Showing posts from 2018

Are beauty ideals so dominant and demanding that we feel a duty to be beautiful?

“The beauty ideal is not an evil taskmaster, but it is an ethical ideal and powerful and only when we recognise it can we begin to address it. What we need is beauty without the beast”
Friday 1st June 2018 saw the official launch of Professor Widdows' new book ‘Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal’, published by Princeton University Press, at the University of Birmingham.
Perfect Me is the culmination of nearly ten years of research in the philosophy of body and beauty for Professor Widdows. The book explores the changing and ethical nature of the beauty ideal, where the pressure to achieve the ‘perfect’ body has become increasingly more dominant, more demanding, and more global than ever before.
Guest speakers for the launch included Dr Clare Chambers (University of Cambridge), and Professor Alison Jagger (University of Colorado at Boulder and University of Birmingham) who each summarised the arguments in Perfect Me before highlighting its most significant aspects. 

Dr Clare Cham…

Rebel with a Cause

And would you call that beautiful which wants and does not possess beauty?1
Summer is in full bloom. Our screens are filled with Love Islandand the World Cup. Tanned, toned and athletic bodies are ubiquitous, and as we aspire to achieve these ideals, magazine stands are full of titles that promise to help us achieve beach body fitness (e.g. Men's Health) and beauty, through a variety of exercise or diet plans. Emerging from the toxicity of popular media, are movements such as 'I weigh',  which has shunned conventional societal beauty demands and aims to move away from physical appearance as being a valuable determinant of self-worth. Many ‘body positive’ movements, fitness plans and media sites nonetheless still have at their core a particular physical ideal to which to aspire. Fitspo and ‘Strong is the new skinny’ (Holland & Tiggemann, 2016) strongly associate a specific narrowly defined physical ideal with good health, or fitness.In promoting strength and fitness, and…

“I think everyone looks better in pictures than in real life”: Posting Selfies and Women’s Body Image

Almost all young adults aged 16 to 24 years in the UK (98%) access the internet on their mobile phones or smartphones (Office of National Statistics (ONS), 2018), and 91% of 16-24 year olds in the UK used social media in 2016 (ONS, 2017). When using social spaces such as Facebook and Instagram, women (and men) choose how to represent their bodies to others in the online world, and arguably the kinds of images they present tell us something about how they view their bodies. Selfies: Problematic or empowering?Many scholars have focused on the role of selfies in how we present ourselves online (e.g. Lasén, 2015; Miguel, 2016), including the choices we make about which aspects of our bodies to reveal, and ways in which we might self-censor our bodies in selfies to protect against any potential backlash. Views of different researchers have been mixed in relation to impact of selfie posting on women’s body image; on the one hand, it has been argued that posting selfies encourages body object…

What Role does Social Media play in Young People’s Perceptions of their Bodies?

Social media is often referred to as a ‘toxic’ or ‘dangerous’ environment for young people, particularly in the case of body image. Celebrity and/or advertising cultures, and increased exposure to vast amounts of unregulated content are commonly identified as ‘risky’ online practices (see Fardouly and Vartanian, 2016). Yet, the extent to which social media impacts on young people’s perceptions of their bodies is relatively unknown. There is little understanding of the types of content young people engage with, and how and why their knowledge and behaviours are influenced. 

To better understand how to support young people’s body image-related knowledge and behaviours, we need to learn from them about how they experience social media. It is well-established that young people make extensive use of social media and for many young people, social media can be regarded as an extension of self and a primary mode of communication, entertainment and social engagement (Goodyear and Armour, forthc…

Dying For a Tan:The Case for Prohibiting the Use of Commercial Sunbeds

From the 1920’s onwards, tanning was seen as aspirational.   It spoke of foreign holidays and the lifestyle of the rich and famous. It was a matter of “looking good” and “looking well”.  The growth of the domestic tanning industry followed and tanning salons became common in the high street and in the health club.  However, over time concerns began to arise due to the health risks of sunbeds and in particular the link with skin cancer.

In 2006, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published the first report by experts on sunbed use and its association with skin cancer or melanoma.   This meta-analysis of 19 studies of associations between the use of sunbeds and the risk of melanoma showed an increase of 15% in the risk of melanoma  amongst those who had used a sunbed compared to those who had not.  Subsequently the IARC added UV-emitting tanning devices to its list of group 1 carcinogens (‘carcinogenic to humans’), with evidence that …

Cosmetic surgery: Knowing your rights if something goes wrong

There is a great deal of confusion that surrounds the aesthetic industry and what procedures within it are subject to regulation. As the popularity of cosmetic procedures, such as breast augmentation and rhinoplasty, continues to rise in the UK, so too do the number of complaints and the volume of incidents involving risky practices and untrained or inexperienced practitioners.
If you look up ‘cosmetic surgery’ on the internet, the results are crowded with 0% finance deals and 2-4-1 offers, encouraging individuals to commit quickly to potentially life-changing, and life-threatening, procedures. At the same time, the news is littered with tales of celebrities and everyday people who’ve undergone botched surgeries or have had painful reactions to poorly administered Botox or dermal fillers.
There is a great deal of societal pressure, particularly on women - who still have the vast majority of surgeries - to achieve the perfect ‘look’, which can be perpetuated by the likes of social m…

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

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 much applause from his sandwich-eating mates. 

They were much surprised, I think, by my speedy and gently assertive yelled reply (not angry as they probably expected) as I walked on: “Actually, my name’s James”. I held my head up, adopted a resilient mindset (aka ‘a thick skin’) and moved on untouched.

I do have some passing likeness to Freddy Krueger, I suppose: serious facial scarring (after a car fire when I was 18) and a sub-digital left hand. But that’s as far as it goes.

An isolated incident? Not for me because it happens from time to time even 30 years later. And more generally, No too. For centuries, popular cultu…

Rogue Cosmetic Surgeons and the Criminal Law

The disturbing case of breast surgeon, Ian Paterson, who mutilated countless patients over a period of several years, was a shocking example of a rogue surgeon. English criminal law plays only a minor role in regulating harmful medical misconduct, traditionally limited to gross negligence manslaughter. The conviction of Ian Paterson, in 2017, however, involved multiple convictions for serious non-fatal offences: unlawful wounding and intentionally causing grievous body harm, for which Paterson is now serving a twenty-year prison sentence. This case raises important questions about the role of the criminal law as a response to harmful and unreasonable/unjustifiable surgery. Paterson’s crimes include carrying out unnecessary, mutilating surgery on people who were falsely led to believe that the surgery was necessary and therapeutic. The prosecution’s case suggested that Paterson’s crimes were motivated by the lucrative financial rewards from his private surgical practice. Reflecting on …