chapter  27
14 Pages

Rejecting the Aging Body

ByAlex Dumas

Social analysis applied to the body asks new and appropriate questions about contemporary preoccupations. In this quotation, Simone de Beauvoir alludes to the existential question of identity in relation to time. Through a series of books discussing the issues of old age – The Second Sex (Beauvoir, 1972), The Coming of Age (Beauvoir, 1996), A Very Easy Death (Beauvoir, 1965) and All Men are Mortal (Beauvoir, 1992) – Beauvoir is possibly the first scholar to offer such an extensive humanistic and critical analysis of the dominant youth ideals that threaten positive representations of old age and the quality of life for older adults. In today’s demographically aging societies, we need to pursue Beauvoir’s project in order to analyze the consequences of promoting the ideal of youth on the status of aging. The study of aging populations is an important current issue in the sociology of the body. Along with

social class, gender and ethnicity, age is now perceived by many sociologists as a major axis of social stratification and inequality. In 1968, Robert N. Butler coined the term ‘ageism’ as a way to signal the prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age, and the aging process (Wilkinson and Ferraro, 2002). These attitudes are at the heart of a process that problematizes age and aging, and are at the source of the inferior status given to older adults and what they embody. Amongst other things, they stigmatize the aging body by qualifying older members of our society as unproductive, costly and abnormal and by disqualifying their bodily dispositions, functions and appearance. Not only has the aging body become an integral component of most major institutions (economics, law, health, labor, science), it is also increasingly the target of a powerful and elaborate anti-aging rhetoric that has social and personal implications for adults entering the later periods of their lives.