Granberg, E. 2006. “Possible Selves, Self-Change, and Weight Loss.”

Granberg, Ellen. 2006. “’Is That All There Is?’ Possible Selves, Self-Change, and Weight Loss.” Social Psychology Quarterly 69(2): 109-126.

Possible selves: “resources that facilitate identity development and that motivate and sustain self-change” (109). Gap between potential and actual selves must be negotiated before transformation (here, weight loss) is considered complete and/or successful. Gap is bridged “by drawing on structural and cultural resources found within processes of self-verification and identity control and in the revision of personal narrative” (109).

VS: Dieting as common form of intentional self-change – Federal Trade Commission (1997) – 40% of women and 25% of men at any given time are trying to lose weight (kx^ update stat?). “For many people, however, […] body weight is a highly salient identity holding significant personal and social power. In this circumstance, body weight can function much like a role, an element of self through which life chances are assessed, potential actions are evaluated, and situational responses are framed (Hewitt 1989).  Further, body weight has implications for social identity – the sense of belonging to a community and of being a valued group member” (114) — body weight perceived (cite this work) as influencing other identities, enabling achievement of desired identities, and avoidance of undesired identities.

Identities that motivate/sustain behavior as critical to self-concept – as is body image – however these identities may differ largely from how one understands/interprets weight status — impacted by perception of weight status (impacts behavior as strongly as weight status, if not more so – according to Abrams, Allen, and Gray (1993)), as well as the hierarchy that weight identities are in importance or salience, as compared to other identities (Stryker and Burke 2000).

Theories of Possible Selves (Markus and Nurius 1986; Markus and Ruvolo 1989)  – help explains motivation to self-change, but doesn’t explain dissonance between actuality and expectations

  • “those aspects of self which one could become […] idealized images to strive for as well as negative possibilities one would rather avoid” (110) – includes self-conception of identities, personal attributes, physical characteristics (Markus and Nurius 1986) – who we are vs. who we might be.
  • “The ability to anticipate who one might become and to image the resulting benefits can both motivate and sustain a deliberate identity transformation” (111)
  • Possible self and attendant outcomes motivate self-change (Markus and Ruvolo 1989)
  • When undergoing change, individuals seek validation to acknowledge desired self in being realized – can come from self or others (Wurf and Markus 1991) – validation solidifies the new self, as it integrates with the rest of one’s self concept (Wurf and Markus 1991)
  • Reconciliation of unfulfilled possible selves occurs gradually – maintains sense of “unfulfilled potential” (Cross and Markus 1991: 234).

Identity Control Theory (Burke 1991b; Burke and Cast 1997) – along with narrative psychology, helps to understand how people reconcile expectations/realities

  • Identity Control Theory: identity management as a process of self-verification (Swann and Brown 1990). Each held identity entails subjective meanings that “constitute an internal reference manual for the identity” (111, see Cast and Burke 2002).  External information about the identity is appraised against the held internal standard (Burke 1991a), producing congruence/verification – a sign that one is fulfilling identity expectations; conversely producing emotional distress when incongruence occurs. To relieve incongruence-related distress, people will “adjust their behavior until social feedback aligns with the identity standard” (111, see Burke 1991b). If modified behaviors do not produce congruence (and if the individual does not exit the identity), the internal identity standard of the individual may change (Burke and Cast 1997), or an individual may change the source of reflective appraisals (Burke and Reitzes 1991).
    • Identity standard: “understandings, feelings and expectations that are applied to the self as an occupant of a social position” (Cast and Burke 2002: 1043) – can change for lower-ranking identities when generating congruence for higher-ranking identities (Burke and Cast 1997)
  • When identity transformation occurs, it may become “the basis for social feedback and appraisals” (111) – moving individual from possible self to the everyday management of the new identity.
  • Though ICT has focused on self-verification’s role in promoting stability of self, very little integration with literature on possible selves/self-change (Kerpleman and Pittman 2001), despite similarities in self-verification processes within possible selves/possible selves functioning similarly to actual selves (Kerpelman and Lamke 1997)

Narrative Psychology (Bruner 1990; Crossley 2000b)

  • use of narrative to recount experience of unfulfilled self-transformation – narrative as “an account or story used to relate what they have experienced in a way that incorporates an additional message or moral story” (112, see also Orbuch 1997) – necessary for creating meaning, understanding/reconciling, communicating emotion and here, failure of self-verification in a way comprehensible to others (Bruner 2002; Gergen 1994).
  • Narratives as “retellings of events that the individual delivers in a cause-and-effect fashion. Seemingly disparate occurrences are pulled together in a story that reveals useful information about the personal significance of what has happened” (Bruner 1990).
  • Useful for deriving meaning, re/constructing self in response to events/experiences – “we eventually ‘become’ the stories we tell about ourselves” (112, see also Brockmeier and Carbaugh 2001; Bruner 1987)
    • During “settled” times (achievement/salience of identity), little need to attentively develop self-narratives (Irvine 1999)
  • Not limited to personal tales/meanings/identity – others’ acceptance of personal narratives contributes to sense of self (Gergen 1994); we draw from stock cultural narratives to construct our own stories (Bruner 1990) — narratives as part of the “cultural tool kit” proposed by Swidler (1986)   — here, restoring order to unfulfilled self, but making reparation to links between culture and individual (Bruner 1990), using narratives of cultural toolkit to help reconstruct disrupted lives (Irvine 1999) —- this is important to reconciling an interrupted narrative that resulted from invalidated self.



  • Use of retrospective qualitative accounts “limits” scope of analysis? (WHY?) – as narratives are subjective understandings about events experienced rather than objective descriptions of these events (Oliver 1998) — focus is on self-perception and meaning (and, I suppose processes) – but isn’t Granberg after this, and not the descriptions of what happened?
  • Narratives can include past/present/future elements of the self – communicated to others/self as a type of story (Crossely 2000a), although Markus and Nurius (1986) note that possible selves “inhabit” the mind as a schema, linking goals and the self, motivating behaviors and personal projects (Markus and Ruvolo 1989).
    • “The ability to turn such future selves into a coherent story line, in which the pursuit of a goal leads to a series of positive events, is likely to contribute substantially to this motivation” (116).


  • When possible selves motivate a formal role transition (such as parent or job), does this standard revise as easily? Merton (1957) says that these transitions of role sets/sets of rights/responsibilities are not as easily changeable – what strategies, then, exist for unfulfilled possible selves in these instances?



Abrams, Kay Kosak, La Rue Allen, and James J. Gray. 1993. “Disordered Eating Attitudes and Behaviors, Psychological Adjustment, and Ethnic Identity: A Comparison of Black and White Female College Students.” International Journal of Eating Disorders 14: 49-57.

Brockmeier, Jens and Donal Carbaugh. 2001. Narrative and Identity: Studies in Autobiography, Self and Culture, volume 1, edited by Jens Brockmeier and Donal Carbaugh. Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Bruner, Jerome. 1990. Acts of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bruner, Jerome. 1987. “Life as Narrative.” Social Research 54: 11-32.

Bruner, Jerome. 2002. Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Burke, Peter J. 1991a. “Attitudes, Behavior, and the Self.” Pp. 189-208 in The Self-Society Dynamic: Cognition, Emotion, and Action, edited by Peter L. Callero and Judith Howard. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Burke, Peter J. 1991b. “Identity Processes and Social Stress.” American Sociological Review 56: 836-849.

Burke, Peter J. and Alicia D. Cast. 1997. “Stability and Change in the Gender Identities of Newly Married Couples.” Social Psychology Quarterly 60: 277-290.

Burke, Peter J. and Donald Reitzes. 1991. “An Identity Theory Approach to Commitment.” Social Psychology Quarterly 54: 239-251.

Cast, Alicia D. and Peter J. Burke. 2002. “A Theory of Self-Esteem.” Social Forces 80: 1041-1068.

Cross, Susan and Hazel Markus. 1991. “Possible Selves Across the Life Span.” Human Development 34: 230-255.

Crossley, Michele L. 2000a. Introducing Narrative Psychology: Self, Trauma and the Construction of Meaning. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Crossley, Michele L. 2000b. “Narrative Psychology, Trauma, and the Study of Self/Identity.” Theory and Psychology 10: 527-546.

Federal Trade Commission 1997. Commercial Weight Loss Products and Programs: What Consumers Stand to Gain and Lose. Washington, DC: Federal Trade Commission.

Gergen, Kenneth J. 1994. Realities and Relationships: Soundings in Social Construction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hewitt, John. 1989. Dilemmas of the American Self. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Irvine, Leslie. 1999. Codependent Forevermore: The Invention of Self in a Twelve Step Group. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kerpelman, Jennifer L. and Leanne K. Lamke. 1997. “Anticipation of Future Identities: A Control Theory Approach to Identity Development Within the Context of Serious Dating Relationships.” Personal Relationships 4: 47-62.

Kerpelman, Jennifer L. and Joe F. Pittman. 2001. “The Instability of Possible Selves: Identity Processes Within Late Adolescents’ Close Peer Relationships.” Journal of Adolescence 24: 491-512.

Markus, Hazel and Paula S. Nurius. 1986. “Possible Selves.” American Psychologist 41: 954-969.

Markus, Hazel and Ann Ruvolo. 1989. “Possible Selves: Personalized Representations of Goals.” Pp. 211-241 in Goal Concepts in Personality and Social Psychology, edited by Lawrence A. Pervin. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Merton, Robert K. 1957. “The Role-Set: Problems in Sociological Theory.” British Journal of Sociology 8: 106-120.

Oliver, Kimberly K. 1998. “A Journey Into Narrative Analysis: A Methodology for Discovering Meanings.” Journal of Teaching in Physical Education 17: 244-259.

Orbuch, Terri L. 1997. “People’s Accounts Count: The Sociology of Accounts.” Annual Review of Sociology 23: 455-478.

Stryker, Sheldon and Peter J. Burke. 2000. “The Past, Present, and Future of an Identity Theory.” Social Psychology Quarterly 63: 284-297.

Swann, William B. and Jonathan D. Brown. 1990. “From Self to Health: Self-Verification and Identity Disruption.” Pp. 150-172 in Social Support: An Interactional View, edited by Barbara R. Sarason, Irwin G. Sarason, and Gregory R. Pierce. New York: Wiley.

Swidler, Ann. 1986. “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies.” American Sociological Review 51: 273-286.

Wurf, Elissa and Hazel Markus. 1991. “Possible Selves and the Psychology of Personal Growth.” Pp. 39-62 in Perspectives in Personality, volume 3, edited by Daniel J. Ozer, Joseph M. Healy, and Abigail J. Stewart. London: Kingsley.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: