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Bat wings, bunions, and turkey wattles: body transgressions and older women's strategic clothing choices

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 April 2009

LAURA HURD CLARKE
Affiliation:
School of Human Kinetics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
MERIDITH GRIFFIN
Affiliation:
School of Human Kinetics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
KATHERINE MALIHA
Affiliation:
School of Human Kinetics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

This paper examines older women's experiences and perceptions of clothing prescriptions for adults in later life. Using data from in-depth interviews with 36 women aged 71 to 93 years, we investigate the stringent, taken-for-granted social norms that older women identified with respect to appropriate fashion for the ageing female body. Specifically, the participants argued that older women should refrain from wearing bright colours and revealing or overly suggestive styles. Expressing a preference for classic or traditional styles, the women also reported that they used clothing strategically to mask or compensate for bodily transgressions that had occurred over time as a result of the physical realities of ageing, including weight gain, altered body shapes, wrinkles and sagging or ‘flabby’ arms and necks, referred to respectively as ‘bat wings’ and ‘turkey wattles’. In addition, the women contended that they consciously chose their clothing styles to compensate for age-related health issues and/or to present a competent, healthy self to others. Finally, the women talked about the ways in which their clothing choices were influenced by their changing lifestyles and constrained by a lack of desirable and affordable clothing options for the older female body. The findings are discussed in the light of Erving Goffman's concept of stigma and contemporary theorising about ageing, ageism, beauty work and the body.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © 2009 Cambridge University Press

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