Visual Signs of Ageing: What are we Looking at?

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Helle Rexbye
Jørgen Povlsen

Abstract

Consumer culture has placed the ageing body in a dilemma of representation. Physical appearance has become increasingly important as a symbol of identity, and at the same time society idealizes youth. This study explores visual ageing empirically. By using photographs of older persons (70+) as starting point, it is explored how visual age is assessed and interpreted. It is shown that informants read age in a spread of stages and categories. Main age indicators are biological markers: skin, eyes, and hair colour, but supplemented by vigour, style, and grooming. Furthermore, in-depth interviews indicate that visual age is mainly interpreted into categories and moral regulations rooted in early modernity. Subsequently the question of a postmodern perspective of visual ageing is discussed in this article. The empirical findings in the study question a postmodern fluidity of visual signs – at least when the concern is signs of ageing.

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