Laura Hurd Clarke
In this chapter, the author considers some of the theoretical and methodological conundrums that she encountered in her qualitative research that has focused on later life experiences of the aging body as a site of inequality. Western culture is replete with deeply entrenched ageist stereotypes, which position old bodies as inherently asexual, dependent, frail, obsolete, senile, unproductive, and undesirable. Negative cultural constructions of old bodies are further reflected in and buttressed by masculinity and femininity ideals as well as societal assumptions concerning personal responsibility for health. Collectively, these cultural norms shape research in powerful ways as they lead to the avoidance of certain topics, taken-for-granted assumptions that are difficult to elicit or interrogate, and complex power dynamics between researchers and study participants. Reflecting on the intricacies of researching later life body image and embodiment, I offer some suggestions about how the challenges might be reframed as opportunities.