Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Carolyn J. Rosenthal
This study examines older women's perceptions of and experiences in their aging bodies within the context of a society that places strong emphasis on youth and beauty. Using the concepts of body image and embodied experience, the theoretical framework of the study is symbolic interactionism which combines insights from an analysis of sexism and ageism. The study is based on data derived from semi-structured interviews with women ranging in age from 61 to 92 years. Addressing a gap in the sociological and gerontological literature, my research satisfies the need to add age to the female body image equation given today's beauty ideal, the 'double standard' of aging (Sontag, 1972) and the physical realities of later life which combine to disadvantage older women in their efforts to achieve and maintain physical attractiveness relative to existing standards of beauty. My findings reveal that older women have internalized the norms that equate youthfulness and thinness with physical beauty to the detriment of their sense of perceived attractiveness and self-worth. However, the women indicate a preference for a heavier weight ideal for older women and favour a wider range of beauty and body ideals exemplified by the media stars of their day. My findings suggest that older women become less concerned with physical attractiveness after the loss of their husbands and given the realities of declining health in later life. The women assert that health and inner beauty are of more importance and value to them than physical attractiveness, something they contend that they were more concerned about in their youth. Finally, my research yields insights into the inner turmoil and pain that older women experience as they negotiate the realities of ageism, the mandate to stifle complaints about aging and the desire to been seen as who they really are on the 'inside'.
Hurd, Laura C., "The body image and embodied experience of older women: The construction and negotiation of the meanings of aging and identity in later life" (2000). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2638.