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Older women's relations to bodily appearance: the embodiment of social and biological conditions of existence

  • ALEX DUMAS (a1), SUZANNE LABERGE (a2) and SILVIA M. STRAKA (a3)

Abstract

Our purpose in this paper is to explore and deepen the understanding of older women's relations to bodily appearance by looking at two different conditions of existence. Recent research has touched on the experiences of older women in societies with youthful norms of beauty, but the diversity of older women's experiences has been little explored, and there has been little dialogue between theoretical writing and empirical research on the topic. It was therefore decided to conduct an empirical study of older women's relations to bodily appearance, applying Pierre Bourdieu's sociological theory and particularly the concept of habitus to the body. Qualitative, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 51 francophone women aged 65 to 75 years from working-class and affluent neighbourhoods of Montréal (Québec, Canada). The findings showed clearly that, despite the social differentiation associated with variations in economic and cultural capital, older women's relations to bodily appearance converged as they aged. Two previously unidentified and overlapping processes of attitudinal change were recognised: (1) differentiation by social class, and (2) convergence with increasing age. In conclusion, we discuss the embodiment of women's social and biological conditions of existence in the context of personal ageing. The notion of age-habitus is introduced to explain how older women maintain their social value in the context of omnipresent youthful ideals of beauty for western women.

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Corresponding author

Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Cambridge, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RQ, UK. e-mail: ad391@cam.ac.uk

Keywords

Older women's relations to bodily appearance: the embodiment of social and biological conditions of existence

  • ALEX DUMAS (a1), SUZANNE LABERGE (a2) and SILVIA M. STRAKA (a3)

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