AbstractsWomens Studies

The Body Image of Women with Intellectual Disability

by Jennifer Ann Conder

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Keywords: body image
Record ID: 1302821
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/5068


Women and their body image have been a focus for research throughout the latter part of the twentieth century; however, rarely does that research extend to women who may experience different lives through their identification as intellectually disabled. This doctoral thesis addresses a gap in understanding the way that New Zealand women with intellectual disability perceive their bodies and the historical, cultural and social influences affecting their perception. Twenty-five women ranging in age from 21 to 65 years provided the data for this study. All women identified as having an intellectual disability and received some support to live with various levels of independence. Each woman participated in three interviews. Body image questions were included in semi- structured interview guidelines that explored aspects of the woman’s past and current life. An interpretive constructivist approach was taken to understanding the women’s perception of their bodies. The information that the women shared has been viewed through a critical lens informed by both feminist and disability scholars. Thus the construction of the women’s bodies is interpreted rather than their own. In order to develop the construction, the interview transcripts of each woman were analysed from two perspectives. Firstly, the woman’s data were rewritten into her “story”, providing a preliminary understanding of how she constructed her body image. Secondly, all interviews were coded and themed utilising Braun and Clarke’s (Braun & Clarke, 2006) framework. This process provided a way to engage with the data and draw out the significant points that informed the women’s construction of their body. The identification of three themes, “beauty and the body”, “a fit and functional body” and “a gendered body” that provide discrete perceptions of the women’s body, supports the contemporary view of multiple body images. Further analysis of the women’s body image suggested interplay between internal and external factors. Most women compared their body size to social standards of weight. Less typical of other women was their emphasis on their clean and tidy body as representing their competence and the comparatively infrequent and limited use of beauty practices. For many of the women, sexuality was ignored or controlled. Lacan’s (2002) mirror stage, as an explanation of the psychological development of body image, is utilised to integrate an embodied conception of the women’s body image. Finally, and importantly for disability research, the idea of “becoming” is utilised to explore how the women are limited or perceive few possibilities for self-expression through their body. Through examining both possibilities and limitations the research gives direction to future policy and practice that impact on the lives of women with intellectual disability.