Aesthetic Capital at the Intersections of Age, Gender and Class

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
Iida KUKKONEN, University of Turku, Finland
Erica ÅBERG, University of Turku, Finland
In recent discussions physical appearance is increasingly conceptualised as a form of capital, so as to complement Bourdieu’s theory by highlighting the role of the body (Anderson et al., 2010; Hakim, 2010; Mears, 2015). Aesthetic capital can be understood as a combination of different resources or assets related to physical appearance including facial beauty, body shape, size and physique, as well as styles of grooming and clothing (Anderson et al., 2010). One’s position in social space conditions one’s sense of possessing aesthetic capital, and the means and incentives to develop physical appearance -related resources (cf. Bourdieu, 1984).

In addition to social class, discussions around aesthetic capital have often focused on gender. It’s generally held that appearances are more important for women, and accumulating aesthetic capital is more pronouncedly a feminine task (Sarpila et al., 2017). However, we suggest that not enough attention has been paid to age and the ways in which it interacts with class and gender. For example, discussions on the so-called ‘double standard of ageing’ have suggested that as women are more defined by their looks, ageing may be more consequential for them than it is for men (Sontag, 1972; Twigg, 2004). Moreover it is worth considering whether ageing affects the aesthetic capital of men and women of different social classes asymmetrically.

We utilise a unique survey data, which is nationally representative of 15 to 74 year-old Finns (N=1,600). By means of multivariate analysis, we ask how gender, age and class intersect in conditioning to what extent aesthetic capital is given importance and cultivated, and (subjectively) possessed in Finland. Finland is a particularly interesting context for our study; not only is Finland a Nordic welfare state with low levels of gender- and socio-economic inequality, but furthermore Finnish taste has traditionally been characterised by modesty and practicality.