Masking the self: Understanding the link between eating disorders and child sexual abuse

Lisa Hodge, Lia Bryant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The discourses of child sexual abuse and eating disorders are inextricably shaped by gender politics. Medical discourses conceptualise abuse as resulting in permanent damage to the personality and continue to draw on the notion of hysteria when explaining anorexia. Yet the circulation of such pathologising discourses masks aspects of female subjectivity and leave other explanations unexplored. We argue that women make decisions and experience eating disorders beyond these privileged understandings. Indepth interviews, artwork and poetry are obtained from seven women and a feminist application of Bakhtin’s sociological linguistics is used to gain deeper insights into meanings and emotions. Our argument will unfold in three sections: Masking Emotions; The Mask Representing Powerlessness; and Revising the Self. Collectively the data reveals how gendered discourses dominate the women’s narratives when making claims about the self. Although these women’s voices are largely marginalised in society they nevertheless disrupt authoritative discourses on child sexual abuse and eating disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-264
Number of pages18
JournalQualitative Social Work
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


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