The Anorexic Self

A Personal, Political Analysis of a Diagnostic Discourse

By Paula Saukko

Subjects: Cultural Studies, Feminist, Psychology, Sociology, Sociology Of Women
Paperback : 9780791474624, 142 pages, May 2008
Hardcover : 9780791474617, 142 pages, May 2008

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Table of contents

1. Introduction: Interrogating the Anorexic Self
2. Rereading the Stories That Became Me: An Autoethnography
3. Fat Boys and Goody Girls: Hilde Bruch’s Work on Eating Disorders and the American Ideal of Freedom
4. From Autonomy to Flexibility: New Discourses on Karen Carpenter and Princess Diana
5. Voices and Discourses: Layering Interviews on Eating Disorders
6. From Time-Based Diagnosis to Space-Based Critical Reflection

Critically examines diagnostic and popular discourses on eating disorders.


Traditionally, women's eating disorders are thought to be strongly influenced by media images idealizing a normative thin female body. Taking a different approach, The Anorexic Self critically examines diagnostic and popular discourses on anorexia that construct narrow and ideal notions of the female self. Paula Saukko analyzes the personal and political implications of discourses on the anorexic self in multiple contexts, including her own experience of being diagnosed anorexic; psychiatrist Hilde Bruch's postwar research on anorexia; and media coverage of Karen Carpenter, Princess Diana, and other women with eating disorders. Saukko traces the history of the discourses from postwar idealization of masculine autonomy to postindustrial valorization of feminine flexibility, and also explores their politically progressive and psychologically healing—as well as sexist and humiliating—dimensions. Drawing on narrative therapy, dialogic theory, and multisited ethnography, The Anorexic Self cultivates a less judgmental and more self-reflexive way of relating to ourselves, others, and societies in which we live.

Paula Saukko is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Loughborough University and the author of Doing Research in Cultural Studies: An Introduction to Classical and New Methodological Approaches.


"…Saukko's book is self-consciously multiperspectival (but not relativistic); it is an innovative approach to unsettling static views of anorexia that represent those who are diagnosed with it as victims of illness or of sexist social systems … Saukko wants to move beyond simply discerning patterns across her research material … This approach is refreshing in its refusal to fix anorexia's meaning." — Signs

"Saukko's passionate and engaging writing style makes this a compelling text, and some of the arguments found within it are fresh and inspiring … The Anorexic Self is an invigorating and insightful book that offers a useful contribution to the academic literature on eating disorders." — Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

"…very interesting … The book has clearly reached its goal: understanding the moral and political complexity of an experience without stigmatizing it." — Metapsychology

"The autobiographical portions of the book powerfully convey the author's personal experience with anorexia. This book represents a significant contribution to feminist social scientific work on eating disorders." — Helen Malson, author of The Thin Woman: Feminism, Post-Structuralism, and the Social Psychology of Anorexia Nervosa

"By identifying the interrelations between the personal and the political, Saukko creates an exciting and challenging intellectual context within which to think about anorexia." — Julie Hepworth, author of The Social Construction of Anorexia Nervosa