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Beauty in Later Life: Older Women's Perceptions of Physical Attractiveness

  • Laura C. Hurd Clarke (a1)

Using data from 96 hours of semi-structured interviews with women aged 61 to 92, this paper explores the meanings that older women attribute to beauty and aging. The women in my study tend to equate physical attractiveness with youthfulness and slimness. However, they reject the extremes of thinness embodied in today's fashion models and actresses. Even as they disparage obese individuals, the women argue that thin older women appear scrawny. The women express a preference for more rounded female bodies than current beauty standards allow and emphasize the importance of inner beauty. While some women view their wrinkles negatively, others suggest that their facial creases are badges of honour. I argue that older women do not simply internalize beauty ideals to the detriment of their sense of self. Rather, older women resist and challenge current ideals of feminine attractiveness and suggest alternative beauty ideals and definitions of personal desirability.

Faisant appel à des données provenant de 96 heures d'entrevues semi-structurées réalisées avec des femmes âgées de 61 à 92 ans, cet article examine les diverses significations qu'attribuent les aînées à la beauté et au vieillissement. Les sujets de ma recherche ont tendance à faire concorder beauté physique avec jeunesse et minceur. Ces femmes rejettent cependant les extrêmes de minceur qu'incarnent aujourd'hui les mannequins de mode et les actrices. Même si elles dénigrent les personnes obèses, elles font valoir que les aînées minces paraissent décharnées. Elles expriment une préférence pour des corps féminins plus en rondeurs que ce que dictent les normes esthétiques actuelles et elles insistent sur l'importance de la beauté intérieure. Si certaines des femmes voient leurs rides de façon négative, d'autres suggèrent que les plis de leurs visages sont des marques d'honneur. Je soutiens que les aînées n'intériorisent pas simplement leur idéal de beauté au détriment de leur sens du moi. Elles résistent au contraire aux idéaux actuels de beauté féminine et elles les contestent, en suggérant d'autres idéaux esthétiques et définitions de la séduction personnelle.

Corresponding author
Requests for offprints should be sent to: / Les demandes de tirés-a-part doivent être adressées à : Laura C. Hurd Clarke, Ph. D., University of British Columbia, School of Social Work and Family Studies, 2080 West Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z2. (
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*The time and insights of all research participants, as well as the guidance of Dr. Carolyn Rosenthal, Dr. Jane Aronson, and Dr. Vivienne Walters and the input of Dr. Brian Wilson are gratefully acknowledged. This research was made possible by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Fellowship.
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Canadian Journal on Aging / La Revue canadienne du vieillissement
  • ISSN: 0714-9808
  • EISSN: 1710-1107
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-on-aging-la-revue-canadienne-du-vieillissement
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