Can I Call Myself Recovered?: Performance, Self-Persuasion, and Metanoia in Eating Disorder Recovery Rhetoric

Date

2023-05

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Abstract

Disease, chronic illness, addiction, and disability are prime sites for studies of the fuzzy boundary spaces between illness, intervention, treatment, recovery, maintenance, and wellness. This project looks specifically at eating disorder recovery, interrogating the rhetorical techniques individuals use to persuade themselves and others that they are “in recovery” or “recovered” from eating disorders. Through a discourse analysis of audio recordings and interviews with participants, this dissertation argues that dominant narratives about eating disorder recovery can hinder individual perceptions of progress. Medical texts, popular media, and participants’ expectations about recovery (“full recovery,” in particular) differ from lived experience in ways that require individuals to flexibly reconceive of audiences for their often-marginalized recovery performances. Importantly, the process of self-transformation that happens in recovery is non-linear, at times incoherent, and relies on myriad intra-actions both within and surrounding the bodymind. In this dissertation, the dominant, linear model of recovery is broken into four categories of recovery—enduring, maturing, middle, and exploratory—that overlap and cycle nonlinearly. Ultimately, this study reveals a need for more transparent discussions about middle recovery, which can often last an unexpectedly long time and entail unanticipated periods of angst and frustration. Next, theories of practice, performativity, and performance are employed cooperatively to make sense of participants’ psychological performances of recovery, which can feel both inside and outside participants’ realm of control. Participants choose to take on prescribed recovery roles but also experience recovery as a performative phenomenon that can sweep them up or crush their spirits. Finally, this dissertation redefines the rhetorical concept metanoia as an ongoing process of both internal and interpersonal rhetoric, highlighting how self-persuasion occurs within the experience of metanoia. Redefining eating disorder recovery in rhetorical terms opens up new avenues through which we can understand the paradoxical, confounding, and hopeful experience of self-transformation.

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Keywords

rhetoric, eating disorders, recovery, rhetoric of health and medicine, performativity, performance, metanoia

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