Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Carol Stalker

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor


This qualitative study aimed to understand what the body stories of girls who exhibit signs of disordered eating reveal about the concepts of autonomy and connection during early adolescence. The study was guided by the research question “Are the symptoms of disordered eating one of the ways the female body “talks” about the experience of disconnection during adolescence?” Informed by Relational Cultural Theory, data was collected from two focus groups of 16 adolescent girls aged 11 to 14 years. Each group met six times over a four month period. Because many aspects of lived experience cannot be expressed verbally, the mediums of painting, sculpture and photo voice were also used in the collection of data. Potential participants were identified based upon the criteria of disordered eating by an interdisciplinary team at a primary care center. Findings suggested that the younger girls were grieving the loss of childhood and were fearful of entering adolescence. In comparison, the older girls expressed anger about being forced into responsibilities and were both struggling with and adapting to cultural messages around the body and how to belong in a culture that valorizes independence. Implications extend to systems that largely fail to read these body stories accurately, such as education and medicine. These stories also tell us how little we understand about the journey between childhood and adolescence for girls whose bodies speak the messages of disconnection.

Convocation Year


Included in

Social Work Commons