Zadie Smith On Beauty, Youth, and Aging

Colleen Fenno, Concordia University Wisconsin
Vol. 33, No. 2 (Fall 2014), 179-202

This article discusses issues of beauty in relation to gendered ideas about aging in Smith’s novel On Beauty (2005). It suggests that Smith’s novel advances an understanding of aging by revealing how youthful beauty ideals may become integral—and damaging—to identity, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or race. It considers how the novel emphasizes the pervasiveness of these cultural ideals in its multiple viewpoints and ultimately focuses on the novel’s representation of its fifty-something protagonist, Kiki. The article argues that Kiki’s perspective asks readers to engage with a concept of aging and identity that shares similarities with the novel’s narrative structure, that is, fragmented and self-aware but also searching for coherence. Kiki’s perspective reveals how the complicated process of aging may grant an individual the ability to reject cultural ideals that link age and gender in order to identify and integrate one’s subjectivity beyond the limits of others’ expectations.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]