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A Hunger so Wide and so Deep

A Multiracial View of Women’s Eating Problems

1996
Author:

Becky W. Thompson

A Hunger so Wide and so Deep

A new feminist classic--now in paper!

Based on in-depth life history interviews with African-American, Latina, and white women-both lesbian and heterosexual-this book chronicles the effects of racism, sexism, acculturation, and sexual abuse on women’s bodies and eating patterns. By demonstrating how these girls and women use eating to “make a way outa no way,” A Hunger So Wide and So Deep dispels popular stereotypes of anorexia and bulimia as symptoms of vanity and stresses the risks of mislabeling what is often a way of coping with society’s own disorders.

Becky W. Thompson has provided a rigorous and impassioned study of eating problems, casting a special light on the experiences of women of color. Linking unhealthy eating patterns to the oppression women suffer in a society both sexist and racist, Thompson breaks new ground and offers hope for the multitudes of women who have swallowed their pain.

Evelyn C. White, editor of The Black Women's Health Book

The first of its kind, A Hunger So Wide and So Deep challenges the popular notion that eating problems occur only among white, well-to-do, heterosexual women.

Based on in-depth life history interviews with African-American, Latina, and lesbian women, Becky Thompson's book chronicles the effects of racism, poverty, sexism, acculturation, and sexual abuse on women's bodies and eating patterns. By demonstrating how these girls and women use eating to "make a way outa no way," A Hunger So Wide and So Deep dispels popular stereotypes of anorexia and bulimia as symptoms of vanity and stresses the risks of mislabeling what is often a way of coping with society's own disorders.

With its multicultural focus, this book not only brings women of color and lesbians into our picture of eating problems, but also clears up many demeaning and sexist ideas about these problems among white women. By featuring the creative ways in which women have changed their unwanted eating patterns and regained trust in their bodies and appetites, the author offers a message of hope and empowerment that applies across race, class, and sexual preference.

A Hunger so Wide and so Deep

Becky W. Thompson is an assistant professor of sociology at the Center for Research on Women at the University of Memphis and coeditor (with Sangeeta Tyagi) of Beyond a Dream Deferred: Multicultural Education and the Politics of Excellence (Minnesota, 1993).

A Hunger so Wide and so Deep

Becky W. Thompson has provided a rigorous and impassioned study of eating problems, casting a special light on the experiences of women of color. Linking unhealthy eating patterns to the oppression women suffer in a society both sexist and racist, Thompson breaks new ground and offers hope for the multitudes of women who have swallowed their pain.

Evelyn C. White, editor of The Black Women's Health Book

An impressive book, the first of its kind; a book which uses a thorough-going multicultural feminist analysis of women's relationship to food and their bodies in a manner that significantly enlarges our understanding of the nature of women's ambivalent relationships with both. The complexity and sensitivity with which Dr. Thompson has approached her subject, and her willingness to give authority to the voices of her research participants, makes this book a real stand out volume. It is one that will be read, not simply by therapists and researchers working with women's eating problems, but by the many women who find themselves still caught in those struggles.

Laura S. Brown, University of Washington

Becky Thompson looks into the health of black women and other women of color, starting with body consciousness and working toward psychic survival in a world of pain. Her revision of eating problems, which have long been seen as mere vanity, presents them as logical solutions to the inequitable distribution of power in our society. Her thought is, quite simply, revolutionary.

Nell Irvin Painter, Edwards Professor of American History

Thompson’s study undoes the unhelpful dichotomy produced when intellectuals fall into the trap of separating body and mind. Whether or not people are able to articulate all the connections between the world of which they imagine themselves part and the world that constrains their concrete realities, they are nonetheless caught in trying to make sense of the two. Thompson’s work assists us in that sense-making work, examining as she does the terrain on which women’s social histories, individual traumas, and everyday experiences inscribe themselves in bodily responses to that terrain. Her study makes coherent the tangled web of injustice, resistance, creativity, and flesh. More importantly, it makes imperative the cultural studies project which demands that engaged intellectuals consider the process by which consciousness manifests itself in multiple realities. It compellingly graphs the macro system of institutional, market, and civic realities through a thorough delineation of the interstices between the micro circumstances of individuals and that macro system through which individuals attempt to live their lives. And adds to what we can know by reminding us of just how much sociology can tell us about the ways we know.

Wahneema Lubiano, Princeton University

In this highly readable account, Thompson has broken down the theory that eating disorders are temporary afflictions of the white, middle-class, teenage population. Based on interviews with 18 white, Latina, and African American women, aged 19 to 46, the author found that in one-third to two-thirds of cases, eating disorders were linked to emotional or, more particularly, sexual abuse. These women were seeking control over something in their lives, argues Thompson. Food was more accessible than drugs or alcohol and, unlike substance abuse, binging allowed women to perform their daily lives with a clear head. The author also examines the healing process, detailing these women’s experiences with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Overeaters Anonymous (OA), or individual counseling sought out in response to some life crisis. Thompson ends the book with short biographies of the interviewees. Her uniquely balanced view of women with eating disorders is highly recommended for public, academic, and medical libraries.

Library Journal

Thompson is making an important contribution to the field [of eating disorders]. The diversity of these women’s experiences makes it particularly crucial that we hear their perspectives. Thompson’s work should help us to reevaluate our assumptions about race, ethnicity, sexism, and violence in the etiology and maintenance of eating problems.

Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention

Compelling stories appear in her book.

San Jose Mercury News

Eating disorders have been a disastrous and dangerous problem for women for decades. A Hunger So Wide and So Deep sheds light on the seldom-noted fact that eating disorders do not discriminate. A Hunger So Wide and So Deep should be read by all women with eating disorders, parents who want to raise healthy children, and friends, lovers, spouses, and siblings of the women who struggle with eating disorders.

Hispania News

In A Hunger So Wide and So Deep, psychologist Becky Thompson refutes this media image of the victims of eating disorders and builds a foundation for an entirely different perception of what causes these diseases. Her results are both surprising and alarming. Thompson argues-quite convincingly-that eating disorders happen most frequently in women of color, lesbians, and women under severe economic distress. Hunger is stuffed full of footnotes and references to statistics, studies, psychological profiles and other data to bolster her well-reasoned argument that eating disorders are most often caused by a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) response to racism, sexism, homophobia and other abuses suffered by women. Thompson’s theories are complicated but never murky and are presented in a clearly delineated manner that never deteriorates into academese. Hunger refutes an enormous number of popularly held theories about eating disorders. Thompson’s research belies the notion that it is teens and college students who are most at risk for these diseases; according to Thompson’s studies, women in their 30s are the most frequent victims of eating disorders. And her most potent find, that non-white, non-heterosexual women are also frequent victims means a total redefinition of what these illnesses are about. Thompson urges a second look at our national obsession with weight and proffers theories and practices that could save the lives of women of all colors and sexual orientations.

Lambda Book Report

A Hunger So Wide and So Deep is a wonderful book: gripping, creative and profoundly humane. In lucid prose Becky Thompson offers an original explanation for women’s eating problems. She argues that many women turn to food-bingeing, dieting, purging, or starving-as a sensible means of coping with physical and psychic ‘atrocities’ deriving from ‘racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, the stress of acculturation, and emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.’ Thompson breaks new ground by examining the experiences of lesbians, women of color and working-class women. Her inclusive approach produces a serious challenge to the stereotype that eating problems stem primarily from a concern with thinness.

Women’s Review of Books

In addition to an excellent analysis of the issues, we get a real sense of each of the women she interviewed. Although well documented and an asset to other researchers, the book is also accessibly written and an important read for anyone who wants to understand more about eating problems and women’s bodies.

Body Image Task Force Newsletter

Becky Thompson criticizes current feminist theory on women and eating disorders for utilizing gender almost exclusively as the category of analysis, ignoring race, class, and sexuality. . . She demonstrates that women of color and women of many classes and sexual orientations can be included in feminist analyses in a more meaningful way than simply saying ‘these groups are affected, too’.

Feminist Collections

Thompson’s A Hunger So Wide and So Deep provides a bridge between the micro- and macroanalyses of eating disorders. Thompson’s is the only study to my knowledge that deals systematically with race and sexualities, and it is this diversity of interviewees as well as Thompson’s careful listening that shapes her analysis. More than even the feminist therapists, Thompson allows her interviewees to tell their stories. Most significant, Thompson derives her theory of disturbed eating from the stories the women told, while not reducing the behavior to personal problems.

NWSA Journal

This book offers a message of hope and empowerment across race, class and sexual orientation. This book represents the postmodern challenge to us all: to question the dominant stories and pay attention to each individual’s knowledge about her own life. It has been refreshing to read this book and, using these descriptions with others I see, to bring help and vision from one woman to another.

Journal of Feminist Family Therapy