In Pursuit of Beauty Within the Ageing Body: Voices from Older Korean Women in New Zealand
Researchers have attempted to explore the experience of ageing bodies and the use of beauty and anti ageing practices among older women. However, an insufficient number of such studies have focused on women from diverse ethnic groups, particularly older Asian women. Furthermore, even though some researchers have debated whether beauty practices are a form of oppression, these debates usually obfuscate the unique experiences of older women. These deficiencies result in a scarcity of discussions on anti-ageing practices and health management among older Asian migrant women. This study, using intersectionality as a conceptual lens, explored how older South Korean (Korean, hereafter) women in New Zealand who are located at the intersection of age (ageing) and gender perceived their ageing bodies and engaged in beauty, anti-ageing and health practices within diverse social positions and identities. The method involved conducting semi-structured individual interviews with thirty-one Korean women aged 50 to 84 living in Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, and Queenstown. The findings were merged into two major themes: 1) the inevitable and unacceptable ageing body and 2) the tensions between choice and oppression. The first theme elucidates how attitudes towards the ageing body were paradoxical. On the one hand, the ageing body was something my participants understood as part of a natural/irresistible process. On the other hand, they consistently intervened in the natural process of ageing to transform their ageing bodies into more acceptable forms: healthy, functional, and feminine bodies with youthful and attractive appearance. They also adopted diverse lifestyles: active, productive, and successful later lives through health practices, life management, and beauty and anti-ageing practices. The second theme describes how power over their ageing bodies was exercised when they intervened at the intersection of age, gender, and/or race/ethnicity. The findings uncover how the interaction of biological attributes of the ageing body and socio-cultural climates of age and gender influenced my participants’ perceptions of their bodies. Additionally, the findings indicate how their engagements in beauty, anti-ageing, and health practices became complicated as they positioned themselves at the intersection of age/ageing, gender, race/ethnicity, and migration. The significance of this thesis lies in its contribution to illuminating the concept of the biosocial ageing body. Furthermore, it intends to challenge binary perspectives of the body, namely that between nature and culture, and to supply further knowledge to current discussions on whether women’s beauty practices are a form of oppression or choice. Lastly, this thesis discusses the implications of this research and recommendations for future research on the ageing body (ageing) and beauty practices.
Advisor: Barusch, Amanda; Beres, Melanie; Lam, Carla
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Sociology, Gender, and Social Work
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Ageing Body; Beauty Practices; Anti-Ageing; Healthy Ageing; Korean Migrants; Women; Intersectionality
Research Type: Thesis