Jessica Liang’s MA Thesis Proposal – Oct 15

Title: “Aging in the 21st century: A study of health and fitness magazine representations of older women”

Supervisor: Dr. Laura Hurd
Committee Members: Dr. Brian Wilson, Dr Alison Phinney (School of Nursing)
Chair: Dr. Patricia Vertinsky

Abstract: Magazines emulate social norms and influence everyday interactions (Conlin & Bissel, 2014; Leiss et al., 2005). For example, the textual and visual magazine portrayals of later life often “direct the way we relate to older people, as well as the way we see ourselves as being old” (Loos & Ivan, 2018, p. 164). Aging portrayals also frequently suggest ways in which older adults can and should engage with consumer culture to achieve age and gender norms (Mason et al., 2010). These portrayals stem from contemporary cultural ideals that emphasize good health and the avoidance of disease and disability in later life (Higgs et al., 2009). There is an expanding but still small body of literature that has explored the magazine representation of older adults. This research has largely focused on lifestyle magazines, finding that the portrayals of older adults exist within a binary model of opposing stereotypes of aging, one characterized by negative traits of physical and mental decline, and the other by positive attributes of morality and happiness (Low & Dupuis-Blanchard, 2013). To date, studies on health and fitness magazine portrayals have not considered aging as they solely explored young men and women. These studies have only explored the messages behind weight loss and body building stories and advertisements (Conlin & Bissell, 2014). Therefore, this study will contribute to aging scholarship and highlight the ways that the dominant discourses about aging, gender, and health are either reinforced or challenged by health and fitness magazine texts and images. Using discourse analysis, this study will examine how older women are represented in the advertisement and interest stories across three widely read health and fitness magazines distributed in North America, namely Health, Prevention, and Yoga Journal. The proposed study will be guided by the following research questions: How are older women represented in health and fitness magazines? To what extent do these depictions reinforce or challenge cultural assumptions about gender, health, and aging?