............. ...............8.....
Conceptual M etaphor .............. ...............8.....
Cultural M odels ........._ ........_. ...............10....
Summary ........._ ....... __ ...............13....
2 METHODOLOGY ........._. ........_. ...............14....
Research Objectives and Expectations ..........._. .. ...... ...... ............1
Professional Experiences ........._. ........_. ...............15....
Research Design .............. ............... 18....
Data Collection and Analysis .............. ...............19....
In strmentati on/Method s........._._... ...... ...............21..
Interview Procedures ........._. ....... .__ ...............23....
The Analytic Approach............... .. .... .... ........2
Metaphors as an Interpretive Framework ....._._._ ...... ._.. ......._.........26
Identifying M etaphors .............. ...............27....
Dead metaphors ............ ..... .._ ...............28...
A review of related tropes ....__ ......_____ ........___ ...........3
Summary of tropes used in this study ................. ................ ......... .34
Reconstructing Conceptual Metaphors ................. ............. ......... .......35
Data Analysis............... ...............37
Analytic Procedures............... ...............3
Trustworthiness .............. ...............39....
Summary ................. ...............42.................
3 LITERATURE REVIEW ................. ...............43................
Introducti on ................ ... .. .. ...... ....... ...............44...
Traditional Approaches to Food and Body ................. ...............46...............
W eight and Health ................. ....... ........... .. ...............48.....
Alternative Views of Weight and Health ................. ............... ......... ...49
Obesity research far from conclusive ................. .. ......... ... .............. ..49
Obesity-related comorbidities improved independent of weight loss..........51
Biases in obesity research and public opinion .............. ....................5
Ineffectiveness of dieting strategies and questionable impact on health......54
Negative impact caused by focus on weight ........._.._ .... .._._ ...........55
Contradictory Nature of Obesity Research............... ...............55
Obesity as a Culture Bound Syndrome .......................... ....... ............... 5
Closer Look at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Height/Weight Tables............. 56
Gender Bias in Weight Standards............... ...............5
Alternative Paradigm ................ ........... ...............61.......
Health at Every Size Movement ................. ...............62........... ...
Health At Every Size in Practice ................. .... ....... ... .. .. .. ........ ...........6
Summary of Traditional and Alternative Approaches to Food and Body ................. .65
Thinness as a Currency for Women' s Access to Power ................. ............. .......65
Psychological Theory .............. ...............66....
Women and social conditions .............. ...............66...
Women learn that looking good is a form of currency ................ ...............68
Women attempt to gain control of their lives ................. .... ....................69
Eating and body/weight concerns as forms of communication. .................70
Sociological Theory............... ...............72.
Anthropological Theory .............. ........ .. ...............7
Cultural ideologies present in food rules and food ways .............................74
People select for worry those risks that reinforce social solidarity..........._...76
Rejecting Cultural Mandates to Lose Weight .............. ...............76....
Cognitive Anthropology and Use of Metaphor ................ ................ ............80
Cognitive Anthropology ................. ......... ...............80.......
Schema Theory ................. ...............8.. 1..............
Cultural M odels .................. ... .......... ...............83.......
Directive force of cultural models............... ...............84.
Ideological force of cultural models ................. ..............................85
History and Theory of Metaphor ............... .. ... .......... ......... ...........8
Metaphor reflective of language, but not thought ................ ................ ..87
Metaphor critical to thought processes............... ...............8
Conceptual systems are metaphoric .............. ...............90....
Thought Processes Are Metaphorical ................. .......... ... ............... 91....
Conceptual Metaphor: A Core Aspect of Understanding ................. ................92
Summary ................. ...............93.................
4 REPORT OF FINTDINGS: CONCEPTUAL METAPHORS .................. ...............95
Overview of Study and Results of Quantitative Testing .............. .....................9
Cognitive Metaphor Analysis: Food and Body Metaphors .................. ..................99
Metaphors by Subj ect: Low Intention to Lose Weight, High Body
Acceptance ................. ......_ ...............100...
Rita: "Not a lot of psychic energy" ............. ...............100....
Chris: "It' s more a vehicle of me" ........._._. ...... ___ .........__......10
Diane: A "big balance thing" ............. ...............107....
Sue: "Dinner is your savior" ............ .....__ .....__ ............1
Lisa: Bring on the "Cadillac" version..........._.._._ ......... ..._ ................1 15
Metaphors by Subj ect: High Intention to Lose, Low Body Acceptance
G roup ............... .... .. ..... .... ...._... ..........11
Kathy: "A battle to realign eating habits" ........._.._.._ ....._.. ............118
Ali: "Taking back the reins" .................. ...... ....... .... ......... ..........2
Mary: "Not getting the depth of nutrition that I need" ............. ..... ...........125
Katie: A "woman on a mission" ................ ...............130..............
Brenda: "Willpower to overcome it all"............. ...............134..
Conceptual Metaphors Used by Subj ects .................. .. ............. .. ................ ......14
Comparison of Conceptual Metaphors Used by Low Intent and High Intent
G roup s................ ...... ........ .. .. ........ ..... .. .. .... .. ........ 4
Discussion of Conceptual Metaphors of Low Intent and High Intent Groups..150
Patterns Emerge During Analysis............... ...............15
Summary ........._.. ..... ._ ...............153....
5 FOOD AND BODY: FORCES, BALANCING AND SKILL ................. ...............154
Forces Act on the Body .............. ...............154....
The Force Schema .............. .. ......... .. ...............154....
Force is experienced through interaction .............. .....................5
Movement of an obj ect through space ................. ...........................163
Force typically involves a single path of motion .............. .................... 163
Forces have origins and are directional ................. .......... ...............165
Forces have degrees of power or intensity ................. ........... ...........166
Force involves structure or sequence of causality..........._...._ .........._.._..166
Image Schematic Gestalts for Force and Force Relationships............._.._.. .......167
Com pulsion .............. ...............167....
Blockage ........._..... ...._... ...............168....
Counterforce ............ ..... .._ ...............173...
Diversion .............. ...... ...............174...
Removal of Restraint............... ..............17
Enablement ........._..._. ...._... ...............178....
Attracti on ................... .............. ... ...............180.....
Balancing Is Necessary to Deal with the Forces .............. ...............182....
Concept of Balance.................. ................ .. .........8
Meaning of Balance Closely Tied to Bodily Experiences. .............. .... ...........184
W hat Is Being Balanced? ................ ...............185...
The Experience of Systemic Equilibrium ...._. ................ ..........._.._. .186
Body Is A Battleground ........._....._ ...._.._......_._ ...........9
Body Balancing Is a Skill .............. ...............193....
Obj ectifieation of Skills ................. ...............195........... ...
Skill as M orality .............. ...............197....
Body Balancing Skill s ................. ......... ...............200 ....
Summary ................. ...............202......... ......
6 WHY DO SOME BELIEVE THEY NEED EXTENSIVE SKILLS TO
BALANCE THE BODY? ................ ...............204................
The One Stone Solution ................. ...............205........... ...
The Beauty M yth ................. ......... ...... ......... ...............207.
Culturally Defined Need for the Beauty Myth ................. ................ ...._.208
Pattern l's Violent Reaction to the Beauty Myth ................. ......................211
One Stone Solution Is Political............... ...............21
Dieting as a Potent Political Sedative ................. ...............220..............
W hat, Then, Is Fat? ............ .... .........................2
Fat Women as Powerful/Thin Women as Weak .............. .....................2
Analyzing Fat Talk .................. ..... ....... ...... ..... ........ .........22
Feeling fat is not about fatness but is "a cultural thing" ............ ................235
Weight loss does not fix feeling fat............... ...............238..
I feel fat is I feel uncomfortable ................. ........... ............... .....23
Discomfort with fatness is displaced into other areas .............. .... .........._.240
W hat, Then, Is Fat Talk? .............. ............ ..............24
Body Balancing Found to Have Moral Attributes ........._.._.. ........ ...............246
Morality in Women's Discourse about Food and Body ........._...... ........._......247
Eating, Morality and United States' Culture ........._.._.... ..... ... .._...................249
Historical Perspective of Morality of Food: The Right Thing to Do? ..............25 1
Defining Right and Wrong: Defining Morality ................. .......................252
Morality in Food and Body Discourse .............. ...............255....
Eating Is Consumption .................... .... ..............25
Digestion is Discussed in a Symbolic Manner ............... .......___ ..............260
Hunger Is About Needs .............. ...... .... .............26
Food as a Material Good Creates Ethical Meaning.............__ ..........__ .....268
Eating Is Pleasurable .............. ...............269....
Body Balancing as Morality ............__......__ ....___ ...........27
Summary ............ ..... .._ ...............272...
7 CONCLUSIONS, CULTURAL MODELS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ..........273
Force and Balance............... ...............274
Body Balancing Skills ........................ .........__ ... ........._ .........27
Challenging Common Sense Beliefs to Understand Body Balancing...............277
Food and Body Concerns Symbolic ....._ .....___ ............_..........7
The Beauty Myth ............ ...... ....._ ......._ ...........28
Subj ects' Response to the Beauty Myth ....__ ......_____ ..... ....__........28
Special Skills Required............... ...............28
Skill Building and Morality ....__ ......_____ .......___ .............8
The Culturally Defined Need. ........._._. ...._... ...............285...
Cultural Models of Women' s Discourse about Food and Body ............... .... ...........285
Cultural Model of Pl .............. ...............286....
Cultural Model of P2 ................ .......................... .............._..287
Cultural Model of P3 ................ ................ ........ ......... ....... .288
Cultural Model of P4 ................ .......................... ..............__.290
Clinical Implications............... .. ............29
Suggestions for Future Research .............. ...............294....
APPENDIX INTERVIEW INSTRUMENT ................. ...............296................
LIST OF REFERENCE S ................. ...............298................
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................. ...............3.. 12.............
LIST OF TABLES
2-1 Definitions and examples of tropes ................. ...............32...............
3-1 Changing weight requirements for women ................. ............... ......... ...59
4-1 Results of testing for initial recruits ................. ...._ ....___ ..........9
4-2 Results of quantitative testing ...._ ......_____ .......___ ....... ....9
4-3 Low intent to lose wei ght. ........... ..... ............... 14 1
4-4 High intent to lose weight ........... ....._ __ ...............143.
4-5 Low intent to lose weight. ........... ....._ ...............145
4-6 High intent to lose weight ........... ....._ __ ...............146.
4-7 Comparison of food metaphors between low intent and high intent groups. ......147
4-8 Comparison of eating metaphors between low intent and high intent groups.....148
4-9 Comparison of body metaphors between low intent and high intent groups.......148
4-10 Comparison of body fat metaphors between low intent and high intent groups. 149
4-11 Comparison of dieting metaphors between low intent and high intent groups....149
4-12 Comparison of hunger metaphors between low intent and high intent groups....149
4-13 Comparison of fullness metaphors between low intent and high intent groups. .150
4-14 Comparison of weight metaphors between low intent and high intent groups....150
4-15 Comparison of numbers of metaphors in common and different between low
intent and high intent groups. ......___ ......__ ...............150.
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
FAT TALK AND RELATED CONVERSATION:
WHAT WOMEN HAVE IN MIND WHEN THEY ENGAGE
IN FOOD AND BODY DISCOURSE
Karin M. Kratina
Chair: Leslie Lieberman
Major Department: Anthropology
Many women in the United States monitor their food intake and body size closely.
These behaviors are typically considered common sense approaches to enhancing health
and appearance, and are accepted as natural and culturally correct behavior. To better
understand this behavior, this research was designed to reconstruct the conceptual
metaphors that women use to discuss food and body and examine tacit, largely
unexamined cultural values. Cultural models, which direct, rationalize and disguise
behavior while remaining implicit, unacknowledged and very often denied, were
constructed based on discourse analysis.
Ten Caucasian women, aged 30 to 50 years, who did not have eating disorders
were interviewed extensively regarding their relationship with food and body. The
transcripts were analyzed for use of metaphor and reasoning. The discourse of those with
low intent to lose weight was compared to those with high intent to lose weight though no
significant differences between these groups were found. However, four patterns emerged
that differentiated the women. These patterns allowed the development of a core cultural
model with three variations. The four patterns consisted of women who 1) were not
closely monitoring their food intake and body weight and, for the most part, let the body
manage it; and those who actively monitored and controlled the impact of their food
intake on 2) the way their body functioned; 3) their weight; and 4) the way their body
functioned and their weight. The women with Pattern 1 liked their bodies regardless of
whether they conformed to societal standards for eating or body weight. All women in
Patterns 2, 3, and 4 conceptualized the body as a battleground and were involved in a
constant battle to get their food intake right (as judged by bodily function and/or weight),
a process that was cast as moral in their discourse. A critical difference was that women
with Pattern 1 went through a transition in their lives in which they vehemently rej ected
societal standards for women regarding food, eating and body weight, resulting in a less
conflicted relationship with food and body.
Statement of Problem
For several decades, the North American ethos has been that most of us are too fat.
Experts inform the public that excessive fatness is unhealthy. However, women get
additional much stronger messages than men do: that is only thinness, increasingly lean,
muscular, and surgically enhanced, is attractive and desirable. This belief is so pervasive
in Western societies that it often goes unchallenged, despite the fact that it has not always
been, nor is it everywhere the case (Brown and Jasper, 1993a; Counihan, 1999; Schwartz,
1986; Wolf, 1991). Widespread preoccupation with body shape and weight, dieting, and
exercise has escalated to such a degree that it is an accepted, encouraged, and rewarded
aspect of social life. In North America it has launched a multibillion-dollar industry with
a vested interest in and actively promoting this lean, muscular ideal. In fact, 80% of
fourth-grade girls in one large study said they were on diets (Bordo, 1990); and
dissatisfaction with weight and size is normative for women in the United States
(Thornberry et al., 1986). The New York Times quoted Dr. Kelly Brownell: "It's very
hard to find a woman who really likes her body. .. There is always something wrong"
(Duenwald, 2003:8). Many women respond to this sense of dissatisfaction by monitoring
and/or altering their food intake and body size. On the surface, these attempts appear to
be about improving health and appearance, and are generally accepted as positive moves
to self-enhancement. It is also common for women to talk about it, and activity that has
been suggested to have beneficial outcomes, such as increasing community solidarity
among girls (Nichter, 2000).
Nichter began her research in part because was dissatisfied with standard survey's
that reported dieting as endemic among girls. She believed that the surveys "fail to
capture adequately the complexity of their behaviors" (Nichter, 2000:3). She also had
unanswered questions. For instance, what does dieting mean? She also questioned, "If
'everyone' is dieting, why do studies continually report that American youth are
becoming increasingly overweight?" (p. 4). Though Nichter did not review the literature
which suggests that dieting does not work, and can cause weight gain in adolescents
(Field et al., 2003), she did attempt to fill the void in research on body image and dieting
by focusing on what teens have to say about being on a diet. She studied "what
constitutes 'normal' behavior among teen-aged girls and examined the extent to which
body image and dieting play a role in female gender socialization" (p. 4) by focusing on
"the difference between what they say they do and what they actually do" (p. 4). She
examined the "I'm so fat" discourse, which she labeled "fat talk," to find the cultural
meanings of this "pervasive speech performance" (p. 4) and how it facilitates social
Nichter found that most of the white girls in her study disliked their bodies. But,
she explained, these girls were not really dieting. What they were doing was dieting from
breakfast to lunch and then falling off the diet; or "watching their weight" and, talking
about it. She concluded that this talk was a social ritual among friends: a way of being,
and of creating solidarity.
During this proj ect, it became increasingly apparent to Nichter that women were
also doing and saying similar things. She reflected about her own childhood with her
mother who was "always on a diet" (p. 122) and when she was not dieting, "was actively
searching for dieting tips" (p. 122). Many years later, on her mother' s seventieth
birthday, her mother refused to eat a piece of her birthday cake because she was dieting.
She finally "relented" after much persuasion by Nichter and Nichter' s sister and ate "a
sliver" (Nichter, 2000:ix). These realizations prompted Nichter to look more closely at
how knowledge about appropriate body shape and dieting is transmitted from mother to
daughter; and she reinforced her research with antidotal stories about herself and other
adult women throughout her book. For instance, although her weight has always been
less than average for her height, she always wanted to be five to ten pounds thinner:
This troubled me. Despite all I had read on the tyranny of slenderness, the
extensive interviews I had conducted with girls and women about body image, as
well as my awareness of the pain caused by body dissatisfaction, why was I unable
to shirk the idea that being thin would somehow render me more attractive and
more in control of my life? If I couldn't let go of this embodied sense of beauty
after so much reflection, who could? I pondered the extent to which these concerns
affected my everyday life. Although I did not diet with any frequency or regularity,
I often watched what I ate. Looking back on my life, it was clear that my sense of
appropriate body weight was internalized at an early age. What was more, this
sense was tenaciously clinging to me even as I grew older. (Nichter, 2000:x)
In another account, she discussed at the age of 15 having "tamed [her] previously
ravenous appetite by taking amphetamines" (p. 123) and then feeling depressed watching
the weight creep back up. "Though nothing was said to me overtly about my need to diet,
I had received a message about women, weight and their relationship to food that was to
stay with me for many years to come" (p. 123).
What is it that Nichter, the women she mentioned, and the girls in her study knew
in order to be able to engage in this "pervasive speech performance" (p. 4)? Why does
this talk function to create solidarity?
No in-depth analysis of the language women or girls use to discuss food and body
has previously been performed. Most scholars who have examined women's and girls'
relationship with food and body view it as normative; or pathologize it as an eating
disorder if it is extreme. An increasing number of scholars have looked at the broader
cultural context of women' s continual dissatisfaction with food and body, positing that
focusing this dissatisfaction on the food and body is a coping strategy to deal with a
disordered society. To date, no scholar had completed a semantic analysis of the language
women use to discuss food and body. The main purpose of my dissertation was,
therefore, to analyze the discourse women use to discuss food and body; and to
understand the cultural model they use to discuss it. The goal of my study is to better
understand women's relationship with food and body through a clearer understanding of
the motivations behind the production of the language they use.
The primary aim of my study is to understand what women have in mind when they
engage in food and body discourse by reconstructing the conceptual metaphors they use
to discuss food and body. Analyzing conceptual metaphors allows for discovery of the
concepts that govern linguistic metaphor production, which ultimately yield insights
about the motivation for such production (Johnson, 1987; Lakoff, 1987; Lakoff and
Johnson, 1980; Lakoff and Turner, 1989). Using conceptual metaphor analysis of the
linguistic metaphors that women use to talk about food and body, my study was able to
uncover the conceptual metaphors that women use to discuss food and body (Chapter 3
explains conceptual metaphor analysis).
A secondary aim of my study was to construct the cultural model women use to
discuss food and body. In order to do so, I needed to examine the reasoning the women
did about their relationship with food and body. It was subj ects reasoning that exposed
their cultural model, which makes sense, because "it is this schema that structures this
reasoning" (Naomi Quinn, unpublished manuscript, How to Reconstruct Schemas People
Share, From What They Say ( p. 36). Prepared for How to Find Culture in Discourse,
edited by. N. Quinn. Hereafter referred to as "Quinn, unpublished".) According to Quinn,
"metaphors are windows into shared knowledge of cultural exemplars" and "reasoning is
an especially good analytic window into the shared structure of cultural schema being
used to do it" (p. 37).
The internalization of cultural understanding is referred to as a cultural model
(D'Andrade, 1995; Holland and Quinn, 1987; Linde, 1987). Cultural models have been
defined as socially constructed (learned and internalized) cognitive schemas of feelings
and thoughts that facilitate the interpretation of ongoing experiences and the
reconstruction of memory (Strauss, 1992). These models are widely shared among
specific social and cultural groups. They depict prototypical events in a simplified word,
which we take to be normal events (D'Andrade, 1995). Because of this, cultural models
are highly motivating. They function to label and describe the world, elicit desires and set
forth conscious and unconscious goals and (Strauss, 1992). For example, a woman who
says, "I feel fat," and a professional who says, "You would be healthier if you lost 10
pounds," are widely assumed to be participating in some "neutral" or obj ective exercise,
as though they are stating facts. However, these seemingly benign events are highly
ideologized; and involve the construction and reproduction of a particular social identity,
as well as the values and interests of certain groups of people.
My study focuses on 10 Caucasian women, aged 30 to50 years, who do not have
eating disorders. These are women who are old enough to have begun to separate from
the peer pressure of high school and college and to have had the opportunity to begin to
make more informed decisions about eating, food, and their bodies. However, they
continue to be a target population that is urged by health professionals, the weight loss
industry, the media, family and friends to monitor their food and body. This continual
need to monitor food and body must be understood as historically constituted, as
ideologically driven, and as a culturally reproduced event. This behavior is justified as
common sense, "beliefs that are, within a given culture, so obviously true that it is
difficult to see them as beliefs at all" (Linde, 1993:192). She states that common sense:
.. claims to be universal, to be that which any reasonable person would believe or
feel or do in a given circumstance. While it attempts to pass itself off as merely
describing the way things are, the notion of common sense also represents a
normative attempt to suggest the way things ought to be. Common sense is talked
about as if it were natural, as if it were something that could not be any other way.
When we look closer, however, we see that any common sense state of affairs is an
organization that represents a social achievement. .. Common sense is .. an
issue of morality disguised as an issue of universal factuality. Recent investigations
of this dual nature of common sense have attempted to show in a variety of
domains such as sexual behavior, food choices, and the understanding of disease
that what appears to be nature is, in fact, culture disguised. The act of disguise is a
deliberate or near deliberate attempt by those in power to use the discourse of
normalization to make the achieved order of the world appear to be a fact of nature,
because then their dominant position in this order is also a fact of nature, and hence
cannot be changed. (Linde, 1993:194-195)
Monitoring food and body is frequently viewed as common sense behavior. It is
accepted as natural and appropriate. This is due less to any real need to lose weight and
due more to the nature of its socially constructed ideological disguise produced by those
in power as the way food intake and body weight "ought to be." The source of that
construction is those who largely control society (Bialostok, 1999).
My study's cognitive semantics research is framed within the tenets of conceptual
metaphor analyses performed by such scholars as George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, and
Mark Turner. The use of these conceptual metaphors to produce a cultural model is
framed by the work of these same scholars; and that of Roy D'Andrade, Naomi Quinn,
and Steven Bialostok. Since the late 1970s, many scholars from a variety of fields (such
as anthropology, linguistics, psychology, and philosophy) have examined and
reconstructed conceptual metaphors from linguistic metaphors to discover the concepts
that govern thinking.
Most people consider metaphor an ornamental device used in the service of poetic
imagination and rhetorical flourish, and not a matter of ordinary, everyday language. On
the contrary, Lakoff and Johnson found that the "metaphor is pervasive in everyday life,
not just in language, but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms
of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature" (Lakoff and
The concepts that govern our thought are not just matters of the intellect. They also
govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our concepts
structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to
other people. Our conceptual system thus plays a central role in defining our
everyday realities. If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is
largely metaphorical, then the way we think, what we experience, and what we do
every day is very much a matter of metaphor. (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980:3-4)
What Is Metaphor?
"Metaphor is the cognitive mechanism whereby one experiential domain is
partially 'mapped,' i.e. projected, onto a different experiential domain, so that the second
domain is partially understood in terms of the first one" (Barcelona, 2000:3). In
metaphoric language, a topic is transformed by viewing it in terms of something quite
different. Metaphor is more than just linguistic in nature, Lakoff and Johnson (1980)
proposed metaphor as being intrinsic to thought and action. Metaphor making is "the
imaginative act of comparing dissimilar things on the basis of some underlying principle
that unites themes, one of the ways we construct a new reality" (Siegelman, 1990:ix).
These connections or metaphors are irreplaceable; they allow us to understand ourselves
and our world in ways that no other thought processes can (Lakoff and Turner, 1989).
Metaphors are not a product of extraordinary language or extraordinary creativity; they
are present in everyday life and govern our daily functioning. Notably, cultural values are
reflected metaphorically in everyday expressions (Quinn, unpublished).
Lakoff and Turner (1989:50) contend that to be able to discuss metaphor, one must
first make a distinction "between basic conceptual metaphors, which are cognitive in
nature, and particular linguistic expressions of these conceptual metaphors." Lakoff and
Johnson (1980) said "it should be understood that metaphor means metaphorical concept"
(p. 6). To cognitive semanticists metaphor is a mapping that happens between conceptual
domains, not between linguistic entities. The conceptual metaphor ARGUMENT IS
WAR is a good example (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980:4). (Conceptual metaphors are
written in capital letters with the linguistic metaphors from which it has been
reconstructed below it preceded by hyphens.) According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980:4),
ARGUMENT IS WAR is reflected in our language through expressions such as:
* His criticisms were right on target.
* He shot down all my arguments.
* Your claim is indefensible.
* He attacked every weak point in my argument.
* You disagree? Okay, shoot!
* If you use that strategy, he'll wipe you out.
These authors state that in a culture where arguments are not viewed in terms of
war (where no one loses or wins, where there is no need to defend or attack) people
would experience and talk about discourse in terms of war; but may instead use
metaphoric constructs to describe arguments, for instance, in terms of a dance.
Conceptual metaphors have an internal structure due to the connection between the
conceptual metaphor's source and target domains. The source domain (WAR, in the
above example) is said to provide slots, relations, properties, and knowledge, which get
mapped onto the target domain (ARGUMENT). Conceptual metaphors are understood in
terms of common experiences; and their "operation in cognition is mostly automatic" and
unconscious (Lakoff and Turner, 1989:51). They are by nature difficult to comprehend;
and are said to govern the way we think and structure reality. The very existence and
availability of conventional conceptual metaphors makes them powerful as conceptual
and expressive tools. Because they can be used so automatically and effortlessly, we find
it hard to question them, if we can even notice them. We cannot observe them directly;
they are inferred from their effects. Of course, "We can consciously consider and try to
get at what our unconscious models might be, as we have done throughout this book in
the case of metaphorical mappings" (Lakoff and Turner, 1989:66). Because the
metaphorical work is being done at the conceptual level, the only way to decipher
metaphors is to examine linguistic metaphors. Since conceptual metaphor scholars have
placed metaphor in the realm of cognition, the traditional definition of metaphor (that it is
a linguistic phenomenon) is no longer valid.
Linguistic metaphors, which are a vital component of language, are clues by which
to reconstruct the connections that exist between the source and target domains of a
cognitive metaphor. The methods for extracting and grouping linguistic metaphors to
reflect the conceptual metaphors which produced them is presented in Chapter 2. A
proven way to discover conceptual metaphors is to analyze the linguistic metaphors
which are manifestations of conceptual schemes (Lakoff, 1987). (For a more
comprehensive look at figurative language, including dead metaphors, see Chapter 3).
These conceptual metaphors are used to build cultural models.
Recent work in cognitive anthropology has led to a growing recognition of the role
of cultural models, cognitive schemata that are shared by a cultural group (D'Andrade,
1992b). It has been argued by cognitive anthropologists and other cognitive scientists that
much of our everyday social life is mediated by these cultural models. They are said to
organize experience, create expectations, and motivate behavior; as well as provide a
framework for people to remember, describe and reconstruct events (D'Andrade, 1992a;
D'Andrade, 1992b; Holland and Quinn, 1987). Essentially, cultural models help us
"naturalize" our social world. They can be invoked to rationalize and sometimes disguise
behavior for other people and for ourselves (Hutchins, 1987; Linde, 1987; Price, 1987;
Quinn and Holland, 1987). It is important to note, however, that we cannot always
assume that cultural models translate simply and directly into behavior. Nor can we
assume that cultural conceptualizations of the world are the sole determinants of
behavior. Even so, Quinn and Holland (1987) said that cultural models, which are
inferred from what people say, relate to behavior in complex and powerful ways.
Because cultural models seem so natural and matter-of-fact, they hardly seem
worthy of examination (Holland and Quinn, 1987). Normative behavior for women in
relationship to food and body is often not examined unless it develops into its most
extreme form, an eating disorder (Bloom et al., 1994; Brown and Jasper, 1993b; Gordon,
2000). Nichter, (2000) however, did investigate the talk of teenage girls about dieting and
body. She found that it functioned to create solidarity and a sense of being; a form of
social ritual. However, the cultural model the girls used to produce this discourse was not
examined. Counihan (1999) also studied normative food and body experiences of college
co-eds and of girls and boys who are in kindergarten. However, the bulk of attention
regarding women's and girls' relationships with food and body has been given to
identifying and describing the extreme response to these cultural mandates, those with
eating disorders who are living at the "margins."
An understanding of the precise nature of the cultural model of women' s
discussions of food and body has never been systematically examined. While my study
sought "a" cultural model, multiple models of social experiences are clearly possible, and
many competing and contradictory values can coexist in the same cultural systems
(Bialostok, 1999). Cultural models are:
compelling in a way that does not depend on what the experts say and often seems
highly resistant to revision in the face of apparent contradiction. Largely tacit and
unexamined, the models embed a view of "what is" and "what it means" that seems
wholly natural a matter of course. Alternative views are not even recognized, let
alone considered. But more than naturalness, these cultural models grant a seeming
necessity to how we ourselves live our lives. (Quinn, 1987:11)
The increasingly restrictive body weight and appearance standards women are
expected to meet continues unchecked. Further, it is framed by those promoting and by
those who engage in it as a positive, health and life-enhancing activity even as it has
negative outcomes. Keys (1950) showed in his classic starvation experiment that men
experienced extreme difficulty when restricting food intake to approximately 1600
calories a day. The physical, mental, and emotional consequences were so severe that
some dropped out of the experiment and others escaped the experiment environment to
seek food. The behaviors required of women to meet cultural standards of body size are
similar to those the men went through in the Keys experiment. In fact, the men lost 24%
of their body weight. Cultural standards for women today are 23% below the average
weight for women. Most women "wear blinders" (Bloom et al., 1994) to the difficulties
and pain of dieting and being chronically hungry. Ironically, cross-culturally, hunger is
one of the most universally feared experiences, (Wolf, 1991) an experience that, to meet
today's weight standards for women, is a virtual requirement. Those who rej ect cultural
mandates to alter body size often refuse to restrict food intake on the grounds that chronic
hunger is too physically and emotionally painful. (Bloom et al., 1994).
Why do women continue to focus on food and body? Why do they continue to try
to reduce their body size even when it is for the most part painful, time-consuming,
difficult, and does not work? What is happening for women that they continue to accept
society's dictates that they are too fat?
To begin to answer these questions, my study was framed to compare cultural
models of women with high intention to lose weight and women with low intention to
lose weight. It is typically assumed that those who monitor their body and try to lose
weight are making an effort to improve themselves; to take care of themselves, not let
themselves go, etc. Abandoning the effort to lose weight has been associated with feeling
defeated, depressed, and helpless. However, research has found the opposite, women who
give up the intent to lose weight have higher measures of psychological health and well-
being (Burgard, 1991). Will these women operate with different cultural models? The
intent of my study is to compare the cultural models of women who intend to lose with
women who do not intend to lose weight in order to shed some light on why women
remain so focused on food and body.
Cultural models, while highly motivating, generally remain implicit,
unacknowledged, and very often denied. By questioning the naturalness and helpfulness
of women' s concerns and talk about food and body, and by moving away from the
commonly held assumption that women's desire to monitor their food intake and/or
weight is a common-sense approach to health, this study explores the conceptual
metaphors of women with high versus low intention to lose weight. Results showed that
it was not possible to create a cultural model that would encompass the discourse of all
10 women. I discovered four different patterns of discourse and constructed cultural
models for each of these patterns from the conceptual metaphors the women used about
food and body during the interviews.
The remainder of the dissertation is arranged as follows: Chapter 2 contains a
review of the literature, Chapter 3 reviews methodology used, Chapter 4 presents the
findings of conceptual metaphors, Chapters 5 and 6 presents a discussion of the findings,
and Chapter 7 presents the cultural models and conclusion.
This chapter includes identification of the participants recruited for the research
proj ect, a discussion of the instrumentation applied in data collection, the procedures used
in administering the research instruments, and a report on how the data were analyzed.
Research Objectives and Expectations
In my study, I drew on theory and methods from anthropology, psychology, and
gender studies to examine the conceptual schema used by these women to discuss food
and body, and I build cultural models of that discourse. I interviewed 10 adult Caucasian
women who resided in a college community in Southeast United States according to the
person-centered interviewing and observations methods set forth by Levy and Holland
(1998). The discourse of those who have low intention to lose weight was compared with
that of those with high intention to lose weight. Two additional quantitative tests were
administered on completion of the interviews, in order to provide information to further
describe the sample population.
The research questions were
* What are the conceptual metaphors used by a select group of women when
discussing food and body?
* What are the cultural models of food and body from a select group of white women
aged 30 to 50 years?
* Are the conceptual metaphors used by this group of women different for those with
high intention to lose weight than for those with low intention to lose weight?
My professional experience as a registered dietitian (with significant
psychotherapeutic training specializing in treating clients with eating concerns and
weight issues for the past 18 years) makes me uniquely qualified to pursue this
investigation. Early in my career, I began to accept the fact that diets were not working.
When clients did manage to lose some weight, it typically did not stay off. I found most
were fatter than the day they started their first diet. I began to move away from diet and
activity prescriptions and to see clients from a different perspective. In 1990, while
working at an in-patient eating disorders facility, I began to take note of the ways patients
talk about food during their nutritional assessments. When discussing, for example,
eating a sandwich, the patient might protest, "I have to throw it up," "I have to get rid it
of," "I can't stand to have it inside me," "It' s disgusting." I began to wonder what we
were talking about. The primary therapist confirmed my own suspicions of potential
sexual abuse time and time again.' I began to identify a "parallel process" between a
client' s (especially women' s) relationship with food and body and her relationship with
herself and the world. In other words, what is going on "in the patient' s plate" (or on her
body) is also going on in her life. This finding has been examined by feminist theorists
and reported by other clinicians who have worked with women who have eating
problems (Bloom et al., 1994; Bordo, 1993; Brown and Jasper, 1993a; Lawrence, 1987)
and is further discussed in Chapter 3.
SDietitians who counsel clients with eating disorders are likely to find their clients have experienced sexual
abuse. It is important that dietitians be well informed about their roles and responsibilities in responding to
and treating survivors of sexual abuse. It would be inappropriate for the dietitian to encourage the client to
discuss past abuse. Likewise, the dietitian should never mention to a client with no memory of abuse that
difficulty with food may be due to past, as yet undetected, trauma.
This parallel process can easily be demonstrated in the more extreme behaviors of
eating disordered clients with whom I have worked. In general, a woman with bulimia
will typically either binge on as much food as possible or significantly restrict food
intake. The pattern is often repeated in relationships. The bulimic woman may have
minimal boundaries in relationship and may alternate between excessive self-disclosure
and/or sexual promiscuity and isolation and avoid contact with others. Regarding food,
she may say, "I know I shouldn't eat anything today, but I feel like I just can't get enough
food." Symbolically, she may be expressing, "I shouldn't need anything, but I just feel so
needy. I don't think I could ever get enough love/support/etc." On the other hand,
anorexics tend to rej ect relationships, as if any form of contact would break the
boundaries they have worked so hard to build. The anorexic needs her exact space, and
loathes moving out of it or letting someone move into it. An eating disordered behavior
reflecting that could be that she ensures food does not touch her lips while eating.
Discussion of this behavior could expose a metaphorical attempt to limit contact with
other things to ensure personal boundaries. The compulsive eater, who compulsively eats
without purging, often has minimal verbal boundaries, talking often and as long as one
may be listening, freely imposing on others. She has a similar relationship with food.
By way of example, consider a woman suffering from anorexia: it seems that the
sense of her own authority "is limited by psychic and social girdles. She feels constrained
to act in a very small space, but she has a fury about the cell she has created" (Bloom et
al., 1994). This experience of herself in the world is paralleled in her food as can be seen
with the anorexic woman who consumes a jar of mustard at dinner every night, as indeed,
several of my clients have done. Science would tell us that the woman is consuming a
flavoring agent that is very low in calories thereby avoiding weight gain or enabling
weight loss. Additionally, the woman may be deficient in zinc, a side effect of which is
dulled taste sensation, with the intensity of mustard necessary to stimulate a taste
sensation. Gradually reducing the quantity of mustard so that the client could, over time,
see that her weight would not increase, or supplement with zinc to restore taste sensation
are obvious treatment agendas. However, looking at this as symbolic communication, we
can see a number of interpretations (since this is an individual process, meaning changes
with individuals). She may be trying to
* Jazz up her life, spice it up, but is afraid to, so does it through her food
* Numb life' s ups and downs. She is killing the taste of the food, simultaneously
reducing stimulation while increasing it
* Pack a lot into a little because she does not feel deserving of things in life
* Mimic life, which she sees as tangy and bitter
* Express her quandary in life. She is consuming a small, nonthreatening substance
(low calorie, low bulk) mimicking herself, small and apparently nonthreatening.
But the substance, consumed in quantity, packs an intense punch of taste, not
unlike her own desires. She desperately wants to have a voice, to be noticed, to
pack a punch.
Are my interpretations accurate? I have had four of the above interpretations made
with and/or confirmed by clients. Often when I provide feedback such as this to clients,
they see the connections right away. Sometimes clients make these connections on their
own. As these interpretations become apparent, the seemingly crazy food and body
behavior begins to make sense. As I began to shift my counseling style to view symptoms
as a form of communication, I sought training to enhance my abilities. Seeing symptoms
as adaptive functions that were actually forms of symbolic communication (Bloom et al.,
1994; Bordo, 1993; Brown and Jasper, 1993a; Lawrence, 1987) helped me to understand
seemingly irrational behavior, and provided me with insight into my clients. Clients
became able to view their symptoms as unconscious ways in which they were
communicating to both themselves and the world. They were then able to use their
symptoms to further their understanding of themselves and the seemingly bizarre
behaviors in which they were engaged. Still, how accurate am I? The research proposed
here should assist in answering this question. Clinical experience shows that while each
person's expression has its own individual symbolic reference, the expression of eating
and body/weight concerns returns to some basic themes involving needs, vulnerabilities,
How is it that food and body can take on such symbolic reference? Chapter 3
reviews anthropological, sociological, and psychological theories exploring eating habits
and attitudes toward food as channels for expressing male dominance and female
subordination. Chapter 3 also explores the contemporary thin ideal as an expression of
the current circumstances in which women's oppression co-exists with women's
emancipation. It looks at the resultant dissatisfaction that women experience, which
usually feels unwarranted and confusing, and is ultimately proj ected onto their bodies
(Heenan, 1996). These issues are then displaced into concerns about food, body, shape,
and appetite. My study was designed to find out what women are thinking that allows this
Because the obj ect of my study was to find out what women have in mind when
they talk about food and body, qualitative methods were used. Miles (1994) advocated
qualitative methods as the best strategy for discovery and exploration. No research has
been performed to date to investigate conceptual metaphors or the cultural models that
women use to discuss food and body. Some studies suggest, however, that girls talk about
diet and body functions to create solidarity and a sense of being (Nichter, 2000). Other
theories suggest that food and body talk among women and girls represents a
dissatisfaction with women's place in society that has been displaced onto food and body
(Bloom et al., 1994; Bordo, 1993; Brown and Jasper, 1993a; Heenan, 1996; Lawrence,
1987; Steiner-Adair, 1986; Thompson, 1994). Since baseline data are minimal,
qualitative methods can provide a foundation upon which other types of research may
Qualitative methodology is appropriate in this case for another reason. The goal of
tmy study was to understand the subj ects' discourse about food and body. Of interest is
what they are doing, but more importantly, why they are doing it. This type of question is
well addressed by qualitative methods (Yin, 1994).
Additionally, to understand the conceptual schema used by women to discuss food
and body, it is critical to have a handle on what it is like for individuals engaged in this
behavior. Miles and Huberman (1994) said, "What is important about qualitative data?
One maj or feature is that they focus on naturally occurring, ordinary events in natural
settings, so that we have a strong handle on what 'real life' is like" (p. 10). In this way,
complex and personal material can be codified into useful data.
Data Collection and Analysis
Forty eight Caucasian women, aged 30 to50 years, at least three years post partum,
were recruited from a university community in the Southeast, using purposive snowball
sampling. I recruited subj ects with flyers that were posted on community bulletin boards
at grocery stores and bookstores. Flyers were also posted on various bulletin boards and
women's restrooms on the local university campus. Additionally, flyers were distributed
at community events, such as local contra dances. Email notices went to various local
community listserys ane to graduate students at the university. The women who
responded were informed of the specifics of the study, including the extensive time
commitment. The vast maj ority were still interested. They underwent an interview and
completed a questionnaire that queried for specific information, such as current height
and weight, feelings about their eating and body, their intention to lose weight, and
demographics (gender, age, sexuality, race/ethnicity, marital status, education, current
occupation, partner's education, and current occupation). Additionally, each potential
subject completed two test instruments to determine the degree of body image distress
and to rule out those with eating disorders. The two tests instruments were the Body
Shape Questionnaire (BSQ) and the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT).
Body Shape Questionnaire (BSQ) The BSQ (Cooper et al., 1987) measures
attitudes and behaviors about body shape. The instrument contains 34 six-point Likert-
type item. It measures desire to lose weight, body dissatisfaction, feelings of low self-
worth in connection with weight, feelings of fatness after eating, self-consciousness in
public, and distressing thoughts about weighing too much or being too big in certain body
regions. The total score on this measure serves as an index of overall body image distress,
with higher scores indicating more negative body image. The BSQ has been shown to
correlate with other measures of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in clinical and
nonclinical samples (Cooper et al., 1987).
Eating Attitudes Test (EAT) The EAT (Garner and Garfinkle, 1979) is a reliable
psychodiagnostic measure for obj ective self-reporting screening of eating disordered
behavior in a nonclinical sample.
Selection of subj ects was based on these tests and the initial interview during which
it was determined if the subj ect would be a good informant/respondent according to
subjective criteria (Levy and Hollan, 1998). Did they appear open, honest, and interested
in furthering the understanding of expressions about food and body? Attention was given
to eliminating anyone who may have had reason, personal or otherwise, to misrepresent
the information that this research proposed to elicit.
Ten participants were selected based on these findings. Weight history was not a
determining factor in subj ect selection; however, subj ects were selected so that each
group had women with similar BMIs. Five subj ects were selected who exhibited low
intention to lose weight and five women with high intention to lose weight, based on
responses to questions that directly asked the subj ects' intention to lose weight and if they
found their current body size acceptable. They were again asked these questions during
the screening interview. While no subj ect abj ectly stated they would never want to lose
weight, some women did indicate they did not have as strong interest in losing weight
and found their bodies generally acceptable. A stronger response came from women who
reported they did want to lose weight and found their bodies generally unacceptable.
Those selected for the study received $200 for their time.
The maj or research instrument used was an interview protocol based on the
research questions (see Appendix A) which was developed to elicit dialogue about the
subj ect' s relationship with food and body. This interview protocol has utility as a means
of eliciting a free-flowing interchange between researcher and subj ect. This instrument
was used primarily as a guide. Interviews were open-ended, semi-structured, and
qualitative. To conduct interviews, person-centered interviewing and observation
described by Levy and Hollan (1998) were used. This technique allowed for the fairly
loose question format needed in this study, while allowing flexibility to follow new lines
of inquiry as they appeared in the context of the interview. This allowed the interviewee
the opportunity to provide information that might not have been asked for.
As much as possible, the narrative of the participant was followed, allowing them
to decide how their interviews would be organized, what topics would come next, what
might have been unfinished or overlooked, and when the interview was concluded. Every
attempt was made to allow the interview to follow participant direction and not interrupt,
although if speakers strayed from the topic, they were guided back to the subj ect matter.
Interviews took place in locations of the subj ects' choosing and included the
researcher's home, the subjects' home, local cafes, and a restaurant. Interviews were
recorded through the use of two audiotapes (one for backup). Field notes were taken,
though these were kept to a minimum as writing proved to be distracting for most
subj ects, as well as myself. The minimal field notes taken during the interviews were
primarily to keep track of questions arising out of the line of responses.
Initially, I found that my clinical skills interfered with the interviews. Some of the
questions I asked were phrased in such a way as teach the "client," as well as to promote
and elicit insight. I quickly noticed that these questions got in the way of a free-flowing
response from the subj ect. I promptly moved from a stance of "giving" something to the
"client," to relaxing into receiving what the subj ect was giving me (with probing
questions to ensure I understood what they were saying). With this shift in stance, I
noticed that the interviews became much more comfortable, and indeed, the subj ects
became more at ease. It became clear to me during the interviews that these women did
not want anything from me; in fact, not one subj ect asked me anything about myself or
my role as a dietitian (though a couple asked about the purposes of the study at the end of
the interviews). Ironically, every women expressed appreciation that they had gotten
something helpful from the unbiased and attentive listening that I provided. Several
women found they moved through difficulties and healed some aspects of their
relationship with food or body after discussing them at length during the interviews.
I requested Hyve sessions lasting one to two hours in length for each interviewee.
Although some interviews were completed in four sessions, the total time spent with the
subj ects in taped interview was approximately six to ten hours. The lengthy interviewing
was expected to help subj ects become comfortable with the interviewing process and
topic of discussion. At the beginning of each session, I described the research proj ect to
the interviewee. The issue of anonymity, including procedures designed to ensure it, was
discussed in detail to help the interviewee feel secure and relaxed. They had to review
and sign an Informed Consent form. To further help the subj ect feel comfortable and to
get background information about the subj ect, the first interview was devoted to their
history with food and body. The second interview focused on the subject's relationship
with eating; the third, relationship with food; and the fourth, relationship with body. For
three subj ects, the second and third interviews were combined due to less time required to
discuss these issues. Upon completion of each interview, it was transcribed by a
professional transcriptionist. The final interview, a wrap-up that allowed for the
opportunity to clarify questions and expand on areas not thoroughly covered, was
completed after all the primary interviews had been transcribed and reviewed. At the end
of the interview series, each subj ect completed two test instruments to determine the
degree of restrained eating and level of self-esteem.
The Revised Restraint Scale (RRS). The RRS (Herman & Polivy, 1980) assesses
dietary restraint (defined as a chronic tendency to restrict food intake and to think about
weight). The RRS consists of five 4-point and five 5-point Likert-type items.
The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES). The RSES is a 10-item questionnaire
measuring attitudes of general self-worth, positive self-esteem, and global self-esteem
(Rosenberg, 1965). Higher scores represent higher self-esteem.
Following completion of all interviews, the discourse was analyzed in the manner
outlined below for emerging themes. Themes that arose were compared between those
women with high intention to lose weight and those with low intention to lose weight.
The Analytic Approach
Because I was looking for shared conceptual schemas, I searched for patterns
across interviewee discourse that would be evidence of shared, stable understandings.
The length of the interviews generated a sizable collection of discourse. Since the focus
of the study was to understand what women have in mind when they say what they say, a
metaphor analysis design was utilized.
Quinn (unpublished) has explored the use of metaphor to identify internalized,
largely tacit, but culturally shared understanding She argued that the evidence that people
share understandings is embodied in the structure of their discourse. These
understandings are cultural, as seen in the fact that the same structure can be found in and
reconstructed from different people's discourse.
When these speakers repeatedly, in different linguistic forms, express these shared
understandings, this argues for their relative centrality and stability. One can have
all the more confidence in the centrality and stability of these shared
understandings when they are, as I have said these understandings are, implicit and
hence not deliberately manipulable or readily suppressed. (Quinn, unpublished:20)
She showed that common patterns lay beneath linguistic complexity, and "that
separate analyses of distinct linguistic features converged on these patterns" (Quinn,
unpublished:20). Quinn started with an analysis of metaphors which provided the first
evidence of a cultural model that interviewees shared. This evidence was confirmed by an
analysis of key words and reasoning.
Quinn outlined the methodological advantages of relying primarily on metaphor to
reconstruct shared schema (Quinn, unpublished:22-23). She states metaphors:
* Are frequent in speech.
* Are like flags waving, they are easy to identify once one becomes skilled. They are
used to clarify points speakers wish to make and "for this purpose speakers choose
metaphors that are cultural exemplars of the point being made. A speaker can
reasonably assume that such a cultural exemplar will be well known to listeners,
who will not only readily apprehend the metaphor, but also readily understand the
point the speaker intends to make with it. In other words, metaphors are particularly
salient intersubj ectively shared examples of what they stand for; it is for this reason
that I call them culture-ladn. That is how they do their work--and that is also how
they help an analyst do hers" (Quinn, unpublished:22).
* Provide a convenient way of knowing that one' s analysis is comprehensive. In
Quinn' s research, all of the 400-pluss metaphors for marriage she analyzed fell into
one or more of the eight classes she identified (with only a handful of possible
exceptions). She deduced the metaphors "captured a shared schema for marriage,
each class of metaphors representing a key concept in this schema. It does not stand
to reason that some shared concepts speakers had about marriage would be
routinely expressed in metaphor, while others of these concepts would not" (Quinn,
unpublished:26). Because of this, she concluded that with all the metaphors
classified, she felt confident that she "had discovered the maj or pieces of the puzzle
I was putting together" (Quinn, unpublished:26). Indeed, she has had other scholars
review her work who never found cause to challenge this finding.
With similar goals in mind, Quinn (1985; 1987) successfully analyzed interviews
of American couples to determine the cultural schema for marriage they used to discuss
marriage using the analysis of metaphor, key words, and reasoning. She chose this route
because metaphor, key words, and reasoning 1) are features of discourse that occur
frequently; 2) each provided a window into the shared schema on which its use was
predicated, because they are in different ways governed by cultural schemas; and 3) their
usage was largely out of the speakers' conscious control (Quinn, unpublished). She notes
that though her interviewees might have presented their marriages in a biased manner (for
example, in the best possible light or omitting certain information), the form of analysis
chosen ensured that the interviewees could not mislead even if they had wanted to. Quinn
did not analyze the interviewee' s evaluation of their marriages or themselves as spouse,
but instead she analyzed the framework within which they talked about these things.
While speakers choose particular metaphors deliberately to highlight, for instance, "the
nature and extent of their compatibility (or incompatibility) with their spouses; what they
do not and cannot choose is whether to talk about marriage in terms of compatibility,
incompatibility, and metaphors for these" (Quinn, unpublished:16). Basically, Quinn's
approach to the analysis of these interviews was the reconstruction of the implicit
assumptions people have in mind when they speak from what they said explicitly (Quinn,
Bialostok also used this methodology to successfully re-create the cultural model
used by white, urban middle-class parents of kindergarten children (Bialostok, 1999).
Metaphors as an Interpretive Framework
Lakoff and Johnson (1980) offer what has been considered the classic work on the
role and influence of metaphors in society. They argue that metaphors structure our
The concepts that govern our thoughts are not just matters of the intellect. They
also govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our
concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we
relate to other people. Our conceptual system thus plays a central role in defining
our everyday realities. If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is
largely metaphorical, then the way we think, what we experience, and what we do
every day is very much a matter of metaphor. (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980:3)
Conceptual metaphors are instrumental in the development of social realities and
may be understood as symbolically and parsimoniously summarizing worldviews
(Bialostok, 1999). Multiple conceptual metaphors may exist and even compete in a given
context. The conceptual metaphor serves as a point of grounded belief and meaning
orientation that, as its own vivid imagery suggests, gives rise to multiple narrative
expressions within that interpretive framework. I anticipated that metaphoric language
would abound in women's discourse, giving ample opportunity to determine underlying
cultural schemas. The clustering of similar metaphoric expressions into conceptual
metaphors assisted me in interpreting the diverse experiences women have of food and
body. Identification of metaphorical constructs and the context of their application
provided insight into the normative positions of women' s "fat talk."
The first task was to identify the presence of metaphors in the interview transcripts.
Acknowledging the exhaustive treatment by Lakoff and Johnson (1980) of metaphors as
ubiquitous in all discourse, I selected a basic criterion for recognizing metaphors as
instances within the text where two dissimilar obj ects, phenomena, or concepts were
connected with one being spoken of in terms of the other. For instance, when a
respondent spoke of her thighs as "saddlebag thighs" or food as "devastatingly
gorgeous," these phrases were labeled as "metaphoric."
The process of identifying metaphors in the subj ects' interviews was not a simple
task. As could be seen in the above examples, determining whether a figurative
expression was a metaphor required more than noting the presence of the familiar "A is
B" formula. Additionally, metaphor had to be discerned from other figures of speech,
such as synecdoche, personification, and metonymy, which are similar to metaphor in
function. Defining and describing metaphor and its related tropes (below), however,
helped to overcome these difficulties.
The definition of metaphor above also applies to dead metaphors. Dead metaphors
are metaphors that no longer have "figurative connections for the native speaker"
(Soskice, 1985:71). Examples of dead metaphors are "leg of a table" and "arm of a chair."
Soskice posited three guidelines for identifying a dead metaphor: (Soskice, 1985:73)
1. It no longer generates the tension that a living metaphor generates; she explained
that this tension is created because the words do not seem strictly appropriate to the
topic at hand: do winds really howl, do poplars sigh; when we are accustomed to its
juxtaposition of terms, the dead metaphor will generate no tension.
2. It is more easily paraphrased than live metaphors; for example, she stated that "the
heart of the matter" is easily described as "the center of the issue."
3. It has an ability or inability to point to a model or models, a condition that Soskice
considered the most important guideline; for instance, when howled is used to
describe the noise of the wind, the metaphor portrays the wind howling as a dog or
a madman howls.
Lischer (1987:284)referred to this step in the recognition of a metaphor as the
"puzzlement or bewilderment at the crossing of meaning that is always involved in
metaphor." Dead metaphors do not lead to this puzzlement step. Soskice advised that "as
a metaphor becomes commonplace, its initial web of implications becomes, if not entirely
lost, then difficult to recall" (Soskice, 1985:73).
While these guidelines are helpful, they are too subj ective to be used to identify
dead metaphors consistently. How can it be determined, for instance, that the metaphor
no longer generates tension? At what point does a metaphor become so easy to
paraphrase that it is pronounced dead? Regarding the last guideline, it is possible that the
metaphor calls to mind a model for one person but not another.
Several authors suggest that a metaphor is dead when it has become lexicalized.
that is, when it appears in a dictionary (Stiver, 1996). Some scholars have argued that
dead metaphors are no longer metaphors at all. For instance, Black (1993) claimed a dead
metanhor is "merely an expression that no longer has a pregnant metaphorical use." On
the other hand, Grey argues for a third category, called dormant metaphor. This is an
expression used without being conscious of its metaphorical character, but if we pay
attention to it, we can easily see that it is an unmistakable metaphor. Grey calls these
metaphors as being in the process of expiring (Grey, 2000).
Many of the metaphorical expressions that Lakoff and his colleagues analyzed
could be defined as dead metaphors using the above definitions. Lakoff and Turner
(1989), however, referred to dead metaphors as highly conventional expressions. They
gave the example "he's almost gone," referring to a dying person. They posit that gone is
still metaphoric, claiming the expressions "that are most alive and most deeply
entrenched, efficient, and powerful are those that are so automatic as to be unconscious
and effortless" (Lakoff and Turner, 1989: 129).2 Although Lakoff did not believe that
such expressions are dead, their metaphoric meaning is not comprehended readily.
SLakoff and Turner (1989) believe that the English language does have dead metaphors. Although these expressions
once were metaphoric, over time the metaphoric connection has been completely lost. For instance, they pointed out
that the word pedigree is from the Old French pied de grue, meaning "foot of a crane." The shape of the crane's foot
was used for family tree diagrams. Since the word pedigree no longer is used to mean "crane's foot," the words
metaphoricity has 'expired.' No one associates the image of the crane's foot with a family tree. Lakoff and Johnson's
criteria for dead metaphors is much narrower than the common understanding of dead metaphors Lakoff G, and Turner
M (1989) More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.. The
reasoning behind this will explored in detail in Chapter 3.
Lakoff s theory emphasized that much of everyday language is based upon
conventional conceptual metaphors; however, novel metaphors also can be based upon
the conventional or basic systems (Lakoff, 1993:210). A novel or imaginative use of the
mapping is easily and quickly comprehended because conventional conceptual metaphors
are entrenched in people's conceptual systems.
Kittay (1987:20) maintains that the literal/metaphorical distinction need not conflict
with Lakoff and Johnson's (1989) claims that our conceptual system is largely structured
metaphorically. Past metaphors, which are currently understood as literal can also be
retrieved as metaphors. Kittay also states that "no matter how 'dead,' or conventionalized,
metaphors are still metaphors" because of the "ease with which their metaphorical origins
may be called forth." She cites the example, "leg of a table," which is considered "dead
and worn-out," yet the Victorians, in their sexual prudery, found it necessary to cover
their tables' "legs" with long tablecloths "to avoid the indecency of viewing exposed
'limbs'" (Kittay, 1987:89). This suggests that all linguistic expressions should be
examined for metaphorical content during a conceptual metaphor analysis, and this
principle will be followed in this analysis by looking at the novel metaphors for food and
body (such as "dinner is my savior") but also by identifying such dead metaphors as "I
was triggered to eat," and "it drives me to eat."
For the purposes of this study, those highly conventionalized metaphors, which are
typically considered dead metaphors were considered in the metaphorical analysis; for
instance, regarding reducing body weight, the following terms were included in the
analysis: lost, dropped, went away, took off, and so forth. Those metaphors which have
completely lost their metaphoric connections, such as salary, were not used.
A review of related tropes
This section includes a review of tropes that are closely related to metaphors and
often misidentified as metaphors. The definition of "trope" indicates that various tropes
function in the same general way: "In RHETORIC a trope is a FIGURE OF SPEECH
involving a 'turn' or change of sense--the use of a word in a sense other than its proper or
literal one" (Holman, 1971:540). The various tropes can be further differentiated. A study
of these Eigures of speech, therefore, was necessary to distinguish them from metaphor. A
survey of tropes revealed the following tropes as being closely related to metaphor:
simile, personification, antipersonification, synecdoche, metonymy, and antonomasia.
Table 2. 1 defines and provides examples of each type of trope, followed by a discussion
Simile. Simile is the easiest trope to distinguish from metaphor because of the
presence of like or a~s. A simile is a comparison although it cannot be between two like
items (Holman, 1971:498). For instance, even though "my house is like your house" is a
comparison and uses the term "like," it is not a simile. Although simile makes use of
conceptual metaphor, it makes a weaker claim than metaphor (Lakoff and Turner,
Metaphor and simile both draw on a network of associations between the source
and the target domains; however, the use of "like" or "as" makes a significant difference.
These two tropes communicate in different ways: "If a metaphor were literally asserted,
the result would be a falsehood, while (virtually) all similes are true. For example, the
metaphor 'My lover is a red rose' is literally false, while the simile 'my lover is like a red
rose' is literally true" (Martinich, 1998:355).
Table 2-1. Definitions and examples oftropes
Metaphor The cognitive mechanism whereby one
experiential domain is partially 'mapped',
i.e. projected, onto a different experiential
domain, so that the second domain is
partially understood in terms of the first
one (Barcelona, 2000:3).
Dead A metaphor that has lost puzzlementnt or
Metaphor bewilderment at the crossing of meaning
that is always involved in metaphor
'(Lischer, 1987:284). Lakoff and Turner
said theseare highly conventional
expressions that are still metaphoric
(Lakoff and Turner, 1989: 129).
Simile A comparison of two of two unlike terms
using "like" or "as" (Holman, 1971:498).
Personification A figure of speech which endows animals,
ideas, abstractions, and inanimate objects
with human form, character, or sensibilities
Synecdoche A form of metaphor in which the whole
denotes the part or the part denotes the
whole (Holman, 1971:522).
Metonymy Similar to synecdoche except that an
adjunct stands in for the absent term
Autonomasia A proper name is substituted for a general
class or idea of which it is a representative
Example of use
I am the Michelin tire guy.
Weight can creep up if you
are not careful.
I put the weight back on.
I ate like a piggy.
My body is like a balloon.
Coffee and my stomach do
not get along in the
My legs are waiting to be
The mouth won't stop
The turkey waddle walked
into the room.
The man puts you on a
diet. (Meaning those who
I will not go on that fight
or flight routine. (On a
Personification. Personification (also called prosopopoeiaa") is "a figure of speech
which endows animals, ideas, abstractions and inanimate obj ects with human form,
character, or sensibilities" (Holman, 1971:389). Personification is a form of metaphor
"through which we understand other things as people" (Lakoff and Turner, 1989:72). One
thing is understood in terms of something unlike itself, and certain qualities of one are
applied to the other. Personifications identified in this study were analyzed as metaphors.
Synecdoche. Synecdoche is a form of metaphor in which the whole denotes the
part or the part denotes the whole (Holman, 1971:522). For instance, a car may be
referred to as "wheels." "The part selected to stand for the whole must be the part most
directly associated with the subj ect under discussion" (Holman, 1971:522). For example,
in the example above, "wheels" would be used while "door" would not be because
wheels is the operative part of the car insofar as travel is concerned.
While it is called a metaphor, synecdoche differs from metaphor in function in that
"one word stands in for a more straightforward reference and this 'standing in' is of a
different nature from that which characterizes metaphor" (Soskice, 1985:57). Synecdoche
does not lead to a correspondence of ideas between the part and the whole. For example,
when "wheels" refers to a car, particular features about wheels are not transferred to cars.
Synecdoche points "one directly to the absent term," whereas the purpose of metaphor is
"to cast up and organize a network of associations" (Soskice, 1985:57).
Metonymy. Metonymy is similar to synecdoche, however, in metonymy "an
adjunct stands in for the absent term (Soskice, 1985:57)." Referring to the presidential
administration as the White House is a metonymy. The White House is not a part of the
president nor the president's administration. Instead, it is an adjunct that points directly to
the absent term, in this case, the presidential administration. Metonymy "has primarily a
referential function, that is, it allows us to use one entity to stand for another" (Lakoff and
Metonymy does not suggest the correspondences between two domains as does
metaphor. Referring to the presidential administration as the White House does not imply
that the administration in any way resembles the actual physical structure of the White
Houses. Using the "is like" test can help to distinguish metonymy from metaphor: "If a
nonliteral comparison between two things is meaningful when seen in an X is like Y
statement, then it is metaphorical; otherwise it is metonymic. It makes sense to say "the
boxer is like a creampuff' (metaphor) but not "The third baseman is like a glove"
(metonymy)" (Gibbs, 1994:322).
Antonomasia. Antonomasia functions much like synecdoche and metonymy. In
synecdoche, a part stands for a whole, and in metonymy, an adjunct stands for the absent
term; in antonomasia "a proper name is substituted for a general class or idea of which it
is a representatives" (Holman, 1971:36). For example, the name M~ilton substitutes for the
word poet in: Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest." Another function of
antonomasia is the substitution of epithets for proper names, such as referring to Christ as
"the Prince of Peace" (Holman, 1971:36).
Summary of tropes used in this study
For the conceptual analysis of the metaphors women use about food and body,
conventional conceptual metaphors were used, as well as novel expressions of both
unconventional and conventional conceptual metaphors. Metaphors selected were not
limited to expressions which the subj ect might not have intended as metaphoric. My
study included highly conventionalized expressions (dead metaphors).
Of the tropes related to metaphor, only expressions of personification and simile
were analyzed as metaphors in this study. Personification not only takes the same form as
metaphors, but it also functions in the same way as metaphors by suggesting a network of
associations between the target and the source. Simile is less "powerful" than true
metaphor; however, it involves associations between the target and the source, and it
functions in a similar way. Autonomasia, metonymy, and synecdoche were not analyzed
as metaphors. Although these tropes may be confused with metaphor because of their
form, they function differently than metaphor because their targets and sources lack the
network of associations.
Reconstructing Conceptual Metaphors
The methods followed by cognitive semanticists in the reconstruction of conceptual
metaphors have been anything but precise. General guidelines can be deduced for how to
proceed with a cognitive metaphor analysis from the many examples given of conceptual
metaphors with their linguistic metaphors in the works of Lakoff and Johnson (1980) and
others. These general guidelines, as outlined below, have the common aim of seeking "to
understand the cognitive force of metaphor through the elucidation of metaphoric
meaning" (Kittay, 1987:15). At the present time, however, the procedures for cognitive
metaphor analysis are in very general terms.
Since metaphorical expressions in our language are tied to metaphorical concepts in
a systematic way, we can use metaphorical linguistic expressions to study the nature of
metaphorical concepts. Lakoff and Turner (1989) arrived at these claims empirically by
studying many cases of both ordinary and poetic language and showing general principles
underlying them. Though cognitive metaphor scholars agree that it is necessary to gather
linguistic metaphors in order to reconstruct our cognitive ones, no scholar has yet
designated how "many" linguistic metaphors are needed to reconstruct a viable cognitive
metaphor. Many of the reconstructions of conceptual metaphors have occurred "in the
laboratory" in which researchers set about to collect linguistic metaphors (often without a
description of that process as with M~etaphors We Live By.) In the field, "a complete
conceptual metaphor may only emerge from examination of the communication between,
or across participants in some community" (Steen and Gibbs, 1997:3). This presents an
additional problem: collecting enough data sufficient to reconstruct all conceptual
metaphors In the current study, interviews in this study covered a broad topic area:
retrieving all metaphors related to food and weight in an attempt to begin to understand
the conceptual metaphors used by women in these discussions Even after collecting
approximately 85 hours of discourse, there were some conceptual metaphors that
contained only one linguistic metaphor. Steen and Gibbs (1997) explained the problem:
Not every person possesses the same conceptual metaphors to the same degree of
detailed elaboration as suggested by linguistic analyses. Linguists' explorations of
conceptual metaphors and their resulting rich set of entailments are not constrained
by the limitations of ordinary human performance, one reason why linguists are so
proficient at detailing all the logical and pragmatic implications of different
metaphors .. However, ordinary speakers/listeners often make do with incomplete
and partial representations of linguistically and culturally shared metaphorical
concepts. (pp. 2-3)
It is plausible to reconstruct a conceptual metaphor from one linguistic metaphor.
The existence of the linguistic metaphor is proof that a conceptual metaphor exists which
produced it. Since each person in a community shares knowledge of the same conceptual
metaphor (although the extent of the mapping of the correspondences varies from person
to person), the focus of this conceptual metaphor. A was to identify the targets and
sources in order to name the conceptual metaphor of each metaphorical expression. The
process of identifying the targets and sources, however, yielded a limited mapping. For
example, Diane stated, "I was on a path to becoming obese." In this expression, the path
is the source of the contextual target of weight gain. The conceptual metaphor is
WEIGHT MANAGEMENT IS A JOURNEY. This is similar to the LIFE IS A
JOURNEY conceptual metaphor, which, according to Lakoff, includes the following
correspondence: "The means for achieving purposes are routes" (Lakoff and Turner,
1989:3). Achieving obesity is understood as being on a path. The research method for this
study is also based on Turner's philosophy for analyzing metaphors "decontextualized":
In doing so, I do not mean to imply that a textually situated .. metaphor does not
lose aspects of its meaning when lifted from context. Of course it must. But I am
interested in the patterns of meaning that run through all these ... metaphors. These
patterns of meaning transcend local textual manifestations because they are part of
our cognitive capacity for metaphor and cognitive models..., derived from our
participation in... communities. (Turner, 1987:13)
The linguistic metaphors gathered for each term were then categorized according to
semantic similarities. This act of categorizing refers to "reconstructing" conceptual
metaphors ("re-constructing" because they are said to be constructed in the
subconscious). Each resulting group of similar linguistic metaphors is evidence that a
single conceptual metaphor produced those linguistic metaphors. When reconstructing
the conceptual metaphors, therefore, great care was taken to preserve every connotation
involved. For example, FOOD IS AN EVIL FORCE, FOOD IS A NEUTRAL FORCE,
and FOOD IS A PLEASURABLE FORCE were reconstructed as separate metaphors,
even though both are strongly tied to FOOD IS A FORCE. These three conceptual
metaphors exist individually because FOOD IS A PLEASURABLE FORCE ("really
heavy duty powerfully tasteful" (Ali)) highlights a situation in which one feels compelled
to engage in interaction with the food to gain pleasure, FOOD IS AN EVIL FORCE
("spiritual fear of those foods" (Mary)) focuses on a situation on which one feels food is
compelling them to something that is not good, and FOOD IS A NEUTRAL FORCE
("desire for food" (Rita)) illustrates how food can still be seen as compelling, but without
the extremely strong feelings attached to it that existed in the metaphor "really heavy
duty powerfully tasteful."
The next stage of the data analysis consisted of sorting metaphors by tenor, with all
metaphors falling into the general categories of food, eating, body, hunger, and weight.
Metaphors were then grouped within these categories. For instance, descriptions of food
as "a glue ball," "garbage," and "crap" focused metaphorically on matters of disgust. This
process of "categorizing" (Lincoln and Guba, 1985) was kept flexible. Although clusters
of metaphors with related patterns of meanings were the analytic goal, it was important to
guard against premature identification and closure of a perceived conceptual metaphor
because that could hinder isolation of a larger metaphor category. Repeated comparisons
were made between the identified metaphoric units and the developing typology of
metaphor cluster categories to ensure that units were placed in an appropriate category.
Revisions were made when necessary. Comparisons were also made between categories
to guarantee their integrity as separate and distinctly recognizable patterns. When all
metaphors had been placed in an appropriate category and no new metaphoric
expressions or categories could be identified, the analysis was complete. Conceptual
metaphors used by the Low Intent group were compared to those used by the High Intent
group with no significant findings.
The next step was to build a cultural model; however, the conceptual metaphors
were extremely diverse, making this process extremely difficult. Two metaphor analysis
experts confirmed this finding and suggested I might want to analyze each subj ect
separately. However, examination of subj ects reasoning proved to begin to make sense of
the data, allowing four patterns to emerge, as described in Chapter 4 that were critical to
the final analysis.
At that point, a cultural model was constructed based on the conceptual metaphors
and reasoning subj ects used. Contextualization of the data analysis required an awareness
and elucidation of cultural norms regarding women's bodies and weight and the problems
that arise in response to them. The worldviews presented by the conceptual metaphors are
given a depth of meaning as they are interpreted in light of the psychoanalytic,
anthropological, and sociological theories presented in Chapter 3.
This analytic approach maintains validity in the context of this qualitative study
design in several respects. Criteria for the trustworthiness of qualitative methodology
have been articulated by Lincoln and Guba (1985), and Miles and Huberman (1994).
Credibility, comparable to internal validity, argues for multiple interpretations of reality
in a given research context. The test of trustworthiness hinges, in part, on whether I have
adequately represented those constructions of meaning by the social actors involved. It is
acknowledged that the research report itself is a reconstruction that ultimately must be
viewed as credible by the original participants and the communities they represent.
However, subj ects were not consulted as to the reliability of interpretation, as qualitative
researchers frequently do. Asking the women their thoughts about these interpretations
would have been interesting, but would not necessarily corroborate or disconfirm my
conclusions, which have little to do with actual observable behavior or their own
understanding of overt talk. Deeply held ideologies are unstated and not necessarily
conscious, and probing for these ideologies would not necessarily have confirmed or
rej ected the findings.
The consistency of this study was also strengthened by the nature of the data
collection. "Instrumental decay" is always possible in the human researcher. Matters of
fatigue, poor field notes, or biased interpretations and prejudices can retard the legitimacy
of the research report and conclusions. However, the transcribed interviews provided
significant discourse in print form that could continually be reviewed during the
unfolding analytic and interpretive process. Again, the trustworthiness focus is on the
There are some caveats in the matter of data collection that must be identified since
trustworthiness is so closely aligned with the data to be analyzed. It is critical for the
researcher to prevent instrument--or context--induced bias in the data as much as is
feasible. Open-ended essay questions avoided the potential response bias of more direct,
closed-ended survey statements, which may overlook key elements in the study that arise
only in more broadly based narrative data. Indeed, this was a primary reason Nichter felt
the surveys of girls inadequate to interpreting their experience of dieting and body.
While open-ended questions can help reduce bias, it is still an issue. Because of my
background of more than 20 years of clinical experience specializing in the treatment of
women and girls with weight and eating issues, I had a number of preconceived ideas that
could influence the results of my study. For instance, as I relate at the beginning of this
chapter, I believe that eating and weight-related symptoms that can be viewed as adaptive
functions--and are forms of symbolic communication. I also believe that diets do not
work, and that the cultural imperative to diet is not about health. As will be noted in
Chapter 3, my ideas are supported by the literature. When I would discuss these ideas
with my dissertation Chair, and other researchers, I was repeatedly warned about bias.
These were warnings I obviously took to heart because, when the results of my study
supported my beliefs, I continued to look for other explanations. In fact, on several
occasions, my Chair pointed out what should have been obvious to me, but that I
overlooked in an attempt to reduce bias. For instance, over the years in my clinical work I
came to understand the comment, "I feel fat," as meaning "I feel uncomfortable." Rather
than responding by assisting the women to lose weight, this new understanding required
that I assist the women in finding why she felt uncomfortable. This resulted in more
successful work with my clients. However, I stayed away from these types of
interpretations of my data. In the example of "feeling fat," it was my Chair who
ultimately pointed out that it was an expression of psychic distress.
Additionally, the interviews were extensive (six to ten hours per subj ect). This
extensive time commitment opened the interviews to more candid and expansive
discourse. This served to satisfy the requirements of prolonged engagement and persistent
observation and interaction as contributing influences on data trustworthiness.
Some might argue that analyzing metaphors could potentially be used to prove
anything, obviously reducing the reliability of research such as this study. However,
methods outlined for cognitive metaphor analysis were closely followed. Coding was
based on metaphorical research of researchers, including (Gibbs, 1994; Johnson and
Connors, 1987; Lakoff, 1987; Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). One way to have avoided the
pitfalls of subj activity is to have more than one researcher analyze the data. Even so,
when two scholars analyze the same data, disputes arise over results. For example,
Butters (Butters, 1981) in his article titled "Do 'Conceptual Metaphors' Really Exist?"
contests Lakoff and Johnson's reconstruction of ARGUMENT IS WAR from the
linguistic metaphors they had presented in Metaphors We Live By. Regarding reliability,
there is always the possibility of not getting it all "right" (Bialostok, 1999). As Geertz
(1973) has said:
Cultural analysis is intrinsically incomplete. And, worse than that, the more deeply
it goes the less complete it is. It is a strange science whose most telling assertions
are its most tremulously based, in which to get somewhere with the matter at hand
is to intensify the suspicion, both your own and that of others, that you are not quite
getting it right. (p. 29)
In his own research, Bialostock (1999: 183) refers to Geertz's suggestion that
'"deep' analysis .. is inherently open to suspicion by myself and (potentially) others. I
am certain that what I present here is incomplete. Studies such as mine that examine these
practices will and should always have their "validity" and "reliability" tested and
contested by those who may use my data, their own data, and either one of our
interpretive methods to reach the same or different conclusions. Ultimately, the more
work done of this nature, the more "complete" an understanding will we all have."
Participants for this research proj ect were solicited through purposive sampling in a
small college town in the southeastern United States. The research instruments used were
recorded interview sessions. The data were analyzed by conceptual metaphor analysis
involving metaphor identification and a categorization according to semantic similarity to
discover conceptual metaphors.
This literature review will explore topics that inform the content of my study,
including approaches and theories regarding United States women and their relationship
with food and body, cultural models, and metaphor. Where the literature is best viewed as
part of the data analysis or discussion, it has been placed in Chapters 3, 5 or 6
respectively. The initial section will review traditional recommendations of appropriate
eating and body weight in the United States and will examine an alternative model.
Because a goal of this research was to build a cultural model of women' s relationship
with food and body, this literature review will also discuss the theory of cultural models
and how they can be constructed with the use of metaphor. Prior to reviewing the data
and conclusions, it is imperative to have a clear idea of what conceptual metaphors entail
and the method used to reconstruct them from linguistic metaphors, as outlined in
Chapter 3. But to understand the rationale for cognitive metaphor analysis, it is important
to understand why cognitivists look beyond the sentence and the context of the sentence
to define metaphor as a cognitive mapping. Therefore, at the end of this literature review
is a review of the history and theory of metaphor and an introduction into cognitivel
metaphor analysis. As stated in the Chapter 1, the purpose of this study is to understand
the conceptual schemas women have in mind when they discuss food and body; and to
re-create the cultural model women have in mind when they say what they say.
For several decades, the North American ethos has been that excessive fatness is
unhealthy. The solution is to reduce body size by eating healthier, dieting, and/or
increasing exercise. During this time, the rate of obesity has been increasing, giving rise
to the argument that these solutions have not solved the problem. Despite significant
effort to assist individuals to achieve and maintain a desirable weight, efforts have been
largely unsuccessful (Goodrick and Foreyt, 1991). In fact, given the increase in "obesity"
in the Western world since the 1950s and 1960s, when the dieting ethic began to
dominate societal consciousness, it has been argued that the emphasis on dieting, or
restrained eating, has contributed to the increase in overweight (Keys et al., 1950; Polivy,
1996). Supporting this argument, studies conducted over the last 20 years have shown
that the more you teach a person to cognitively restrain eating through behavior
modification techniques, the more subsequent bingeing behavior and weight fluctuations
the person will experience (Polivy, 1996).
Interestingly, it has been primarily women who have embraced these behaviors in
an attempt to reduce their body size. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has
estimated that approximately 40 % of adult women (versus 25 % of adult men3) r
SMen, too, are becoming increasingly concerned with their food and bodies, and it is noteworthy that men also suffer from eating
disorders, though it is estimated that only 5% of those with eating disorders are male. Lemberg R, ed. (1999) Eating Disorders: A
Reference Sourcebook. Phoenix: The Oryx Press. Recently, there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of images of men in
popular culture. "Where once images of women dominated advertising and magazines, increasingly men's bodies are taking their place
alongside women's on billboards, in fashion shoots, entertainment troupes like The Chippendales and large-circulation magazines.
However, it is not simply that there are now more images of men circulating, but that a specific kind of representational practice has
emerged for depicting the male body: namely, an idealized and eroticised aesthetic showing a toned, young body." Gill R, Henwood
K, and McLean C (2000) The Tyranny of the 'Six-Pack'? Understanding Men's Responses to Representations of the Male Body in
Popular Culture. In C Squire (ed.): Culture in Psychology. London: Routledge. While men have been presented as desirable before
(clearly there has been interest in the Cary Grant's, Mel Gibson's, and James Dean's of the world), what is new is that the male body
is being presented, or coded, in ways that give permission for it to be looked at and desired, much like images of women have been for
centuries. Gill points out, "the ways that men's bodies have begun to be represented over the past ten years constitutes a disruption of
conventional patterns of looking in which, in John's famous phrase, 'men look at women and women watch themselves being looked
at'." Berger J (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: BBC/Pelican.. Men have a number of ways to respond to this objectification,
alternatively feeling stressed, angry, and aroused, and suggests more research is needed. It will be interesting to ascertain how men
continue to respond to this objectification and to chronicle changes in men's relationship with food and body that may result. Thus far,
not surprisingly, this new cultural interest in making men sexual objects has gone hand-in-hand with an increase in eating disorder
attempting to lose weight at any one time (National Institutes of Health, 1992a). Research
also suggests that 50 % of young women are currently trying to lose weight, even though
the maj ority is already at or below normal weight (Rosen et al., 1990). Even very young
children are not spared. Research indicates that fear of fat, restricted eating, and binge
eating are common among girls by age 10 (Mellin et al., 1992).
Monitoring food and body are accepted as ways to improve health and appearance,
and are considered valuable and worthwhile activities, as positive moves towards self-
enhancement. Women and girls talk a great deal about these activities. Nichter has found
that talking about these activities is a positive experience for girls (Nichter, 2000).
Nichter (2000) began her research about girls' experiences when she noted that
literature reporting that girls are undergoing an epidemic of dieting are the result of
standard survey questions, which, she said, "fail to capture adequately the complexity of
their behaviors" (p. 3). She also had unanswered questions, for instance, what does
"dieting" mean. She also mused, "if 'everyone' is dieting, why do studies continually
report that American youth are becoming increasingly overweight" (p. 4). Nichter paid
little attention to research suggesting that dieting does not work, and can cause weight
gain in adolescents (Field et al., 2003); however, she set out to fill the void in research on
body image and dieting by focusing on what teens have to say about being on a diet. She
explored "what constitutes "normal" behavior among teen-aged girls and examined the
extent to which body image and dieting play a role in female gender socialization" (p. 4)
by focusing on "the difference between what they sssssssssssssay they do and what they actually do"
rates among men. Woodside B (2002) Eating Disorders in Men: An Overview. Healthy Weight Journal 16:52-55. Indeed, it has been
argued that, "'There has been an explosion in the numbers of men with eating disorders, body image conflicts, compulsive exercise,
and obesity," and that these have become "'hidden problems for millions of men." Anderson A, Cohn L, and Holbrook T (2000)
Making Weight: Men's Conflicts with Food, Weight, Shape and Appearance. Carlsbad: CA: Gurze Books.
(p. 4). She spent a great deal of time examining the "I'm so fat" discourse, which she
labeled "fat talk," to find the cultural meanings of this "pervasive speech performance"
and how it facilitates social relations. Her research was framed to look at the positive
aspects of dieting and fat talk because "if we as researchers look for what is pathological
in girls, that is what we will find" (p. x).
What Nichter did find was that most of the white girls in her study disliked their
bodies. She explained that they were not really dieting. The girls would fast from
breakfast and lunch at which point they would go off the diet, or, alternatively, they were
watching their weight. What she found however, is that the girls were talking about
dieting instead of dieting. She concluded that talk about dieting and fat talk was a social
ritual among friends, a way of being, or a way of creating solidarity.
On the other hand, some theorists believe this attention to food and the body,
specifically the desire to change them, has been destructive for girls and women. Before
these theories are discussed, I will outline traditional approaches to food and body.
Traditional Approaches to Food and Body
One aspect of the traditional approach to health is that eating and food need to be
regulated and body size monitored in order to achieve health. Even when weight is not an
issue, externally-regulated eating is the primary eating style recommended and is
exemplified in many recommended eating plans (Bloom et al., 1994). Externally-
regulated, restrained eating is recommended for those who are said to need to lose
weight, most notably women. Unfortunately, this eating style, though implicated in the
development of eating problems and body/weight preoccupation, is also prescribed to
treat eating problems and, body/weight preoccupation, including binge eating and eating
disorders (Bloom et al., 1994; Carrier et al., 1993; Ciliska, 1990; Costin, 1996; Counihan,
1999; Heatherton et al., 1991; Keys et al., 1950; Polivy, 1996; Polivy et al., 1984;
Wooley and Garner, 1991).
This extemnally-regulated, restrained eating is accomplished through a wide range
of dietary techniques, from controlled fasting to low-calorie diets to modest energy
restriction. Women are taught to "restrict the quantity and control the quality of the diet
through the use of external eating directives that take the form of monitoring weight with
the scale, following lists of good and bad foods, calorie counting, and the use of
exchanges and portion control" (Carrier et al., 1993:518). Exercise recommendations are
utilized in order to create a caloric deficit and enhance the weight loss obtained through
dietary restraint. Participants in this approach often become restrained eaters, and are
called "chronic dieters," who continually "restrict their intake of food in order to achieve
or to maintain a lower weight" (Heatherton, 1991). Even if a woman does not formally
pursue a diet program, she is trained in these activities by such mediums as TV,
newspapers, magazines, and advertisements (Kilbourne, 1999).
Externally directed, restrained eating most often does not result in permanent
weight loss, even when combined with exercise. Individuals may (or may not) lose
weight "as long as a deficiency in the energy balance equation is tipped in favor of
energy expenditure over energy intake. However, no plan has demonstrated significant
success in weight maintenance beyond 6 to 12 months" (Coulston, 1998). A 2% to 5%
success rate is reported in the literature (Goodrick and Foreyt, 1991).
Most authorities believe that people cannot self-regulate their eating or their body
weight. They promote extemnally-regulated, restrained eating based on the arguments that
(1) weights above recommended levels causes poor health and decreased longevity, and
(2) weight loss increases longevity and improves health. Although these premises are
taken for granted by the medical establishment, they are, in fact, not well supported by
existing studies (Gaesser, 2002). In fact, there is a substantial body of research that
contradicts many of the commonly held notions about the relationship between weight
and health. These conflicting data will be discussed briefly, and have been discussed at
length elsewhere (Gaesser, 2002). I will show that the research on weight, dieting, and
health is more ambiguous than typically reported by scientific and medical communities.
Weight and Health
Throughout most of history, obesity has "never been a common health problem nor
was it a realistic possibility for most people" (Brown and Konner, 2000:347). Currently,
obesity is considered an epidemic. Both adult and pediatric obesity are on the rise not
only in the United States but worldwide. The Centers for Disease Prevention reported that
obesity increased from 19.8% of American adults to 20.9% of American adults between
2000 and 2001 (Mokdad et al., 2003). Currently, more than 44 million Americans are
considered obese by BMI, reflecting an increase of 74% since 1991 (2002). Obesity
increases the risk for developing chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, heart
disease, hypercholesterolemia, stroke, some cancers, and arthritis. The statistics on
pediatric obesity are even more significant. In 1999, 13% of children aged 6 to 1 1 years
and 14% of adolescents aged 12 tol9 years in the United States were overweight This
prevalence has nearly tripled for adolescents in the past two decades. The prevailing
consensus is that obesity is a maj or cause of premature death and that weight loss can be
expected to improve the health and longevity of overweight people (1997; Manson et al.,
1995). Though this is accepted as fact by most, the interpretation of the data has been
challenged for decades (Blair et al., 1995; Ernsberger and Haskew, 1987; Gaesser, 2002;
Keys et al., 1950; Ritenbaugh, 1982).
Alternative Views of Weight and Health
Those who have challenged the prevailing views of obesity have accepted that
some degree of fatness will negatively impact a person' s health. What is argued is that
population weight standards for weight are meaningless, and that weight, just like height,
exists in the population in a bell-shaped curve. Some people may, in fact, be healthier if
they remain fat. The most important aspect of health is fitness level, regardless of weight
(Gaesser, 2002). Though approximately 2 % of the population are fat enough that there is
no question of obesity's negative impact on health (Gaesser, 2002), the fact that diets
most often do not work (Coulston, 1998; Field et al., 2003; Goodrick and Foreyt, 1991),
and often cause weight gain (Field et al., 2003) and other very significant problems
(Bloom et al., 1994; Keys et al., 1950) suggest diets may not be the best intervention.
Obesity research far from conclusive
A key argument in this alternative view of weight and health is that obesity
research is far from conclusive (Gaesser, 2002). For instance, regarding mortality and
obesity, some studies show increased mortality with increasing weight; many do not
show this result. Gaesser found no positive correlations between weight and mortality in
an extensive review of the literature. He found that approximately 75 % of all weight-
mortality studies published since the 1950s "find weight to be irrelevant to health and
mortality issues (except perhaps at the extremes of the Body Mass Index)" (Gaesser,
2002). Ernsberger has reported similar findings, arguing that the lack of support for a
positive relationship between weight and mortality remains even after confounding
factors, such as smoking, preexisting illness, and length of follow-up are considered
(Ernsberger and Haskew, 1987). Troiano, et al. (1996), in their in-depth meta-analysis of
the literature, reported that weight levels currently considered moderately overweight
were not associated with increased all-cause mortality and that body weight at or slightly
below current recommendations was associated with increased risk of mortality. They
suggest that attention should be paid to the health risks of underweight, and that body
weight recommendations for optimum longevity needs to be reconsidered in light of these
The belief that weight loss results in increased longevity and improved health also
has been challenged. National Institutes of Health has reported that "most epidemiologic
studies suggest that weight loss is associated with increased mortality" (National
Institutes of Health, 1992b). Apparently, this consistent association holds for all-cause
mortality and mortality from heart disease and stroke for both men and women. Even
studies with widely varying methodology and follow-up remain unaffected after
controlling for the potential effects of pre-existing illness and smoking status (Gaesser,
Gaesser states that the reasons for these findings are not clear due to the
tremendous number of potentially confounding factors involved in epidemiological
research. Short-term weight loss is associated with reductions in risk factors for
cardiovascular disease, including improvements in blood pressure, glycemic control, and
lipid and lipoprotein profiles. However, "given the high likelihood that weight will be
regained, it remains to be determined whether these time-limited improvements confer
more permanent health benefits" (National Institutes of Health, 1992b).
Obesity-related comorbidities improved independent of weight loss
considerable research exists stating that obesity-related comorbidities, particularly
those associated with the insulin resistance syndrome (for example, hypertension,
dyslipidemias, and hyperinsulinemia) can be improved independent of weight loss (Appel
et al., 1997; Bacon et al., 2002; Barnard et al., 1994; Barnard et al., 1992; Blair et al.,
1989; Blair et al., 1993; Crespo et al., 2002; Lamarche et al., 1992; Tremblay et al.,
1991). Physical activity and improved diet are required. Both are behaviors which can be
altered directly, unlike the symptom of fatness. A focus on weight, especially in a culture
that is so fat-phobic, functions to shift energy away from the more reachable goals of
improved "metabolic fitness" (Gaesser, 2002).
Clearly, there is a substantial body of research that contradicts many of the
commonly held notions about the relationship between weight and health. The research
listed above is a brief introduction into the conflicting data regarding weight and health.
Significant research exists which refutes dominant thinking; this research is reviewed
elsewhere (Gaesser, 2002). Kassirer and Angell (1998) have stated that the "data linking
overweight and death, as well as the data showing the beneficial effects of weight loss,
are limited, fragmentary and often ambiguous."
Again, this is not to say that BMI is irrelevant to health, as the extremes of BMI
distributions frequently report associations with excess mortality (Gaesser, 2002; Troiano
et al., 1996). What cannot be discerned from the literature is exactly what constitutes
"extreme" and where to draw the line between healthy and not healthy. It is evident that
being physically fit is more important than being thin (Barlow et al., 1995; Blair et al.,
1995). What also cannot be discerned is the impact of the cultural disgust with body fat
on obesity research and public opinion.
Biases in obesity research and public opinion
A number of reports suggest that interpretations of obesity research may be biased
against obesity, potentially due to financial interests of researchers (Fraser, 1994;
Kauffman and Julien, 2000a; Kauffman and Julien, 2000b; Kauffman and Julien, 2000c;
MacPherson and Silverman, 1997; Mundy, 2001). Bodenheimer (2000) found that
industry funding has allowed important advances in disease prevention and treatment, but
when results are disappointing to a company, conflicts can result. Bodenheimer quotes
one of his interviewees:
Companies play hardball, and many investigators can't play hardball back. You
send the paper to the company for comments, and that' s the danger. Can you
handle the changes the company wants? Will you give in a little, a little more, then
capitulate? It' s tricky for those who need money for more studies. (p. 1543)
Bodenheimer recommends increasing the independence of investigators to conduct
and publish research; however, he says that what would remain is the inevitable
misreporting of the research. This research supports arguments by others who claim that
obesity research is biased by the cultural obsession with weight loss (Ernsberger and
Haskew, 1987; Gaesser, 2002).
However, even with the evidence suggesting that lifestyle is far more important
than body weight in terms of health, and that shifting the focus from weight to fitness
might be more prudent, weight continues to get center stage when health issues are
discussed. According to Gaesser, this focus is primarily fueled by a medical/health
rationale that obesity is a killer.
Most people believe the reports that 300,000 people die each year of obesity.
Gaesser calls this a blatant scare tactic (Gaesser, 1999). This assertion was first made by
C. Everett Koop at the 1985 NIH conference on obesity to launch his "Shape Up
America" campaign (Gaesser, 2002). Since then, this figure has appeared many times in
scientific and medical journals (1997; Manson et al., 1995). Obesity was perhaps the
single most compelling reason for the approval of the ill-fated weight-loss drug, Redux.
As Gaesser notes, "What surprises me, given the gravity of the statistic, is that no one
seems to have bothered to verify it" (p. 76). In fact, the most frequently cited source of
this statistic, a 1993 article in the Journal of the American M~edical Association,
(McGinnis and Foege, 1993) shows just how misinterpreted this statistic actually is. The
article, titled "Actual Causes of Death in the Untied States," attributes the 300,000 deaths
per year to "diet/activity patterns," not to obesity. Obesity is a physical trait; diet and
physical activity are behaviors. To equate them not only is unjustified, it is absurd
according to Gaesser (2002). While poor diet and lack of physical activity may lead to
obesity, the studies used to generate the 300,000 Eigure looked at the health impact of
poor diet and sedentary lifestyle across the entire weight spectrum not just among fat
In a more recent example of obesity becoming a culprit by the time it reaches the
popular press, researchers found that physically active men experienced significant
reductions in all-cause mortality, even in overweight and obese populations (Crespo et
al., 2002). However, the media focused on heart disease and indicated that obesity posed
a risk, though less of a risk than if one were inactive. However, close examination of the
data (in Table 2 and Figure 2 on page 547 and 549, respectively) shows that the lowest
all-cause mortality was actually in overweight men (slightly lower, but not statistically
significantly so, compared to men in the "normal" BMI range). Obese men had only a
slightly elevated all-cause mortality risk (but not significantly different from men in
either normal or overweight categories). Underweight men (BMI <18.5) had the
highest risk--significantly higher than all other groups.
Ineffectiveness of dieting strategies and questionable impact on health
Another argument includes the ineffectiveness of dieting strategies and its
questionable impact on health (Bloom et al., 1994; Gaesser, 1999; Gaesser, 2002; Keys et
al., 1950). Regarding dieting, in 1958, pioneer obesity researcher Stunkard (1958)
explained: most obese persons will not stay in treatment for obesity; of those who stay in
treatment, most will not lose weight; and of those who do lose weight, most will regain it.
Still today, the efficacy of weight loss has not improved. Relatively few participants
succeed in keeping off weight long term (Appel et al., 1997; Bacon et al., 2002; Barnard
et al., 1994; Barnard et al., 1992; Blair et al., 1989; Blair et al., 1993; Coulston, 1998;
Crespo et al., 2002; Food and Drug Administration, 1992; Goodrick and Foreyt, 1991;
Lamarche et al., 1992; Miller, 1999; Tremblay et al., 1991; Wooley and Garner, 1991).
The pattern of repeatedly losing and regaining weight experienced by most dieters
may be one of the factors that contributes to the higher mortality rates found in people
who have lost weight. Weight cycling has been shown to decrease metabolic rates at rest
and during exercise, increase lipoprotein lipase activity (making the body more efficient
at storing fat), and increase the proportion of fat to lean tissue in the body. With each
weight loss/regain cycle, weight is increasingly redistributed from lower body
subcutaneous fat, shown to have a protective effect against heart disease, diabetes,
cancer, and high cholesterol, to abdominal visceral fat, which does not confer these
protective effects (Gaesser, 2002). In addition, studies point to increased risk for heart
disease, hypertension, and diabetes in individuals who are chronically losing and
regaining weight (Blair et al., 1993; Guagnono, 2000; Holbrook et al., 1989; Lissner et
al., 1991; Olson, 2000). Other studies have suggested links between weight cycling and
gall bladder disease, low bone mineral density, and kidney cancer (Fogelholm, 1997;
Linblad et al., 1994; Snyder and Hasbrouck, 1996). Most recently, research has suggested
a potential relationship between weight cycling and breast cancer, with the authors
concluding with a warning that "the mammary gland is adversely affected by chronic
weight cycling" and "cyclic dieting attempts at weight loss should not be viewed as a
benign behavior in women and may be an important risk factor for breast cancer" (Syngal
et al., 1999).
Negative impact caused by focus on weight
A final argument targeted the significant negative impact that this culture's focus
on weight has had for millions of individuals, especially women. Untold numbers have
died in their attempts to alter their weights (Bloom et al., 1994; Brown and Jasper, 1993a;
Wolf, 1991), including those without eating disorders (Berg, 1993; Mundy, 2001).
Contradictory Nature of Obesity Research
Ritenbaugh, a medical anthropologist who directed an obesity clinic, noted that
surprisingly few obese patients have medical problems associated with obesity
(Ritenbaugh, 1991). Gaesser, an exercise physiologist who directed and performed
research at wellness centers, also was surprised to find so many healthy obese people and
unhealthy thin people (Gaesser, 2000b). Because of this experience, he spent five years
reviewing obesity research and wrote a comprehensive review of his findings. In his
book, Gaesser (2002).concludes that given the extremely complex and often
contradictory nature of the available literature in this area that "definitive proof of any
given hypotheses about weight-health correlation is almost impossible at the present
time" (p. 104) and that the real risks to health and longevity are more likely the result of
dieting than from stable weights that are above recommendations.
Obesity as a Culture Bound Syndrome
In a convincing argument, Ritenbaugh (1982), analyzes obesity as a culture-bound
syndrome and notes the obvious "overwhelmingly powerful cultural context of the
biomedical problem of obesity" (p. 358). She posits that, counter to dominant thinking
* Ideal weight is not independent of age; ideal weight for height increases with age.
* When mortality or morbidity are plotted against weight for any height, age, and
sex, the curve is J-shaped, mortality and morbidity go up at low and high weights,
but there is "actually little change in risk over a broad range of weights (30-60
lbs.)" (p. 175).
* The pattern of obesity is much more important than the degree of obesity in health
status. Ironically, the pattern of fat most often seen in women is "associated with
virtually no impairment of health (except for j oint damage when the weight bearing
becomes too great) and is apparently associated with relatively high circulating
levels of estrogen" (p. 176). Fat distributed mostly around the waist, as seen most
often in men, is associated with elevated risks of cardiovascular disease,
hypertension, diabetes and cancer even at modest levels.
She explores the downward drift in body weight standards, "invisible to
practitioners and not based on biomedical data" (p.357). She states that if is most obvious
in women, noting that there has been no steady downward trend in weight standards for
men even though higher mortality rates and health concerns are focused on them. Even
when the tables were adjusted upwards in 1982, women's weight increased less than
Closer look at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Height/Weight Tables
The Metropolitan Life Insurance Height/Weight Tables are based on questionable
research which began in the early 1900s when medical practitioners worried about
patients being too thin. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company sought to identify risk
factors associated with premature mortality in an effort to maximize profits. The
insurance company could charge higher premiums or refuse to insure applicants with
these risk factors. The "risk factor" they focused on was weight, partly because it is easy
and cost-effective to measure. The resulting height/weight table has been used as a
standard for decades. It is likely few people in the United States have escaped having
their own weight compared to it.
In his critique of obesity research, Gaesser (2002) points out many of the problems
with the research in this study, which have been outlined by others (Keys et al., 1950;
Ritenbaugh, 1982). These problems include:
* Life insurance policy holders:
are not representative of Americans
weigh five to ten pounds less than the average American
have mortality rates up to 40 % lower than the general population
* Mortality was defined as the cashing in of a policy, not the death of a person. (In
other words, one person could hold five policies; when they were cashed in, it was
recorded as five deaths).
* All persons were included in the 1959 study whether the policy was purchased in
1935 or in 1953...what sounds like a 20-year study has an average follow-up of 7.8
years (Keys and et al, 1985).
* Policyholders were never questioned about eating or exercise habits (which impact
mortality regardless of weight).
* Weights and heights were self-reported in 10 to 20 % of cases (Keys and et al,
* It was unknown whether policyholders lost or gained any weight during the study
since weight was recorded only once; it is likely that weight did change from the
time they purchased the policy, especially considering that Williamson (1993)
found that one half of adult Americans gained or lost up to 15% of their body
weight over 10 years.
Even while there are innumerable flaws in these studies, the results are interesting.
Gaesser (2002) outlines the development of the height/weight table and the assumptions
that are based upon it. The first weight table was actually based on the average weights
of policyholders sampled. So, the average weight of a 5'4" woman, aged 20 to 29 years
was 126 pounds; at age 60 to 69 years, it was 144 pounds. The average was
recommended and overweight was defined as anything over that average weight range.
However, studies showed that mortality did not increase appreciably until at least 20 %
over average weight (151 to 173 pounds for the same 20 to 29-year-old 5'4" woman). The
chief medical director of Mutual Life Insurance of New York cited tables in which one
had to weigh 20 % to 30% above average (163 tol87) before experiencing an appreciable
increase in mortality (though he advised physicians that weight control is "the sermon
which you should preach to your patients"). Only those 20% above the average were
required to pay higher premiums. So, a 40-year-old woman, who in 1912 was considered
average at 144 pounds, and at no risk of increased mortality until somewhere around 151
to 187 pounds, was, in 1942, considered obese and ostensibly close to death. The
following table was created to underscore the changing weight requirements that can be
seen in the MetLife Tables.
Of the MetLife Tables, Gaesser (2002) notes that the life insurance industry's
conclusions have been accepted as truth. He states that most people interpret them to
mean that any degree of overweight will increase mortality. Gaesser claims that there has
been little critical evaluation of the data, and, as a result, the belief that weight is a
primary determinant of health problems has been influencing scientific investigations
ever since. While Gaesser would agree with Ritenbaugh's statement, "Some types of
Lowest mortality occurred
within the weight range.
Mortality increased at 126
pounds for small framed
women, and 139 pounds for
Lowest mortality occurred
within the weight range.
Mortality increased at 117
pounds for small framed
women, and 139 pounds for
1959 Desirable Same
1982 Desirable Same Should weigh Lowest mortality occurred
Weight 114-127 pounds within the weight range.
for small frame Mortality increased at 128
134-151 pounds pounds for small framed
for large frame women, and 152 pounds for
*The weight of average 20 to 29 year olds was determined to be healthiest for everyone.
**Frame size was arbitrary and never measured or defined.
Gender Bias in Weight Standards
Ritenbaugh discusses the gender bias inherent in these tables. The weight at which
an individual is at risk has changed several times, each time more more significantly for
women than for men. Each drop in "ideal" weight resulted in a more significant drop in
obesity present health risks for some individuals" (Ritenbaugh, 1991:176), both would
agree that the level of fatness that poses health risks cannot be determined from a
height/weight table or % of body fat testing. Both would also agree that most of the
weights this culture is focusing on reducing need not be reduced for health's sake.
Table 3-1. Changing weight requirements for women
Should weigh 126-
144 pounds at age
for small frame,
for large frame
for small frame
for large frame
Mortality did not increase
until at least 20% over this
range (151-173 pounds).
women's weights than in men's weights, and at the 1982 increase in weight, women's
weight was increased much less than men's weights. The result, of course, is that women
have been assigned an increasingly restrictive "ideal" weight, even though it is men who
are more compromised by excess weight. Ritenbaugh concluded, based on research prior
to 1982, that these weight recommendations are reflective of changing cultural values,
"rather than an accumulation of biomedical knowledge" (Ritenbaugh, 1982:357). More
recently, Gaesser has made conclusions that support Ritenbaugh' s work. In Big Fat Lies:
The Truth About Your Weight and' Your Health he discredits "the myths that obesity is a
"killer disease," that weight loss is inherently good, that thinner is necessarily healthier,
and that the height-weight table measure something meaningful" (Gaesser, 2002:xxiv).
The conclusions of Ritenbaugh, Gaesser and others (Blair et al., 1989; Blair et al., 1993;
Ernsberger and Haskew, 1987; Keys et al., 1950; Robison et al., 1993), which suggest
that the maj ority of weights this culture is focused on changing are healthy weights that
should be left alone, is in stark contrast to dominant thinking. All of these researchers
would agree that there is a weight at which an individuals health is negatively impacted.
However, the weights that the maj ority of people, in particular women, are focused on
changing for the sake of health, are, in fact, healthy weights. Even though there is
significant controversy on these issues, that controversy rarely makes it to the daily news,
hence few people are aware of it. The most important aspect of these arguments as they
relate to the present study are:
*Many people who are targeted through weight loss campaigns may actually be at
weights that are healthy, or could be healthy if they exercised and ate healthy, with
no need for weight loss interventions.
* The difference in the way healthy weights for women and men are constructed,
especially in light of the fact that it is men who are more compromised by excess
* The gender bias inherent in the weight standards.
Gender bias is seen in weight standards, and it can also be seen that while fat men
are vulnerable to ridicule and discrimination, "being a fat woman is a far graver
"mistake" than being a fat man. For white young women, thinness may, in fact, be the
most powerful marker used to judge their physical attractiveness" (Thompson, 1994: 11).
This is particularly compelling when noting that in affluent societies, "adipose tissue
constitutes approximately 15 % of body weight in males and about 27 % in females"
(Brown and Konner, 2000:348). Dimorphism in overall fat appears to be universal.
Brown notes that the !Kung, a hunting and gathering society of the Kalahari desert who
are small in stature and extremely lean, also show this dimorphism (Brown and Konner,
Simplistically, fatness is considered unhealthy and unattractive in United States
culture. Since women are fatter than men cross-culturally, they are at the greatest risk of
being named too fat. They are the ones most likely to need interventions, even if their
fatness is normal. Weight standards in the United States are gender biased.
Fraser (1994) argues that gender bias even exists in obesity researchers. She notes
that obesity researchers are divided between the pro-diet medical researchers and the anti-
diet eating disorders researchers. The pro-diet, most of whom are men, lean toward strong
interventions that would include very low calorie diets, drugs and surgery, they have an
"at least do \Ilm~linehig"' attitude. The anti-diet contingent, who are primarily female, often
believe diets lead to more harm than good. Since that time, the anti-diet movement has
grown significantly and has recently been coined Health at Every Size (HAES).
Health at Every Size Movement
The basis of the HAES movement is a shift from a weight-centered approach to
health to a health-centered approach (Cogan, 1999). Its main premise includes ceasing
attempts to alter body size, instead promoting body and body size acceptance, eating well
and physical activity. A brief discussion of HAES follows though more extensive
discussions are found elsewhere (Cogan, 1999; Robison et al., 1995; Robison, 1997). The
Tenets of Health at Every Size include:
* Health Enhancement: attention to emotional, physical, and spiritual well being,
without focus on weight loss or achieving a specific "ideal weight"
* Size and self-acceptance: respect and appreciation for the wonderful diversity of
body shapes and sizes (including one's own!), rather than the pursuit of an idealized
weight or shape
* The pleasure of eating well: eating based on internal cues of hunger, satiety, and
appetite, and individual nutritional needs rather than on external food plans or diets
* The j oy of movement: encouraging all physical activities for the associated
pleasure and health benefits, rather than following a specific routine of regimented
exercise for the primary purpose of weight loss
* An end to weight bias: recognition that body shape, size and/or weight are not
evidence of any particular way of eating, level of physical activity, personality,
psychological issue, or moral character; confirmation that there is beauty and worth
in EVERY body
Health At Every Size in Practice
According to this paradigm, the first tenet focuses on facilitating health
enhancement at a client' s current weight with minimal, if any, attention paid to the
client' s weight. Robison (1997) argues this does not imply ignoring health risks and
medical problems. Rather, this new paradigm strongly acknowledges that a person's
experience with weight and health is part of a complex, dynamic interplay of social,
emotional, ecological, and spiritual, as well as physical factors. He notes that exclusive
focus on weight can obscure or even exacerbate these factors (Wooley and Garner, 1991).
The second tenet promotes size and self-acceptance believing that self-acceptance,
and self-love are important prerequisites for enabling people to engage in those behaviors
that will facilitate health and a natural weight. This tenet acknowledges that fear is a very
poor motivator for change and that positive change is much more likely to come from
self-love than from self-hatred. People seek to take care of themselves when they feel
they are worthy of it (Carrier et al., 1993; Robison, 1997).
The third tenet focuses on eating and promoting trust in oneself to promote the
belief that a person can regulate her/his own eating and does not need to diet (Armstrong
and King, 1993; Carrier et al., 1993; Robison, 1997). Since a goal of dieting is to
eradicate signals of hunger and appetite (which has the side effect of also eradicating the
satiety signal), those who have been dieting often need to relearn how to use and respond
to internal signals of hunger and satiety. For these reasons, HAES professionals promote
internally-regulated, nonrestrained eating. Individuals may or may not decrease their
weight. However, normalizing eating is likely to improve health by reducing the anxiety,
guilt, preoccupation with food, binge eating, weight cycling, and weight gain commonly
associated with restricted eating. Initial research suggests this conclusion (Armstrong and
King, 1993; Bacon et al., 2002; Carrier et al., 1993; Ciliska, 1990).
The fourth tenet focuses on promoting movement that is social, playful, and
pleasurable, and includes not just jogging, cycling, and exercise classes but activities
connected with everyday living, such as walking and gardening (Robison et al., 1995).
Movement recommendations are based on the work of Lyons and Burgard and is
encouraged for enj oyment, camaraderie, and improved quality of life, not calorie burning
and weight loss (Lyons and Burgard, 1990). Research has shown that physical activity
can positively affect health and longevity regardless of weight status (Bacon et al., 2002;
Tremblay et al., 1991). Recent research suggests that "ifyou're fit .. being 25 or even
75 pounds overweight is perfectly healthy. And if you aren't fit, being slim gives you no
protection whatsoever" (Lyons, 1995b). Additionally, for large individuals, discovering
movement in a size-friendly environment can be a means of beginning to rediscover and
reconnect to the bodies they have been taught to hate and ignore (MacInnis, 1993).
The fifth tenet argues that weight bias is pervasive and must be ended. For instance,
MacInnis argues that all people suffer due to weight discrimination, though it is the fat
person who suffers the most:
Fat oppression, the fear and hatred of fat that result in discriminatory practices, is
so commonplace in Western cultures that it is rendered invisible. However,
evidence exists in abundance to suggest that society hates fat, particularly on
women, and persecutes women who do not meet or are not actively striving
towards the ideal of thinness. In effect, "fat" has become a prejudicial term,
synonymous with "stupid, lazy, and ugly." It is my belief that the medical
community has played a significant role in perpetuating, if not shaping, pervasive
fat-oppressive attitudes. (MacInnis, 1993)
Puhl and Brownell (2001) have argued that bias in the medical community is
extensive and that the medical community has shaped fat-obsessive attitudes. Very
negative attitudes about overweight individuals have been reported in dietitians,
physicians, nurses, and medical students, much the same as in general society (Puhl and
Brownell, 2001). This tenet calls for all individuals to closely monitor their own attitudes
and biases regarding fatness and body fat in order to understand that size does not impact
Summary of Traditional and Alternative Approaches to Food and Body
Research regarding obesity is much more ambiguous than typically perceived.
Meanwhile, experts continue to recommend weight loss to promote health, which, in turn,
is heavily promoted by the huge industry poised to benefit financially. Recommendations
and ideals for women are a great deal stricter than for men, supporting the argument that
the "war on obesity" may in fact be directed at women. A wide body of literature in
anthropology, psychology, and sociology supports Ritenbaugh's conclusion that obesity
is a culture-bound syndrome, positing that the idealized thin body "reflects the
fragmented and contradictory expectations women experience in Western societies at a
time when they have achieved greater equality, yet continue to be oppressed in
fundamental ways" (Brown and Jasper, 1993b,:17) which will be reviewed below.
Thinness as a Currency for Women's Access to Power
Anthropological, psychological and sociological theorists have argued since the
1960s that in a culture, such as the United States, where "issues of appearance are
essential currency for women' s access to power in this country, and thinness is a critical
component" (Thompson, 1994:10). Behaviors such as restricting food intake, desire
and/or attempts to lose weight, berating oneself for eating or needing to eat and devaluing
the body, have little, if anything, to do with health. They also have little, if anything to do
with food, eating, body size, or weight (Bordo, 1993; Brown, 1985; Burstow, 1992;
Cassidy, 1991; Chernin, 1985b; Lawrence, 1987; Orbach, 1985; Orbach, 1986;
Ritenbaugh, 1982; Ritenbaugh, 1991; Siegler, 1993). Women's relationships with food
and body have become clearer as a result of the work of theorists in the social sciences.
Psychoanalytic theorists have offered numerous insights into the psychosocial
aspects of this focus on food and body. They posit that women' s focus on food and body
and the dieting and eating problems that result are invariably adaptations, and attempts to
cope with the world. Unraveling these behaviors can expose the problems/concerns that
initially caused the coping strategy (Bordo, 1993; Brown, 1985; Burstow, 1992; Chernin,
1985b; Lawrence, 1987; Orbach, 1985; Orbach, 1986; Siegler, 1993). Basically, food and
body concerns are, for women, a physical expression of the contradictions women
experience in attempting to meet their emotional needs (Chemnin, 1985a; Orbach, 1985;
Orbach, 1986). To understand this, an awareness of the social conditions for current
forms of femininity, as well as an understanding of how social processes influence
women's lives, is outlined in the following section.
Women and social conditions
Young girls and women continue to divert a significant portion of their physical,
emotional, and financial resources to the pursuit of ideals of body shape and size. It has
been argued that these goals are neither achievable nor healthy for the vast maj ority
(Bloom et al., 1994; Gaesser, 2002; Lyons, 1995a). But according to some theorists, these
goals have other outcomes.
Keeping women occupied by continually striving toward an unreachable ideal of
perfection effectively keeps them preoccupied (MacInnis, 1993). Women's energies are
diverted by the pursuit of dieting and body improvement. They are kept from dealing
effectively with the realities of existence in a man's world, and from participating more
fully in art, politics, literature, and life in general (Bloom et al., 1994; Brown and Jasper,
1993a; Wolf, 1991). Much has been written concerning the historical association of
female fat, particularly on the abdomen, buttocks, and breasts with the "feminine" values
of nurturance and compassion (Bordo, 1990; Hutchingson, 1994). Throughout history,
soft, rounded hips, thighs, and bellies have been considered ideal for women in the vast
majority of cultures (Bordo, 1993; Brown and Jasper, 1993a; Powdermaker, 1997). This
ideal is perceived as an imperative primarily because women's social value has been
inseparable from their bodies. Brown (1993 a) points out, "[Women's] social role has been
identified with and expressed through their bodies: in bearing children, in satisfying
men's sexual needs, and in the labor of caring for men's and children's emotional and
physical needs." As long as women were content to stay at home and bear children, the
ideal for women having more voluptuous bodies remained relatively intact. It has been
convincingly argued that the obsessive hatred of fat in this country began with the
women's equality movement (Brown and Jasper, 1993a), and that the more powerful
women become, the more pressure there is to alter the aspects of their bodies that
distinguish them from their male counterparts (Bordo, 1990; Hirschmann and Munter,
1996). Wolf (1991) states succinctly, "The more legal and material hindrances women
have broken through, the more strictly and heavily, and cruelly, images of female beauty
have come to weigh on us."
This shift in ideal body size, which has coincided with women's role in society, has
been shown in historical trends (Bloom et al., 1994; Bordo, 1993; Brown and Jasper,
1993a; Wolf, 1991). What these theorists point out is that when women are needed in the
workforce (as during World War II) or fight their way into the workforce (as in recent
decades), body shape ideals for women become much smaller. When women remain at
home and tend to housewifely duties, body shape ideals become more rounded (as seen
with Marilyn Monroe). The continuing trend is toward an ever thinner, leaner,
increasingly muscular, androgynous ideal as women continue to fight for equality
supports this view .
Since the 1960s, a preference for slenderness has taken hold in other Western
industrialized nations as well. However, Fraser posits that due to a unique confluence of
social, economic, and political developments favoring the desire for thinness, "no other
culture suffers from the same wild anxieties about weight, dieting, and exercise as we do"
(Fraser, 1994). Sociologist Thompson goes so far as to say that for white young women
in Western cultures, "thinness may, in fact, be the most powerful marker used to judge
their physical attractiveness" (Thompson, 1994).
Brown continues that when body size and shape are crucial to social value, women
learn to focus on appearance. The result is that "policing and controlling appearance
becomes an imperative for achieving both inner satisfaction and social success" (Brown
and Jasper, 1993a). Women recognize that their body size affects how they are valued
and treated. One result is that self-esteem becomes deeply connected to body size and
shape. Women anticipate being continuously scrutinized and evaluated. They attempt to
have some control over the results by scrutinizing and altering themselves (Brown and
Women learn that looking good is a form of currency
As pointed out by Wolf, Brown, Bloom and others, since the shape of a woman's
body directly impacts how others relate to her, it is also directly connected with her
economic value in society (Bloom et al., 1994; Brown and Jasper, 1993a; Wolf, 1991).
Women easily learn that "looking good is a form of currency in the world and even as
more (predominantly white, middle-class) women are gaining social power, appearance
continues to play a role in women's social value far more than it ever has for men"
(Brown and Jasper, 1993a). So, even as women are becoming more successful in the
public world, they still find that the primary place they are given approval is in their ever-
increasing investment in their bodies "It is no wonder, then, that women learn to believe
they can change their lives by changing their bodies" (Brown and Jasper, 1993a).
The female body has the power to create and nurture life. Yet, too often, women
learn that their own appetites are to be controlled or denied rather than being
indulged and enjoyed as sources of pleasure. Eating has become a maj or area of
conflict for women as they are expected to provide physical sustenance and
nurturance to others but must deny themselves food, or police their own eating in
order to maintain the right body shape. Passionate, unrestrained eating is itself seen
as unfeminine or unattractive, while dieting and asceticism are acceptable and
encouraged. (Brown and Jasper, 1993a)
The result, to be explored later in this chapter, is that the body is often the arena
within which women unconsciously express conflict they feel in their lives (Brown and
Women attempt to gain control of their lives
Brown explains how it is that women come to believe they can gain control over
their lives by controlling their bodies:
By exerting control over their bodies, women hope to gain self-esteem and an
increased sense of power and control over their lives. Powerlessness and
dissatisfaction can be replaced by the self-satisfaction, social approval, and sense of
accomplishment won through weight and shape control. Women's bodies become
the arena for their expressions of discontent and protest. Focusing on "improving"
their bodies in order to feel better about themselves distracts them from the actual
sources of their discontent. As the expressions of protest become obscured, a
socially and politically generated problem becomes personalized. When women say
they feel better when they are thinner, they really mean it. They actually feel better
about themselves. Complex dissatisfactions are transformed by being shifted onto
the body. (Brown and Jasper, 1993a)
As Heenan explains, women's conscious and unconscious feelings about
themselves are split off and proj ected on to their bodies (Heenan, 1996). These issues are
then displaced into concerns about food, body, shape, and appetite. Unhappiness fades
and an uneasy well-being emerges as the body changes shape.
Bloom et al. expand on this theory. They posit that individuals and the culture use
restrictions in eating and body size as a metaphor for control. Eating and body image then
come to have additional meanings. By dieting, individuals learn to ignore and distrust
hunger and satiation, and become focused on body and body weight. Their relationship to
eating and the body becomes influenced by a culture that intrudes with ever-changing
advice. Because of this influence, Bloom et al. argue that eating and body image easily
become metaphors and ways to express myriad insecurities (Bloom et al., 1994).
Eating and body/weight concerns as forms of communication
These theorists posit that eating and body/weight concerns can be better understood
as complex ways in which certain groups of women are communicating to the world
(Lawrence, 1987) and that women are specifically communicating discontent with
society and their place in society (Bloom et al., 1994). Bloom et al. suggest that this
discontent is about "the need to, as women, ignore hunger and control appetite; conform
to body standards that require restrained eating; feed and nourish others while restricting
themselves" (Bloom et al., 1994). They posit that eating and body/weight concerns, as
well as eating disorders, have symbolic value and argue specifically that these behaviors
must be viewed as metaphorical expressions.4
4 Obviously, not all women use these behaviors to cope with a disordered society. Many minority women,
who arguably face an extremely disordered society, enjoy a large body size as well as having a healthy
relationship to food and eating. Increasingly, however, minority women are adopting the thin body
standards of the dominant culture and have been found to symbolically communicate through their eating
behaviors and body dissatisfaction. Thompson BW (1994) A Hunger So Wide and So Deep: American
Women Speak out on Eating Problems. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Psychological studies lend credibility to the concept that eating problems and
body/weight preoccupation are metaphors for expressing "individual and social
complaint" (Steiner-Adair, 1986). ("Individual and social complaint" is a term used by
Steiner-Adair that reflects women's dissatisfaction at their status in the world.) Feminist
psychiatrist Steiner-Adair (1986) shows that to accept this culture, literally and
uncritically, makes women sick. She found that girls who are unable to think critically,
and therefore do not question the superwoman myth, are at the highest risk for eating
problems. On the other hand, girls who are critical of the conflicted and unrealistic social
expectations and standards for women today are far less likely to have eating problems.
She views the body-conscious female as a symbol of a culture which does not support
female development or the value of relationships so essential to a woman or girl's life
and postulates that women must be seen as a "body politic instead of a body
pathological." Steiner-Adair's research suggests that girls with eating disorders have an
intuitive awareness of the dangerous imbalance of cultural values, more so than most
girls. Because of the culture's abject denial of this imbalance, and the girls inability to
articulate what they know is true, they tell the story with their bodies, with eating
These researchers believe, as do many psychotherapists, that eating problems and
body/weight preoccupation are an interface between the conscious and unconscious
mind. They also believe that eating problems and body/weight preoccupation reflect what
is going on in the unconscious mind (Bloom et al., 1994). Analyzing the verbal
expressions of these behaviors then reflects "what is going on in the unconscious mind."
Eating problems and body/weight preoccupation, which are typically approached and
treated as psychological issues, arise out of a particular social and cultural context.
Investigating them without considering that context, as orthodox approaches do,
functions to pathologize women (Lawrence, 1987).
Clinical practice reflects these findings. Many clinicians successfully treat clients
with eating problems and body/weight preoccupation with the focus that eating problems
and body/weight preoccupation are symbolic of other issues (Bloom et al., 1994; Costin,
1996; Orbach, 1985; Orbach, 1986). Through the process of in-depth inquiry, they begin
to decipher the meaning behind the eating problems. Clinicians are then better able to
communicate with their clients, better able to understand the presenting issues, and better
able to help clients make changes.
Thompson (1994) conducted life-history interviews to examine how minority
women interpreted the meaning of and reasons behind their eating patterns (p. 21). Her
conclusions paralleled those of the psychoanalytic theorists. She studied African-
American, Latina, and lesbian women, concluding that starving, binge eating and purging
behaviors are ways of coping with society's own disorders, as well as "logical, creative
responses to trauma" (p. 2). She argues that eating problems begin as survival strategies
in response to many social injustices. She explores how public and medical perceptions
of health and disease contain "metaphors created to explain, engage with, and sometimes
dismiss illness" (p. 2):
Ultimately, more troubling than what the reliance on the ideal of thinness reveals
about health research is what it may signal about United States society in general: it
speaks to a social inability to openly confront and deal with injustice. In a country
brimming with glorified images of youth, whiteness, thinness, and wealth, it makes
painful sense that dissatisfaction with appearance often serves as a stand-in for
topics that are still invisible. In fact, it is hard to imagine what the world might be
like if people were able to talk about trauma and the ways they cope with it with the
same ease as they talk about dissatisfaction with their weight and appearance.
Thompson is clear that eating problems do not necessarily follow trauma, or more
precisely, that "different exposure to trauma may distinguish a young girl who constantly
worries about her weight from a woman for whom bulimia is the centerpiece of her day"
(Thornberry et al., 1986). Her research shows that discomfort with weight, bodies, and
appetite are often metaphors that girls and women use to speak about trauma. If the work
of Bloom et al. (1994) is considered in this analysis, "trauma" can be extended to refer to
the experience women have in a world that obj ectifies them and requires that they change
to be acceptable. They put forth a convincing argument that the pervasive requirement to
diet is experienced as traumatic (Bloom et al., 1994).
Other sociological researchers lend credence to works discussed in this literature
review. Though not specifically interpreting women's relationship with food, Sobal and
Maurer (1999a; 1999b) have edited two books that examine body weight as a social
problem and the social management of fatness and thinness. They explore the many ways
people negotiate weight identities, reinterpret weight, and become involved in weight-
related organizations, and argue that issues transcend the biomedical model typically used
to consider weight issues.
Anthropologists have been looking for meaning behind eating and food-related
behaviors since the rise of structuralism. Anthropologists have studied food, food rules,
and food ways to reveal cultural ideologies and to explain such things as cultural
constructions of gender, class, nature, religion, morality, health, and the social order
(Barthes, 1975; Caplan, 1997; Douglas, 1966; Douglas, 1975; Douglas, 1992; Levi-
Strauss, 1965; Levi-Strauss, 1970). Caplan (1997) states that food is like language. It has
meaning that will shift according to contexts of time and place depending on with whom
they are communicating. She believes that the study of food reveals our social and
cultural selves, as well as our individual subj activities. Foreshadowing this research
proj ect, Caplan posits that a search for meaning can be reached through the use of
metaphor, metonymy, and symbol. However, little attention has been paid to the analysis
of women' s relationship with food and body in the United States even as research shows
that a vast maj ority of women in the US have altered their food intake, and attempted to
alter their body size and/or have expressed dissatisfaction with their bodies, as well as
concern about the regulation of their food intake. Especially interesting is that most
consider these behaviors normal. In fact, anthropological studies show that these
behaviors are part of the social construction of femininity.
Cultural ideologies present in food rules and food ways
Race, class, and gender distinctions are manifest through rules about eating and the
ability to impose rules on others. The dominant culture in America proj ects a belief that
thinness connotes control, power, wealth, competence, success and beauty (Bloom et al.,
1994; Brown and Jasper, 1993a; Coulston, 1998; Wolf, 1991). Not surprisingly, standards
are stricter for women than for men, which means more women fall outside prescribed
norms and feel less valued. Further, obesity for women varies directly with class status
and ethnicity. The standard of thinness upholds a class structure as well as a gender
power structure. Counihan (1999) compares the attitudes toward food and body of men
and women in the United States to those prevailing in other times and places. The
comparison reveals in stark outline how male power and female subordination are
reproduced through food and body beliefs and practices.
Counihan's extensive work explores how, in Western cultures, eating habits and
attitudes toward food are channels for expressing male dominance and female
subordination. Women are supposed to have slender bodies, eat little, and provide food
for others, especially men. Men are supposed to have powerful bodies, eat heartily, and
be served food. These different stances toward food and the body reveal different
attitudes toward the self. Women's sometimes servile role around food and their concern
with restrictive eating and thinness reveal an insecurity about being women and a sense
of powerlessness and subordination, whereas men's attitudes reveal a sense of self-
confidence and entitlement (Counihan, 1999).
More recently, Counihan (1999) studied children to determine if gender identity
could be seen though food themes in their fantasy stories. She argues, "Feeding and the
ideas and values communicated through food ought to be important in children's
development of gender identity because of food' s social and symbolic significance" (p.
130). While she found no absolute differences in the use of food themes in stories, she
noted that girls more often use food symbols for "parental identification through food
tasks and feeding," while boys more often use them for "aggression and violence through
images of devouring" (p. 154). She concludes that these children can use food to gain
power. Interestingly, girls had a more secure relationship to food while boys expressed
through the symbolic use of food both a greater sense of abandonment and "greater
frustration of their dependency needs and less ability to satisfy them by themselves" (p.
152). That a girl's relationship to food becomes a source of disempowerment and
insecurity as she matures is a question that needs to be addressed.
People select for worry those risks that reinforce social solidarity
Some anthropologists have situated the body as semiotic, showing how the body
functions as both a "transmitter" and "receiver" of information which is, in turn, a
function of the positioning of the individual in society (Lock, 1993:136). The Nichters
(1991) posit that the American slimness ideal is related to values of control and release
embedded in capitalist ideology, and show possibilities for individual resistance to this
ideology. Reinforcing psychoanalytic theory, Mary Douglas argues that health concerns
cannot be taken only at face value, that people will select for worry those risks that help
to reinforce the social solidarity of their institutions (Douglas and Wildaysky, 1982).
Rejecting Cultural Mandates to Lose Weight
Women who continue to monitor their food and body are viewed as making the
effort to improve themselves, "take care" of themselves, not "let themselves go," etc.
Abandoning this effort is often associated with letting oneself go, not caring about the
self, potentially feeling defeated, depressed, and helpless. Most people do feel better
when engaging in culturally appropriate behavior. However, (Burgard, 1991) found that
those who quit trying to lose weight had higher levels of psychological health and well-
being than those who continued to attempt to lose weight, even though they weighed
between 200 and 480 pounds. Other research has shown that social avoidance and stress
are related to a person's perception of being overweight, but not to their actual body
weight (Haemmerlie et al., 1988). In other words, thin people who believe they are
overweight are more distressed than obese persons who are relatively unconcerned about
Burgard (1991) undertook an extensive study of women who weighed between 200
and 480 pounds. She found that those who had quit trying to lose weight showed a strong
positive correlation with higher levels of self-esteem, perceived self-control, and body-
size acceptance. Those who had quit trying to lose weight were more accepting of their
bodies, "have higher self-esteem, a stronger sense of self-control overall but a belief in
external factors determining their weight, a greater sense of physical well-being, and
more social support" (Burgard, 1991:82). Their personalities were apparently quite
different from those who intended to lose weight. Those with no intention to lose "are
more self-confident, dominant, psychological-minded, sociable, exhibitionistic, and
creative, and less shameful and deferential" (Burgard, 1991:82). Those with low body
acceptance who intended to lose weight believed their weight was mostly under their
control, had more health concerns, a higher need for self-control (but lower perceived
self-control), a higher need for body acceptance (but lower acceptance), and a higher
need for abasement. Burgard argues that "perhaps it is the feeling that one's body is
unacceptable (a source of distress for women of all sizes in the present culture) that
should be the focus of treatment" (Burgard, 1991:23).
Burgard' s subj ects were almost unanimous in describing the difficulties of living as
fat women in this culture: the daily assaults on self-esteem, the feelings of not fitting in,
of being seen not as individuals but only as fat bodies. The difference in the results of the
two groups in her study, she suggests, may lie in a difference in coping styles: one group
of subj ects tries to change their bodies to avoid this "fate," and the other tries to change
their attitudes toward their bodies. She questions whether those women with stronger
coping skills are more likely to accept their bodies, or does the process of acceptance
raise their self-esteem, perceived self-control, and physical well being. Hopefully further
research will shed some light on this question.
Did these underlying personality differences cause these women to either fall into
the group that intended to lose weight or the group that had quit trying to lose weight? Or
did these personality differences develop sometime after shifting into one or the other
group? Respondents in Burgard's study revealed that "there was a time when the high
acceptance, low intention subjects would have looked more like the low acceptance, high
intention subjects" (Burgard, 1991:94). It appears that each woman needed to move
through a process that enabled her to cease feeling shameful and to begin to assertively
defend her right not to have to lose weight.5
Other research has shown that social avoidance and stress are related to a person's
perception of being overweight, but not to their actual body weight (Haemmerlie et al.,
1988). In other words, thin people who believe they are overweight are more distressed
than obese persons who are relatively unconcerned about their weight.
As previously mentioned, anthropologists Ritenbaugh and Cassidy both note
increased distress in adolescents when they are identified by authorities as being "too
fat," suggesting that identifying fatness and prescribing solutions to that can be viewed as
an "acculturation model" (Cassidy, 1991; Ritenbaugh, 1982:359). The adolescents feel
worse about themselves when they realize they have a disease. They did not lose weight
but became more depressed after realizing they had a medical condition called obesity,
which needed treatment.
Insisting a person's fatness is a problem can cause depression in that individual.
Women who intend to lose weight have lower self-esteem and less sense of control over
their lives. But consider research that shows that esteem improves with weight loss? It
SBurgard did not query her subjects about their health status.
makes sense that when a person conforms to societal dictates, she or he will feel more
accepted by society and hence feel better. Although many cite this as a reason to
recommend monitoring food and body, doing so requires ignoring the 95 % to 98%
failure rate of dieting. When 95 out of every 100 who lose weight regain it, and many put
on extra pounds for their effort, using weight loss to improve self-esteem just does not
make sense. Compounding this problem is the fact that many who do lose weight do not
feel better, and, in fact, believe that if they just lost a bit more, they will then feel better.
(Bloom et al., 1994; Hirschmann and Munter, 1996).
It has been shown that accepting or liking one's body can have a significant
positive impact on an individual. It appears, also, that the size of one' s body does not
impact this result, as shown by Burgard, who found that women who weighed almost 500
pounds were not different in their ability to accept their bodies from women at 280. These
findings, that women who have given up the attempt to lose weight report feeling better
overall, goes against generally accepted beliefs in this culture, that is, that in order to be
happy and content, people need to conform to recommended standards.
In this section of the literature review, I briefly discussed the traditional approaches
to weight and health and an alternative offered. I raised the point that the focus on
reducing body fat may be targeted against women in particular. Women have attempted
to conform to these ideals though not without ramifications, not the least of which is
eating problems and body/weight preoccupation. I discussed various theories of what
these eating problems and body/weight preoccupation were about. In the next section, I
will be reviewing the literature regarding metaphor and cultural models that will support
the work of my study.
Cognitive Anthropology and Use of Metaphor
I will present in this section the prototype theory and how it gave rise to schema
theory, as well as cultural models and look at the history and theory of metaphor.
Anthropologists have contributed to the study of the mind throughout the past
century, most specifically through the discipline of cognitive anthropology, the "study of
the relation between human society and human thought" (D'Andrade, 1995:1).
D'Andrade gives a historical account of the growth and development of cognitive
anthropology in 7he Development of Cognitive Anthropology. He recounts that
knowledge structures early in the history of cognitive anthropology were thought to
consist of paradigms and taxonomies, which in turn consisted of conceptual nodes
defined by etic features in emic combinations. At least one feature was shared by all
conceptual nodes thus constituting the integrity of the domain of analysis. By the mid-
1970s, a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, linguistics, and psychology, noted
that human cognition was more complex than what had been previously posited in
theories to date. The name "schema" was given to this complex structure, though various
names have been used, including frame, scene, scenario, and script (D'Andrade,
Most research on the concept of schema arises from the work of cognitive linguist
Fillmore (1975). He argued that definitions of words based on a feature checklist, such as
defining bachelor as an "unmarried man," are grossly inadequate since, in the classic
example, this does not take into account why a Pope would not be referred to as a
bachelor. Fillmore made the case that to truly understand the term bachelor, one must
also understand the simplified world on which the term is predicated. "One piece of
evidence for this view is that when a term is used in a context which does not fit this
simplified world, the result is a semantic anomaly" (D'Andrade, 1992a:47). Fillmore
questions how old can a man be and still be considered a bachelor and is someone who is
professionally committed to remain single a bachelor? (Fillmore, 1975:128-129).
Using prototype theory, Fillmore explained that the term "bachelor" is understood
in the context of a simple world in which a man becomes eligible to marry and is
expected to do so around a certain age. The expectation is that he would stay married for
life. If for some reason he did not marry at this age, he is called a bachelor (Fillmore,
1975:128-129). The Pope does not fit this prototype world of marriage practices that
bachelor invokes and therefore would not be considered a bachelor even though he is an
unmarried man. Fillmore's theory directly challenged the semantic theory that had
governed the comparative study of kin terms, address terms, and ethnobiological terms
with which cognitive anthropology had been concerned (D'Andrade, 1995).
Quinn was concerned that "cognitive anthropologists who subscribed to this theory
of word meaning often spoke (and some still do) as if the meaning derived from contrasts
among words subsumed all of cultural knowledge" (Quinn, unpublished:7). She found
the idea of these prototype worlds enticing, believing that they would be a construct that
could "capture the complexity of cultural meaning" (Quinn, unpublished:5). Quinn and
other cognitive anthropologists began to "borrow schema theory to reconceptualize
cultural understandings in its terms" (Quinn, unpublished:5).
"The essence of schema theory in the cognitive sciences is that in large measure
information processing is mediated by learned or innate mental structures that organize
related pieces of our knowledge" (Strauss and Quinn, 1997:49). Schemas "are not distinct
things but rather collections of elements that work together to process information at a
given time" (Strauss and Quinn, 1997:49). Strauss notes that many schemas are cultural
because they are shared with people who have had similar experiences, but not with all
people. Schemas are also called cultural models, especially when they are more complex
(D'Andrade, 1995; Strauss and Quinn, 1997).
Fillmore notes how large sets of terms can be based on one underlying schema.
This is the case with the schema of commercial event in which a buyer gives money to a
seller in exchange for some obj ect. One must understand this schema to understand
words such as buy, sell, lease, charge, tip, refund, tuition, salary, etc. Research on how
understanding a schema is necessary to comprehend word meaning has been undertaken
by Hutchins (1987), Sweetser (1987), Kay (1987), D'Andrade (1987) and others.
Quinn further clarifies that a schema is built up from experience and stored in
memory; it is generic, a cumulative outcome of successive experiences that are alike.
"Although schemas can change, those built on repeated experiences of a similar sort
become relatively stable, influencing our interpretations of subsequent experiences more
than they are altered by them. To the degree that people share experiences, they will end
up sharing the same schemas. They will have, for example, the same culture (or
subculture). The social world is constructed in just such a way that many of our
experiences--the language we speak, for example, or the way we are brought up as
children, or the built environment we inhabit--are indeed shared" (Quinn, unpublished:6).
Quinn's premise is that many of our schemas are cultural ones.
Keller (1992) states that, in general, schemas are organizations of knowledge which
have three defining properties:
* Simplify experience
* Facilitate inference
* Are partially invoked by and constitutive of goals
"Schemas sometimes reconstruct our memories of past events, determine the
meanings we impart to ongoing experience, and give us expectations for the future.
Schemas also fill in missing or ambiguous information .. ." (Strauss and Quinn,
1997:49). Strauss suggests that the idea of schema can be called to mind by considering
everything that can be left unsaid in a particular conversation because the speakers
assume that others share their schemas. She claims that without partially shared schemas,
social interaction would be exceedingly cumbersome, even impossible. Schemas can be
both positive and negative; for instance, a negative stereotype is a type of schema that can
have an adverse impact upon our interpretation of the present or anticipation of the future
(Strauss and Quinn, 1997).
Schemas can include words, but are hardly limited to these. They can include
experience of all kinds: unlabeled as well as labeled; inarticulate, as well as well-
theorized; felt, as well as cognized. Schemas, in short, can be as various and complex as
the experience from which they are derived. The same is true, of course, for cultural
schemas, which do not differ from other schemas except that they are built up from
Cultural models are socially constructed (learned and internalized) cognitive
schemas of feelings and thoughts that mediate the interpretation of ongoing experiences
and the reconstruction of memory (Strauss, 1992). These models are widely shared
among specific social and cultural groups. They depict prototypical events in a simplified
word, which we take to be normal events (D'Andrade, 1995). Because of this, cultural
models are highly motivating. This motivational force is the result of the "authority and
expertise with which cultural models may be invested, as well as their intrinsic
persuasiveness" (Quinn and Holland, 1987:9). Others' research support these conclusions
(Hutchins, 1987; Linde, 1987; Price, 1987).
Cultural models are compelling in a way that does not depend on what the experts
say and often seems highly resistant to revision in the face of apparent
contradiction. Largely tacit and unexamined, the models embed a view of 'what is'
and 'what it means' that seems wholly natural--a matter of course. Alternative
views are not even recognized, let alone considered. But more than naturalness,
these cultural models grant a seeming necessity to how we ourselves live our lives.
(Quinn and Holland, 1987:11)
Directive force of cultural models
The directive force of cultural models relates to what we accept as the typical and
normal way of life, which is based on the lives of those around us. Our lives are
confirmed by the beliefs and actions of other people. But there is more to the force of
cultural models than people's "conformity to the dictums popular in their time" (Quinn
and Holland, 1987). Quinn and Holland (1987) explore the work of D'Andrade (1984)
and Spiro (1961) looking at how socially required behavior comes to be inherently
motivating for individuals. For the behavior to be inherently motivating, it must satisfy
some culturally defined need or realize some strongly held cultural norm or value. A
person finds achieving a culturally prescribed goal or following cultural directives to be
motivationally satisfying. To not do so produces anxiety (Spiro, 1961). The result is that
the directive force of the cultural model is experienced by the person as a need or an
obligation to do something (D'Andrade, 1984).
As an example of the directive force of cultural models, Quinn and Holland (1987)
look at D'Andrade's (1984) work on the cultural meaning of success for Americans.
D'Andrade found that accomplishment may be rewarding because it helps a person meet
needs for personal recognition and achievement (both culturally shaped), and
accomplishment has therefore become valued in its own right. This contributes to an
understanding of success. Quinn and Holland quote D'Andrade (1984):
[For] this inner motivation to be successful, .. and social pressure toward
conformity with the image and the life-style that mark success, together and in
interaction overdetermine the motivational component of this cultural meaning
system. .. perhaps what is surprising is that anyone can resist the directive force
of such a system. (Quinn and Holland, 1987: 12)
Most Americans are interested in achieving success, even though what we consider
to be success is, for most of us, unattainable. Nonetheless, the understandings of success
have directive force and become "closely bound up with the sense individuals have of
themselves and the sense they make out of their lives" (Quinn and Holland, 1987: 12).
Quinn and Holland argue that cultural models "organize what are, literally, vital
understandings" (Quinn and Holland, 1987) which serve to guide, orient and direct
individuals (D'Andrade, 1984).
Ideological force of cultural models
Quinn and Holland (1987) discuss the ideological force of some of these models
and their use as instruments of ideological hegemony using the work of Spiro (1961).
Social life depends on the juxtaposition of what is socially required and what is
individually desired. Those who are in power in a given society and those who stand to
benefit from this control over others are dependent upon the willingness of the people to
conform. "Therefore, states and other agencies promulgate ideology persuading people to
do what they otherwise might question or resist doing" (Quinn and Holland, 1987:13)
though they are not always effective.
To be successful, ideologies must appeal to and activate preexisting cultural
understandings, which are themselves compelling. Even though ideologues may
mold and adapt cultural models to their own devices, and often show a great deal of
genius for doing so, they do not create these cultural ideas de novo, nor are they
able to guarantee the power of any given cultural model to grip us. (Quinn and
Quinn and Holland also argue that to be convincing, an ideology must pose as
either legitimate or inevitable. They use the words of Lewontin et al. (1984), "If what
exists is right, then one ought not to oppose it; if it exists inevitably, one can never
oppose it successfully." Quinn and Holland summarize that views of what is "right and
what is inevitable are largely given by cultural models of the world" (Quinn and Holland,
No one person has the entire cultural model or an entire series of cultural models in
her or his head (Bialostok, 1999:47). Cultural models of anything are distributed in
context and become available among the group so that they can ultimately be shared.
However, no two people share all the culture of the group. Rather, each person carries
with her or him a bit of the model and can ultimately share the information to understand
the entire picture. Schema theory is often considered to be exclusively mental structures
inside the head. Bialostok (1999) notes cultural models do not simply happen in the head;
they are enacted as a social practice in the social world between people.
History and Theory of Metaphor
"Metaphor is the cognitive mechanism whereby one experiential domain is
partially 'mapped', i.e. projected, onto a different experiential domain, so that the second
domain is partially understood in terms of the first one" (Barcelona, 2000:3). In
metaphoric language, a topic is transformed by viewing it in terms of something quite
different. Scholars of the classical tradition, Aristotle being one of the earliest and most
influential, considered metaphor's function to be illustrative or ornamental. Modern
theorists of metaphor however, believe that metaphor' s role in communication is much
more important than the classically held views. This review of the literature on metaphor
will provide insights into these various theories.
Aristotle praised metaphor as a mark of genius. He presented a comparison theory
of metaphor in which every metaphor compares two things, one of which is designated
by a word or phrase used literally and the other of which is designated by a word or
phrase used metaphorically (Gibbs, 1994). Aristotle's comparison theory is known as the
"substitution theory" because he believed that a metaphor is really a substitution for a
simile. A metaphor was simply a simile without the "like" or "as."
Metaphor reflective of language, but not thought
According to Aristotle's classical theory of language, the basis of metaphor is
linguistic, not cognitive (Lakoff, 1993). Metaphor was viewed as reflective of language,
but not thought. "Metaphorical expressions were assumed to be mutually exclusive with
the realm of ordinary everyday language: everyday language had no metaphor, and
metaphor used mechanisms outside the realm of everyday conventional language
(Lakoff, 1993:202). Metaphors were considered no more than adorned speech and were
certainly not considered essential to the cognitive meaning of everyday language.
Lakoff (1993) noted that Aristotle's theory was not only accepted as truth for
centuries, but it also became definitional. 'Metaphor' was defined as a "novel or poetic
linguistic expression where one or more words for a concept are used outside of their
normal conventional meaning to express a 'similar concept'" (Lakoff, 1993:202).
For centuries, metaphor was thus considered a matter of style, not of cognition.
Philosophers such as Locke vehemently dismissed metaphor, claiming that speakers