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Eating Disorders and Real-Life Reading

As a Knowledge Exchange Fellow for 2014-15, Emily Troscianko is developing a lasting partnership with Beat, the UK’s leading eating-disorders charity. The negative effects of mass-media representations of emaciation are relatively well researched, but by contrast there is little research on how reading fiction may affect eating-disorder outcomes. On the literary-studies side, in turn, there is a general lack of acknowledgement of how personal history and commitments are always inherent to reading and therefore to literary interpretation. In this project, TORCH and Beat will together begin a long-overdue investigation of how fiction affects and is affected by readers’ mental health. Specifically, the collaboration aims to initiate a programme of empirical work testing two linked hypotheses: firstly that a personal history of eating disorders may influence literary interpretation, and secondly that reading literature may shape readers’ personal futures in the realm of eating disorders. Drawing on Emily’s past experience of anorexia and her research profile in cognitive literary studies, together with Beat’s substantial public and professional infrastructure and connections, the goal of the project is to derive two-way benefits for the study of literature and the study and treatment of eating disorders.

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