Psychological Mastery

This discourse category includes four separate discourse pairs expressed as opposites: healthy self versus unknown self, known body versus intuited body, personal responsibility versus limits to agency, and disciplined versus undisciplined.

Participants expressed their awareness of a number of negative emotional states associated with FWS concerns, including irritation, frustration, anxiety, shock, discouragement, jealousy, and disgust. References to positive emotions such as happiness were rare and associated with weight loss or body satisfaction. At times, there was a great deal of passion associated with the expression of emotions, particularly anger and disgust. The following quote contains an example of the self awareness aspect of the healthy self discourse. In it, Tess uses the word “gross” several times to convey her disgust at the extremely thin bodies of her peers in dance class. This is an example of a healthy self:

“Like, I’ve danced with some other kids who are like, very skinny. And it was gross because there was a girl in my dance class who like … her knee-bone like popped out of her leg- it’s just gross and I don’t think it makes them look pretty, I think it makes them look gross. Even if they’re so skinny and I look at them and be like oh I’d die for their body but then when you see them in white tights and a body-suit it’s like, oooh, they’re like so skinny it’s not even normal. It’s like … at camp, my … there was a couple of kids who were really skinny and then, my counselor who was like incredibly skinny, it’s disgusting. She … like fit into my jeans and they were even big on her. She’s like 2 sizes smaller than me and she’s like 19 or 20 so it’s gross, it’s not even normal. [Yeah. So when you see them, you wouldn’t feel inadequate about your own body] Well I would, I’d be like, well I want to be like skinny or something but … then it would just be like …that’s gross, …she’s like 6 years older than me and she’s skinnier than me, that’s not normal.” (Tess).

Participants also communicated self awareness of various triggers for feeling dissatisfied with their bodies, including shopping, stress, fashion magazines and television, critical comments from parents, their work environment, going swimming, acne, being with others who are thin, and being with peers who are very invested in appearance. In the following quotation this young woman demonstrates her awareness of not eating properly and the social pressure to be perfect:

“If you don’t eat, you start going crazy, because you don’t have your whole balance. You don’t have any nutrition, your whole judgment starts going askew, you get overly emotional… it’s really … bad. My friend was suicidal … ish … the girl who was anorexic. She cut her wrists. But she has other issues too. A lot of it is control issues …perfection issues is a huge, huge one, amongst my friends at least. We all try to be perfect in every way. It’s really … stupid, but we still do it.” (Madeline)

Healthy self-esteem is one component of psychological mastery. In the following quotation this young woman describes her way of coping with the pressure to be thin and her self-esteem:

“Yeah, I’d be jealous of like a friend, ‘Oh, she’s prettier than me. Maybe if I cut my hair like her I’ll look like her,’ and stuff like that. [How old were you when you were thinking that?] Oh, about 8 or 9. But then you grow out of it as you get older, you realize, well, I’ll never be that person, I’m going to be me forever, so … I’ve got to learn to love me. I’ve accepted myself and who I am.” (Anita)

There are two ways of acquiring knowledge about FWS concerns which are represented in the sample. The first is the known body which refers to knowledge acquired outside the self; and the second is the intuited body which refers to knowledge acquired through knowing what your body needs. The following quotation illustrates an example of the known body:

“When I visited my stepmother in Hong Kong, she was, oh my God! She always like monitored, she always talked to me about it, like, oh, you’ve lost weight! That’s great! Or, oh, you’ve put on weight or… She’s so Chinese in that sense, she’s so – like, blatantly insensitive. After she got pregnant she lost so much weight. She had these stupid tricks that you did, like after you eat you have to stand up for five minutes, something about the way your food digests in your stomach.[Hm.] I don’t know why. Like if you sit, then it all digests like this or something. If you stand, she’s like, your stomach molds into that shape. I don’t remember, it was really weird. I was like, okay. And then this other guy I remember in a restaurant, this man stood up and I was like, why is he standing up? He was like, I don’t want to get fat! [voices overlap] It was really weird. Well, she did that. She lost a lot of weight after her pregnancy” (Madeline).

On the other hand, the following participant describes the intuited body as she understands that she uses food for comfort:

“But if I’m going through – I don’t know, family problems or friends or school, like a big problem, boyfriend problems, things like that –[Yeah.] I will just automatically eat, for comfort. Food is like comfort to me. I know it sounds sick but it’s not even like good food, it’s like trash. Like ice cream, cheesecake, stuff like that. It makes me feel better for some reason. So then I gain the weight and then I feel bad about myself. So it’s kind of like you can’t win.” (Louise)

Many participants stated that it was their personal responsibility to change their bodies if they were not satisfied with it. The following quotation is one young woman’s description of her sense of responsibility for personal improvement:

“Maybe because I’ve accepted it more. I mean I don’t necessarily think about it probably because it’s just … part of who I am, kind of thing. And if anything’s going to happen about it I’m going to have to do it myself, and it’s not going to be magic, it’s going to be something that I need to work at or with, and when I’m ready to I will. And … it’ll be the right way. So….it’s not something that I need to worry about because I know it’ll eventually happen.” (Sandy)

Discipline is highly valued by the young women. In the following quotation, this young woman describes her mother’s dieting pattern with seeming admiration:

“The odd time my mom will be …like after a family function or something, after we eat so much she’ll say ‘I’m starting this diet, I’m going to go on the diet for a week’. Like that, but … it’s not a strict diet, it’s just a diet so she feels better about herself, so she just like says,’OK, I feel better, I dieted this week so, I can eat again next week or diet again next week,’ but it’s not … they’re not like diets like …you can’t eat this, you can’t eat that, it’s just like … smaller portions. So it makes her feel better.” (Joyce)