Advertisement

Gender Issues

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 51–69 | Cite as

Aging, Femininity, and the Body: What Appearance Changes Mean to Women with Age

  • Julie A. WinterichEmail author
Article

Abstract

In this article, I analyze interviews with a diverse group of 30 women aged 46–71 to understand how they experience signs of aging, such as weight gain, gray hair, and facial hair, in everyday life. I find that some women’s responses are in line with normative femininity and appearance norms. Others, however, focus on different gendered meanings of the body that are connected to care-taking, work, ageist treatment, and past abuse. I argue that feminists should apply the theoretical concept of femininity more broadly than appearance and attraction issues to gain a deeper understanding of the multiple meanings of living in an aging female body in a gendered society. In the conclusion, I discuss the implications of this study for public health policies as well as future research on gender and the body.

Keywords

Aging women Femininity Appearance Body Weight Hair 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I want to thank the 30 women who participated in this study and openly shared their experiences with me. I am grateful to Patti Giuffre, Amy Farrell, Pauline Cullen, Ashley Finley, Patricia Richards, and John Knox, for reading and providing valuable comments on drafts of this paper.

References

  1. 1.
    Adams, Natalie, & Bettis, Pamela (2003). Commanding the room in short skirts: Cheering as the embodiment of ideal girlhood. Gender & Society, 17(1), 73–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Arbuckle, Julianne, & Williams, Benne D. (2003). Students’ perceptions of Expressiveness. Age and gender effects on teacher evaluations. Sex Roles, 49(9/10), 507–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bartky, Sandra (1998). Foucault, femininity, and the modernization of patriarchal power. In Rose Weitz (Ed.), The politics of women’s bodies: Sexuality, appearance, and behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Tamara (2003). Strong and large black women? Exploring relationships between deviant womanhood and weight. Gender & Society, 17(1), 111–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Berg, Bruce (2001). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences, 4th edn. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bergeron, Sherry M., & Senn, Charlene Y. (1998). Body image and sociocultural norms: A comparison of heterosexual and lesbian women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 22(3), 385–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Bordo, Susan (1993). Unbearable weight: Feminism, western culture, and the body. California: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bordo, Susan (1999). The male body: A new look at men in public and private. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Boyd, Clem, & Roberta, Rand (2002). Ageism in Hollywood. Focus over fifty, Retrieved June 6, 2005, from http://www.family.org/focusoverfifity/articles/a0021893.cfm
  10. 10.
    Bromberger, Joyce T., & Matthews, Karen A. (1996). A “feminine” model of vulnerability to depressive symptoms: A longitudinal investigation of middle-aged women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 591–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Brumberg, Joan Jacobs (1997). The body project: An intimate history of American girls. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Burgess, Rachel (2005). Feminine stubble. Hypatia, 20(3), 230–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Calasanti, Toni M., & Kathleen F. Slevin (2006). Age Matters: Realigning Feminist Thinking. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2006). Prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults: United States, 2003–2004. National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Hyattsville: MD.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Chrisler, Joan. C., & Laurie Ghiz (1993). Body images issues of older women. In Nancy D. Davis, Ellen Cole & Esther Rothblum (Eds.), Faces of women and aging. New York: The Haworth Press Inc.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Clarke, Laura Hurd (2001). Older women’s bodies and the self: The construction of identity in later life. Ageing & Society, 22, 441–464.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Cogan, Jeanine C. (1999). Lesbians walk the tightrope of beauty: Thin is in but femme is out. In Jeanine C. Cogan & Joanie M. Erickson (Eds.), Lesbians, levis and lipstick: The meaning of beauty in our lives. New York: The Haworth Press.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Connell, Robert W. (1987). Gender and power: Society, the person, and sexual politics. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Connell, Robert W. (1995). Masculinities. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Connell, Robert W., & Messerschmidt, James W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender & Society, 19(6), 829–859.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Davis, Kathy (1999). My body is my art: Cosmetic surgery as feminist utopia? In Janet Price & Margrit Shildrick (Eds.), Feminist theory and the body. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Dinnerstein, Myra, & Rose, Weitz (1994). Jane Fonda, Barbara Bush, and other aging bodies: Femininity and the limits of resistance. Feminist Issues, 14(3), 3–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    FIND/SVP (2003). New anti-aging market creates opportunities for marketers. Retrieved May 26, 2006 from http://www.findsvp.com/about/2003/04-08antiaging.cfm
  24. 24.
    Furman, Frida Ke (1997). Facing the mirror: Older women and beauty shop culture. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Gabbay, Sarah G., & James, J. Wahler (2002). Lesbian aging: Review of a growing literature. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 14(3), 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Grogan, Sarah (1998). Body image: Understanding body dissatisfaction in men, women and children. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Heffernan, Karen (1996). Eating disorders and weight concern among lesbians. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 19, 127–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Heffernan, Karen (1999). Lesbians and the internalization of societal standards of weight and appearance. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 3(4), 121–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Heywood, Leslie, & Shari L. Dworkin (2003). Built to win: The female athlete as cultural icon. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Higgins, Daryl J. (2002). Gay men from heterosexual marriages: Attitudes, behaviors, childhood experiences, and reasons for marriage. Journal of Homosexuality, 42(4), 15–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Hillyer, Barbara (1998). The embodiment of old women: Silences. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, XIX(1), 48–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Levy, Michele (2006). Harried no more: Women’s body hair and its potential for empowerment and resistance. Unpublished honor’s thesis. Dickinson College.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Lorber, Judith (2001). Night to his day: The social construction of gender. In Laurel Richardson, Verta Taylor & Nancy Whittier (Eds.), Feminist frontiers 5th edn. New York: McGraw Hill, pp. 53–71.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Mansfield, Phyllis K., & Anna Voda (1997). Woman-centered information on menopause for health care providers: Findings from the midlife women’s health survey. Health Care for Women International, 18, 55–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    McMullin J. (1995). Theorizing age and gender relations. In Sara Arber & Jay Ginn (Eds.) Connecting gender and ageing: A sociological approach Philadelphia: Open University Press, pp. 30–31.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1998). Prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women: Findings from the national violence against women survey. Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    National Women’s Health Report (2004). Ages & stages: Your skin through the ages. June: 26(3):6.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Pearlman, Sarah F. (1993). Late mid-life astonishment: Disruptions to identity and self-esteem. In Nancy D. Davis, Ellen Cole & Esther Rothblum (Eds.), Faces of women and aging. New York: The Haworth Press Inc.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Pitts, Victoria (2003). In the flesh: The cultural politics of body modification. New York: Palgrave Macmillian.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Pyke, Karen D., & Denise L. Johnson (2003). Asian American women and racialized femininities: “Doing” gender across cultural worlds. Gender & Society, 17(1), 33–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Reinharz, Shulamit (1997). Friends or foes: Gerontological and Feminist theory. In Marilyn Pearsall (Ed.), The other within us: Feminist explorations of women and aging. Boulder: Westview Press, pp. 73–94.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Rich, Adrienne (1980). Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence. Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 5(4), 631–660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Slevin, Kathleen F. (2006). The embodied experiences of old lesbians. In Toni M. Calasanti & Kathleen F. Slevin (Eds.), Age matters: Realigning feminist thinking. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Strauss, Anselm L. (1987). Qualitative analysis for social scientists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Thompson, Becky (1994). A hunger so wide and so deep. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Toerian, Merran, Sue, Wilkinson, & Precilla, Y. L. Choi (2005). Body hair removal: The ‘mundane’ production of normative femininity. Sex Roles, 52(5/6), 399–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    United States Census Bureau (2000). The older population in the United States. Current population reports. Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    United States Department of Health and Human Services (2001). The surgeon general’s call to action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity. Rockville: Public Health Office, Office of the Surgeon General.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Wagenbach, Paula (2003). Lesbian body image and eating issues. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 15(4), 205–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Warner, Michael (1993). Fear of a queer planet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Weitz, Rose (2001). Women and their hair: Seeking power through resistance and accommodation. Gender & Society, 15(5), 667–686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Worcester, Nancy (1999). Fatphobia. In Nancy Worcester & Mariamne H. Whatley (Eds.), Women’s health: Readings on social, economic, and political issues, 3rd edn. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Family and Community MedicineWake Forest University Health Sciences, Medical Center BoulevardWinston-SalemUSA

Personalised recommendations