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Showing posts from August, 2018

#no excuses - Investigating acts of beauty

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This post discusses beauty as an ethical ideal as defined by Heather Widdows in her book Perfect Me: Beauty As An Ethical Ideal, particularly focusing on the actions required to meet that ideal, and what happens when you are prevented from doing them. Before going into my argument, I want to clarify that this post does not wish to criticise people with disabilities or chronic illnesses who engage in beautifying behaviours; none of us are really free from beauty as an ethical ideal, including the author, so it would be wrong to condemn anyone who takes part in it. Part of the complexity of beauty is that these practices can genuinely be tools for bonding, self-expression and empowerment; to totally denounce them would be nonsensical. The aim instead is to consider how some of these behaviours support the concept of beauty as an ethical ideal. 

Beauty as an ethical ideal involves actions – meaningful pursuits towards a goal. These can include: ‘maintenance’ or routine behaviours to ensur…

'Strong, thick and shiny’: a story of hair and beauty ideals

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‘Will you please put a comb through your hair? You look like a madwoman’. This admonition from my mother, which echoed through my teen age years with troubling regularity, was delivered in a tone filled with exasperation and incredulity. That an otherwise seemingly reasonable young girl would want to pass as insane, was beyond her understanding.
But I get ahead of myself.
When my respectable, middle-class Bengali parents left India for Europe in the early 70’s, they packed a few essentials otherwise not found across the seven seas. These included some mundane items, such as a terrifying screaming pressure cooker and carefully folded silk saris guarded by moth-balls. But more importantly, they brought with them the norms, standards and traditions from the motherland, deemed particularly scarce and inadequate in the West.
Strange rites
As a child, it struck me that in our house, the norms around hair (among many others) were different and quirky. I grew up in a small town with very few n…

Have a better relationship with your body

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[This piece was originally published in Healthy magazine]

We’re encouraged to think of ‘looking good’ as a moral imperative - if you don’t have a great body then there’s a sense that you must have let yourself go (Widdows, 2018). While appearance is key to how we present ourselves to the world, most of us are unnecessarily self critical and our relationships with our bodies suffer as a result.
There are a number of issues at play here, primarily our urge to measure ourselves against others (social comparison theory). While some measures such as academic achievements are objective – qualifications prove what you can do – comparing appearance is subjective, and difficult to get into proportion. This works in tandem with self-discrepancy theory, which suggests we have three views of the self: the actual, the ideal – what we aspire to look like - and the ought – what we think we ought to look like. Evidence shows that our view of the ‘actual’ self is distorted by the other two views, which…