- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Aging Skin in Sociocultural Perspective
1.1 Introduction 4
1.2 Increased Longevity 5
1.3 The Spread of Medicalization 6
1.4 The Mechanism of Capitalism 6
1.5 Changes in Understandings of Individualism 6
1.6 Pro-feminism 8
1.7 The Notion of "Lifestyle" 9
1.8 The "Third Age" 9
1.9 Consumption 10
1.10 The Invisibility of the Aged Face 11
1.11 Media and Advertising 12
1.12 The Social Significance of Aging Skin 12
1.13 Conclusion: Skin as a Semiotic Language 13
The process of aging begins with birth. In understanding aging, we utilize a cultural master narrative which views both childhood and old age as problematic in some way. For example, we refer to old age as a "second childhood," specifically in highlighting the need by some elders for physical or cognitive care. We tend to see old age as a time of decline. We also see midlife as a standard against which youth and old age are measured. Nevertheless, it is increasingly youth that is the gold standard for measurement of other ages. It is the existence of this gold standard that should be kept in mind in this chapter, which discusses the social and cultural factors regarding aging skin. We address the central question of why the concern with aging skin and skin appearance is permeating our social life. Why has this become so important? There are many factors related to this which we will discuss in turn. These include increased longevity; medicalization; the manner in which postmodern capitalism works; changes in individualism; pro-feminism; the notion of "lifestyle" ; the onset of the "third age" ; a focus on consumption; the invisibility of the aged face; and media and advertising.
Before we begin a discussion of these elements, several points need to be made. First, a very great deal of social science research in the past fifteen years has demonstrated that the body, while of course being a real thing, is an entity that is produced within society and culture and therefore has important sociocultural meaning. There are hundreds of studies that have explored the social construction and cultural meaning of the body and body parts, including skin, both in the West and in indigenous societies. The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins once remarked something to the effect that "just because the body is real, doesn't mean it's not symbolic." In focusing on the changing meaning of bodily entities, such as skin, we essentially situate ourselves at the nexus of what is real and socioculturally imagined (Balsamo, 2000)—possibilities that occur as the product of an empirically produced set of cultural structures (Bourdieu, 1977).
Second, changing attitudes towards aging skin are fundamentally situated in a particular shared ethos or morality about what the body means, about how the body "should" be. For example, in the past, when aging skin was seen as a negative marker of personal value, there was little that one could do about the situation. Ultimately that skin was seen as ugly. With technological change the array of choices about what to do with wrinkles or other age-produced blemishes, represents a key moral stance, what is required in the image of the body for proper personhood. And of course such moral issues are engaged by their portrayal in electronic mass media.
Third, while technology has increasingly provided a means to treat a condition (e.g., wrinkles or other issues that concern aging skin), this solution has been provided for a condition that itself is manufactured within culture and society. At best, there is no intrinsic reason why elements of the body should have particular values attached to them; this is done as part of culture. In a sense, then, the condition of aging skin has developed as a problem that needs a solution.
Finally, a concern with aging skin also represents what Featherstone (1991) has called "the astheticization of everyday life," a concern with an increased modern focus on the form and condition of the body, of the home, of accessories, and so much else. Aging skin must be seen in this context; because of the concern for physical aesthetics, aging skin is increasingly important. We will turn next to a discussion of those factors that we believe have caused this.
1.2 Increased Longevity
People now live longer than ever before, with women living, on average, seven years more than men in the US. The cohort of elders aged eighty-five and older is the fastest growing segment of the population and the aging of the baby boomers will swell the population of the aged in the next few decades. Increased longevity has occurred in a context of measurably better health among the aged. Better health is itself seen in several ways. The dramatic changes in the technology of health have been critically important. Interventions to reduce infection as well as immunization have perhaps been the most important component of improved health over the last century. Acute illness can now be dealt with in ways that were not before possible. Even dramatic interventions such as organ transplant have become relatively common among people in their seventies and eighties. No one especially wants to continue to live in a way in which they also physically decline. Whereas cultural and technical manipulations have brought about increased longevity, increased longevity has also shaped cultural and technical manipulations so that the side effects of longevity, such as wrinkled skin, are increasingly treated.
1.3 The Spread of Medicalization
Along with the increase in the availability of sophistication of medical technology has come the increased medicalization of bodily states and practices that were once handled informally. For example, as Lock (1995) and others have noted, menopause is increasingly becoming the territory of medicine and medical intervention, when it was never this way in the past. This is also the case for skin. For example, birth has also become highly medicalized, with increasing rates of C-sections and drug intervention in delivery procedures. Baldness is now a "syndrome" with a variety of pharmaceutical treatments. Erectile dysfunction and similar conditions that effect older people are now medically treated. The cultural attitude that is a companion to these technologies is one that shapes our understanding of every aspect of the physical body, which can require "medical intervention" in many cases. It should be no surprise then that skin should be subject to similar procedures. A treatment such as Botox, for wrinkles, for example, is in essence a medicalized procedure. Cosmetic surgery and procedures for enhancing skin quality and youthful appearance are now commonplace.
1.4 The Mechanism of Capitalism
Along with these forces, market forces, especially the postmodern manner of capitalism, have transformed us from a production-oriented to a consumption-oriented society. Part of the mechanism here is to leave no niche market or possible or potential need unmet. It is often hard to tell whether "the need" makes the market or whether the market makes "the need." It is undoubtedly the case that these arrangements are complicated. But it does seem to be the manner of postmodern capitalism to search out every nook and cranny of the potential market for areas in which a need can be created. As we will see below, this has a lot to do with manipulations of the marketplace through media and advertising. Again, however, the mechanism of "need-creation" in consumer society is complex and multiply determined. The market motivation for enhanced skin care simply builds assiduously on the cultural attitude that nobody wants to grow old or, if they do, that its negative effects be muted.
1.5 Changes in Understandings of Individualism
Individualism and autonomy have been at the core of Western personhood for many centuries, but the nature of independence and autonomy has changed with changing historical and economic circumstances. For several reasons, the nature of individualism has been reshaped in the latter part of the twentieth century, continuing through today. Traditionally, individualism was a property of the wealthy in Western societies and was tied to the ideology of individual possession, ownership, political mastery, juridical status, control, and autonomy. The need to control the self and one's own body has also increased since the fifteenth century, when manuals of individual deportment first became widely available to the wealthy. Under the cultural era known as modernism, the political and social rights of individuals were extended to ethnic minorities and other dispossessed persons. Individualism increasingly became the property of all citizens, not just some.
Most recently, in what has been called the postmodern era, individualism has increasingly focused, once again, on control of the self. In this postmodern pro-consumer period, there have been dramatic alterations in the sense of personal responsibility that a person should have for her own life including her own health care. These have also been important to the story of the social and cultural significance of aging skin. A particular set of requirements has emerged as the object of personal self-interventions. Never has the goal of appearing youthful and healthy, at any age, been so important to so many in the West and elsewhere. Further, with the emergence of a global culture and globalization, Western ideals of beauty have been widely disseminated and may form or influence standards for many throughout the world.
The powers of biomedicine—the perspective that sees medicine determined by powerful political and social forces and by the need of medicine to control people (Foucault, 1973)—were formerly seen in the form of authoritative medicine. Within authoritative medicine, patients followed doctors' orders unquestioningly and doctors appeared to be larger than life. In postmodernism, this approach to medicine has seen the authority of the doctor diminish, while individuals themselves, as consumers, have increasing responsibility for their own health and bodily condition through a proper lifestyle. Ironically, at the same time this has occurred, the medicalization—the need for medical authority—of culturally defined "ailments," such as baldness or wrinkles, has increased.
Essentially, what we have now is a system in which individuals must "make themselves." The person is a lifelong project, under their own constant monitoring and manipulation. With changing standards for health and beauty, there is increased commercialization, and with increasing focus on the idea of a lifestyle, the individual must involve herself in a number of projects to constantly enhance the self. In old age, however, because physical change is ultimately the fate of everyone, there comes some point at which the management of individual self-projects must adapt to the changing realities of physical decline.
Excerpted from SKIN AGING HANDBOOK by Nava Dayan. Copyright © 2008 William Andrew Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Elsevier.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted March 30, 2013