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Health & Social Theory Seminar: 11 November (2-3PM) Rm113 in 32 Old Elvet, Durham University

Post by Hester Hockin-Boyers

On the 11th of November, my colleague (and wonderful supervisor) Kim Jamie and I will each be presenting papers on (1) ‘transformation photos’ and (2) young mothers and everyday stigma.


This event will kick off the first of many health-group staff/postgraduate research seminars, which aim to bring together students and researchers with an interest in health to learn about some of the emerging work being undertaken within the group.


BACKGROUND:

For me and my doctoral research, this seminar is an opportunity to collect some much needed feedback on a paper I’ve been writing for a journal special issue. As a postgraduate student, it can sometimes feel like you and your supervisors are in a cosy little echo chamber -- protected from tricky alternative frameworks and challenges to your carefully assembled arguments! And aside from the 9-month review (and eventually Viva- eek!), there can be very few opportunities to get external feedback throughout the PhD. So, this is an opportunity for me to make good use of the departmental ‘hive mind’ and shape some writing that’s in its early stages.


The paper I will be presenting focuses in on a digital artefact that I came across time and time again during my PhD research -- transformation photos. Transformation photos exist in a multiplicity of forms, however they are typically recognisable according to a specific set of shared traits. In principle, transformation photos are two images (from different time points) set alongside one another to represent the changing of bodies in look, shape or size. Images that exist in this format are used in a variety of contexts, for example, to show changes in bodies as a result of weight loss, surgery, makeovers/aesthetic improvements, pregnancy and so on.


For the purposes of my research project, I focus specifically on transformation photos that depict the use of weightlifting as a strategy for recovery from eating disorders. These images are prevalent within eating disorder (ED) recovery and fitness spaces on Instagram and typically display an individual’s recovery journey through a before (thin) and after (more muscular) image comparison.


In this presentation, I draw attention to the specific socio-cultural moment in which these images have captured popular public imaginings, and in particular, consider what these images communicate in relation to our understandings of health and embodiment. Here, I focus on two key cultural appetites; 1) neoliberalism and the makeover paradigm, 2) survivorship and resilience discourses.


EVENT TIME AND PLACE:

Please do come along to room 113 (32 Old Elvet) 2-3pm on the 11th of November in the Sociology Department at Durham University to hear my musings on transformation photos and Kim Jamie’s fascinating and important research on young mothers, everyday stigma and the ethical challenge of ‘borrowing’ theoretical lenses (abstracts below).


TWO PAPERS:


Dr Kimberly Jamie, Assistant Professor


"They’d look at me like I was some sort of alien": Young mothers, everyday stigma, and the ethical challenge of ‘borrowing’ theoretical lenses


By now, social scientists have firmly established that young/teenage mothers are subject to considerable amounts of stigma. Surprisingly, little research has examined how this stigma is played out in everyday life, as young mothers travel around the social world getting on with mundane activities.


Drawing on data from group interviews with 27 young mothers, I explore how this stigma is manifested in everyday life through an omnipresent sense of scrutiny and surveillance. Our participants particularly felt that their bodies, lives, and reproductive choices were laid visible through (i) an insidious public gaze, (ii) surveillance from other, average-aged parents, and (iii) digital scrutiny by their peers. I suggest that these forms of scrutiny are the everyday manifestation of negative media and policy representations of young motherhood, which position young mothers as deviant ‘others’.


To move toward theorizing these experiences, disability studies offers several lenses and frameworks, particularly Garland-Thomson’s (2017) notion of "extraordinary bodies". However, borrowing terms from a part of our discipline specifically focused on disabled bodies presents a number of ethical quagmires. I will talk through these dilemmas and welcome thoughts on this.


Hester Hockin-Boyers


#gainingweightiscool: The use of transformation photos among female weightlifters in recovery from eating disorders


In this paper, I explore ‘transformation photos’ on Instagram as digital artefacts that can inform our understandings of embodiment in the context of sport, exercise and health. Transformation photos are two images (from different time points) set alongside one another to represent the changing of bodies in look, shape or size. These images are prevalent within eating disorder recovery and fitness spaces on Instagram and typically display an individual’s recovery journey through a before (thin) and after (more muscular) image comparison.


Using interview and netnographic data I explore this representational practice in relation to three intersecting themes. Firstly, I consider the potential harms associated with the reproduction of hegemonic, image-centric representations of recovery. I then explore the subjective significance of transformation photos as ‘mediated memories’, allowing women to reflect on and externalise psychological transitions as well as embodied processes of becoming. Finally, I caution the emphasis on internal resources and resilience present within transformation narratives and question whether the contemporary focus on personal ‘journeys’ has replaced collective action towards systemic change.

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