Too dark skinned to win Strictly: Alexandra Burke, race hate and why love still matters

As it is currently Black History Month, it seems a good opportunity to revisit this brilliant post from Shirley Tate from 2018.  In 2017, I was approached by a fashion editor on a UK broadsheet for comments on why Alexandra Burke was consistently voted against by the great British public watching Strictly Come Dancing. I did not watch Strictly at the time and told her that I could not help her. Being persistent, the journalist shared with me a Guardian newspaper report on research that showed that Alexandra was voted against every week even though the judges gave her great points and comments on her skills as a dancer. Responding to the journalist again in the light of this research, I said that Alexandra was too dark-skinned to win Strictly because ballroom dancing is still seen as a white dance form by the public. This meant that only bodies racialized as white or that were ‘mixed-race’, light skinned and normatively feminine (which accounts for Alesha Dixon’s triumph) could ever win…

My Journey to Wholeness with Hair Loss

I’ve gone on quite a journey with my hair. From having afro hair down to my back in my university days, to several straightening perms, reverting to my natural hair, losing most of it to alopecia after various traumatic events, and eventually shaving off what was left of it.  
Each phase of my hair journey has been closely accompanied by a state of mind of its own. From feeling invincible about my hair, as I could chop it all off and in a few weeks have a full head of hair again, to hopelessly peering in the mirror every morning to see if any hair follicles had resurrected overnight or if any new strand of hair had come up for air!Hair is a great part of a woman’s identity. As I continue on my hair journey, I seek to understand why women (in general, as I am sure there are a few exceptions) feel incomplete if their hair is not the way they would love it to be.The confidence a woman exudes (especially for the African woman) when she has just had her hair done, is not the same as when it…

How being in nature promotes healthier body image

The idea of nature acting as “tonic” for urban society, with the potential to promote physical health and well-being has a long history [1]. In the early modern period, for example, greenspaces – such as the Place Royal (now Vosges) in Paris and the royal parks of Greenwich, St. James, Hyde, and Richmond in London – were opened to the public as a way of providing social and physical rejuvenation for town-dwellers. By the mid-nineteenth century, as many of Europe’s cities became overcrowded – in London, it was estimated that one in every four tenement flats was overcrowded in 1848 – open spaces and greenery became all-purpose medicines to cure a range of illnesses [2].

In the early part of the twentieth century, these ideas were taken up by the garden city movement, who viewed nature as the most direct way of reducing the health problems associated with urban overcrowding. Writing in Garden Cities of Tomorrow, Ebenezer Howard launched his vision for a series of ideal towns [3]: self-con…

Objective Ageing?

We are interested in ageing in material objects and in people. Norms of beauty are relevant here; beauty is persistently associated with youth and newness and this has affected our relationship with our own ageing (particularly in the West) and also with objects. These associations are important because aesthetic obsolescence of objects leads to dissatisfaction, detachment, and early disposal which has significant environmental and societal impacts. Whilst entrenched Western norms, which perpetuate unattainable youthful perfection, reinforce ‘skin deep’ attitudes to ageing resulting in poor self-esteem and an increasingly ‘invisible’ older population.In this article, we start to tease out and connect strands of thought, drawing on transdisciplinary constructs of ageing within the contexts of people and objects.Although the relationship between people’s attitudes to the appearance of their own physical ageing and their possessions has yet to be extensively explored (Scarre, 2016), exis…

Face-ism in 21st Century Visual Culture needs to be Eliminated

We were very sad to hear the news of the death of James Partridge on the 16th August 2020 ( James was an amazing man, a true trail-blazer in his campaigning for appearance diversity and face equality, who helped change public perceptions of and attitudes towards facial disfigurement. His death is a sad loss to all, although of course most of all his family. His post below (first published in 2018) shows how he made his arguments with reason, charm and humour, but also with passion. For further tributes to James, see:

I remember being absolutely staggered at the time. It was the mid-1980s, 15+ years since I’d acquired my imperfect and unique looks. Nightmare on Elm Street had broken box office records and spawned a new genre of horror movies. I was minding my own business walking down a street in London when a wag on a scaffolding rig shouted: “Hi, Freddy, you nasty piece of work” to mu…

Sweatshops and Shame

With claims that the recent rise in coronavirus cases in Leicester was partly due to 'sweatshop' working conditions in some textile factories, we revisit Maeve McKeown's post from 2017 on this issue: 
Should we feel shame about participation in sweatshop labour?  Most people know that clothes are produced under appalling conditions and that garment workers are paid poverty wages.  And yet consumption continues at a fast rate.
The liberal philosopher argues that individuals can act rationally and do what duty requires, that ‘our goodness (or badness) is entirely up to us’[1]. If we believe this story, it is easy to paint people who frequently purchase clothes as greedy and materialistic, leeching off the suffering of sweatshop workers. But feminist philosophers have long pointed out that people’s actions are constrained by oppressive social norms.
Clothes are loaded with meaning and many people (especially women) are crippled with anxiety about what to wear.  Type ‘deciding…

Beauty without the Beast: Can we learn from Lockdown?

As lockdown eases in the UK, we are returning to the hairdresser and beauty salon in droves. In our visual and virtual culture, beauty matters. So desperate were we to cover our roots or change our styles that some hair salons opened at midnight on July 4th! Doing beauty again is a pleasure for many and provides a sense that we are getting our normal lives back.[1]Some of us rethought our beauty regimes in lockdown. Felt it didn’t matter, given the magnitude of the pandemic. Others felt less pressure – wearing less makeup, taking less time on hair-styling, and wearing pyjama bottoms all day. Take Lily Allen and Una Healy embracing their grey hair on Instagram. But, as we’ve discussed previously, the pressure to be perfect didn’t go away, and for some it intensified. By the third week of March, video conferencing apps had been downloaded 62 million times. Video conferencing has transformed our work and social lives, and their effect on body image was almost instant. Looking at ourselve…