Telling a (good?) counterstory of ageing

Natural bodybuilding meets the narrative of decline

In Western society, the narrative of decline dominates the aging process. We know very little about the complexities of how people resist this narrative. The purpose of this study is to understand how a group of mature natural bodybuilders resisted the narrative of decline.

In-depth life story interviews were conducted with 13 natural bodybuilders aged between 50 and 73 years. Verbatim transcripts were produced and the data analyzed using a structural narrative analysis. A dialogical analysis was also utilized.

The participants’ experiences did not fit with stereotypical assumptions about decline and deterioration in older age. They all told counterstories to “natural” aging, yet what differed was how the participants’ counterstories resisted the narrative of decline and the level of resistance that they provided.

We advance knowledge in the fields of aging and narrative inquiry by revealing the multidimensionality of resistance. We demonstrated how participants storied resistance in different ways and the important implications this had for the way aging was understood and acted upon—by themselves and potentially by others. In addition to advancing theoretical knowledge, in this article, we also significantly contribute to understandings of the potential of narrative for changing human lives and behavior across the life course in more positive and nuanced ways.

This study is published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B.

Full citation

Phoenix, C., Smith, B., Telling a (Good?) Counterstory of Aging: Natural Bodybuilding Meets the Narrative of Decline,J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci (2011) 66B (5).