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Going Public with Pain: Athlete Stories of Disordered Eating in Discourse

The Suffering Body in Sport

ISBN: 978-1-78756-069-7, eISBN: 978-1-78756-068-0

Publication date: 24 July 2019



To explore the discursive construction of disordered eating and athlete identity meanings within elite female athlete’s stories. Published athlete autobiographies were interrogated as cultural sites of analysis to accomplish this aim.


A critical social constructionist perspective on disordered eating is outlined along with narrative research findings on female athletes and disordered eating. A discursive psychological approach and critical discourse analysis (CDA) is then discussed to theorize and study meanings of disordered eating and athlete identities/subject positions. Next, the utility of studying two elite female athlete’s autobiographies is outlined followed by examples from a CDA of two athlete stories.


Two discourses and two identity/subject positions within each are outlined: discourse of performance and the “committed, controlled athlete” and a discourse of personal growth and the “empowered athlete in transition.” The features of each discourse and subject position are outlined and examples from each athlete’s story. The intention is to show the ways in which discursive resources construct the body, food and identities in sport and the implications.


The chapter is concluded with why studying “disordered eating and body talk” within discourses is useful to expand understanding of constraining and emancipative aspects of athlete identities, struggle and recovery.



McGannon, K. (2019), "Going Public with Pain: Athlete Stories of Disordered Eating in Discourse", The Suffering Body in Sport (Research in the Sociology of Sport, Vol. 12), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 105-120.



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