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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"I am the way I am, and I don't want to lose that" : Russian immigrant women's narratives of beauty work, immigration and aging Korotchenko, Alexandra


This study examined the beauty work practices of Russian immigrant women and their understandings of beauty and femininity in later life. The research was guided by the following questions: (1) What are the beauty practices of older Russian immigrant women living in Canada?; (2) Why do older Russian immigrant women pursue these practices?; and (3) How are older Russian immigrant women’s beauty practices shaped by their social locations as immigrants, Canadian residents, former citizens of the former Soviet Union, and women? The study utilized data from in-depth qualitative interviews with 10 immigrant women from the former Soviet Union. The women ranged in age from 52 to 75 (average age of 61) and had immigrated to Canada between 1992 and 2004. The majority of the women were well-educated, married, able-bodied, and self-identified as heterosexual, but differed in terms of their socioeconomic status and country of origin within the USSR. Each woman was interviewed twice for a total of 19.8 interview hours. The majority of the interviews were conducted in a mix of Russian and English, and later translated into English. The data was analyzed using Strauss and Corbin’s (1998) concepts of open and axial coding. To date, research has shown that North American, white, middle-class women frequently engage in beauty work due to the repercussions of their non-compliance with feminine beauty ideals to their vocational success, heterosexual partnerships, and social acceptance. My findings revealed that similar to white North American women, older Russian immigrant women held negative attitudes towards their bodies, and engaged in a variety of beauty practices to conceal and correct their bodies’ deviations from the slim and youthful beauty ideal. These beauty practices included skin care, non-surgical cosmetic procedures, makeup, hair care, fashion,dieting, and exercise. The women’s beauty work choices were framed by their socialization within Russian cultural values that privileged conventional gender roles and feminine appearance, their assimilation into Canadian culture, their resistance to Canadian views of beauty and femininity, and their feelings about their aging bodies. I discuss these findings in relation to the extant research and theorizing regarding beauty work and aging.

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