Date of Award


Publication Type


Degree Name



Sociology and Anthropology

First Advisor

J. Ferguson

Second Advisor

M.L. Dietz

Third Advisor

D. Moriarty


Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are studied from the perspective of symbolic interactionist "self" theory, and a model is developed suggesting components in the process of the breakdown of the looking glass self. The process is based in characteristic views toward the self and others. These views include the primacy of appearance in self-appraisal, coupled with low self-esteem and negative views of the subject's body; conformist (oversocialized) attitudes toward achievement, roles, social groups, gender relations, families; and, a high degree of importance in the perceived negative judgements of others.

Significant objects in the individuals' lives hold negative meanings related to body and self-esteem. These are mirrors, food, fat, scales and clothing. These eventually become central foci in their lives as an extensive "secret life'' develops, and identity as eating disordered is established. This identity involves a sense of "we-ness" anorexics and bulimics, and an interest in articulating views on causation and solutions. The critical point in defining oneself as eating disordered coincides with a sense of loss of control over the eating disordered behaviour. She may describe herself as "addicted."

As the individual repeatedly disordered thoughts and behaviours engages in eating (bingeing, purging, overexercising, self-starvation, strategies containment), the social self becomes increasingly fragmented. The drive for by discrepancies in disconnections in the self/eating disorder). self-definition is complicated self-image, and later by (mind/body, self/world, self The self-breakdown process perpetuates and is complicated by physical deterioration. It negatively impinges in all aspects of day to day life. Eventually the self is reflected more through the significant objects than through people, and the looking glass self cannot function in a stable way.

Data was collected primarily through focussed interviews with eleven females and participant observation in two settings three consecutive summer camps for eating disordered .women (BANA-Can/Am, Windsor, Ontario), and an eating disorders treatment unit a Detroit, Michigan hospital.