Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Communications and Arts

Faculty

Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr Ffion Murphy

Second Advisor

Dr Marcella Polain

Abstract

This thesis explores anorexia nervosa in young people. It comprises two components: a play script, "Frames", about 16-year-old Elizabeth who is combating the disorder, her troubled friend Ben, and their families, and a critical essay that reviews qualitative and quantitative literature about anorexia and contextualises the play in relation to selected narratives, plays and films. In my field research, I interviewed a number of professionals working in the field of anorexia and the essay also discusses their views and insights.

Few plays deal with anorexia in an in-depth manner to explore the onset and development of the illness. "Frames" addresses a gap in the literature by focusing on some predisposing factors that may lead to anorexia. It depicts the emergence of the condition in a middle-class Australian teenager living in affluent circumstances because research suggests a higher-than-average incidence of anorexia in this cohort. The play's structure is based on the concept of frames of experience and of perception to suggest that these influence people's lives, often without their awareness and to their detriment. Throughout the play, a series of frames is used to represent different times and situations, with each one encapsulating a significant event or moment in Elizabeth's life. For instance, the first frame represents Elizabeth at age 10, while the second frame signifies her family's perspective. The play suggests that changing our perceptual frame might help us change our lives.

I argue that theatre, given its performative aspect, is an appropriate vehicle to illustrate the identity conflicts that characterise anorexia. Different aspects of Elizabeth's identity are presented through the many derivatives of her name, including Lizzie, Beth and Eliza. The theatrical form also allows the dramatisation of significant relationships and their impact upon her life.

The primary focus of the thesis is the aetiology of anorexia and, in particular, the multi-factorial approaches suggested by the research literature. Many theories have been put forward to explain the disorder and are discussed in the essay, including medical, psychological, sociocultural, feminist and philosophical theories. The primary approach is psychological, as "Frames" focuses on family and personality factors precipitating Elizabeth’s crisis, together with a therapeutic intervention. However, sociocultural and philosophical values clearly impact on anorexia. The slender beauty ideal, the importance of appearance for societal success, and dualistic thinking that privileges mind over body and figures woman as body all play significant parts in the proliferation of eating disorders.

Comments

Framing anorexia includes a critical essay and a playscript. The playscript appears after page 195 of the critical essay.

Framing Anorexia - critical essay.pdf (931 kB)
Critical essay

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