Constructions of Ageing and Narrative Resistance in a Commercial Slimming Group

Debra Lynne Gimlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


This study focuses on the role of organisational setting and age in shaping individuals' narratives of embodied selfhood. It compares older and younger women's use of 'narrative resistance' to negotiate identity in light of their ageing and the negative social and personal meanings of being fat. Cordell and Ronai (1999) observed three types of narrative resistance among overweight people: loopholes, exemplars and continuums. This paper identifies two others: 'justifications', for behaviour that associated with weight gain, and 'repentance', for behaviour that reaffirmed a commitment to losing weight. Drawing from six months of participant-observation and in-depth interviews with 20 older and younger female clients of a commercial weight-loss organisation, this article shows that both the meanings women attributed to their experiences of slimming, and their opportunities for benefiting from organisational resources, varied by their stage in the lifecourse. The weight-loss group generated narrative strategies and opportunities for its members that were informed by both cultural constructions of ageing and the organisation's interests. While these strategies stopped short of empowering the clients to abandon restrictive dieting altogether, they did enable the older respondents to excuse temporary setbacks in weight loss and their deviation from (what they described as) the more exacting appearance standards of youth. At the same time, the strategic narratives reaffirmed constructions of ageing that present the older female body as uncontrollable and older women as unconcerned with physical attractiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-424
Number of pages18
JournalAgeing and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • women
  • ageing
  • body
  • weight loss
  • appearance
  • older womens perceptions
  • young adulthood
  • body-weight
  • adolescence
  • identity
  • slimness
  • images
  • life
  • men


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