A Year in Beauty Demands

At this time of year, magazines urge us to dress in “perfect party dresses to hit the dance floor in” (Marie Claire), and to buy “Christmas makeup sets ALL beauty lovers will want” (Cosmopolitan), not forgetting “the best fake tans for surviving the winter washout” (Glamour).

It all sounds somewhat exhausting! Why not instead look back at our blog and see what our contributors have said and done about beauty in 2018? 

We began the year, appropriately, with Heather Widdows musing on how New Year’s resolutions had changed over time to focus on appearance rather than character improvement, and the potential harms of this; an idea also explored by Ajmal Mubarik. Throughout 2018, various other themes have emerged:
  •         Social Media
As a primarily visual environment, social media is impossible to ignore in relation to appearance. Knowing that social media images are idealised does not make us less susceptible to their effect, according to Jasmine Fardouly. However, the impact is not clear-cut with Victoria Goodyear showing that young people are both critical and vulnerable social media users, and Sarah Grogan & Jenny Cole looking at whether selfies are constraining or empowering.
  •          Diversity and acceptance
Movements aimed at increasing acceptance of appearance-related differences have been coming more and more to the fore, but not without critique. Maisie Gibson and Ajmal Murabik both discussed how body ‘positivity’ campaigns still push compliance with a standard appearance. On a similar line, Ruth Page explored how so-called ‘ugly selfies’ may reinforce rather than resist beauty ideals. Considering cultural portrayals of difference, James Partridge called for an end to the use of facial ‘imperfections’ as a lazy shorthand for villainy (a campaign recently backed by the British Film Institute).
  •          Race, Colour, and Beauty
An aspect of diversity that necessitates close attention is that of skin colour, and the stigmatisation of darker skinned individuals. This can lead to an internalised bias, identified by Ronald E. Hall as the “Bleaching Syndrome”.  Aisha Phoenix sees writing about this issue of colourism as essential for social justice, however challenging it may be. Likewise, Shirley Tate describes receiving race hate for talking about this topic, and suggests why love of dark skin is politically crucial.  
  •          Risk Factors
Our feelings about our bodies can be negatively affected by many things. Jasmine Fardouly reports that how mothers talk about their own bodies can influence their daughters’ body image. Peers too play a role, with Kirsty Lee finding that bullying by others increases body dissatisfaction.  Low satisfaction with our body parts can have knock-on effects, e.g. Viren Swami discusses how women who are dissatisfied with their breasts engage in less breast self-examination. However, body image may not be as negatively affected as expected, as Sarah Grogan & Jayne Mechan show in their work with women following breast cancer treatment.
  •          Legal Concerns
Where beauty practices carry the potential for physical harm, how much legal consideration is given? Not enough for non-therapeutic cosmetic surgery according to Alexandra Mullock, who proposes using criminal law for better protection from rogue surgeons. Nor is there enough regulation around the use of commercial sun-beds in the opinion of Melanie Latham & Jean McHale, who make a case for a complete ban.
  •          Beauty Pressures and Practices
The increasing demands of beauty are received and interpreted in myriad ways. Shannon Oates & Em Walsh consider the dominance of the demand on women for youth as beauty. The appearance pressure (and discomfort) felt by researching beauty vloggers is explored by Sophie Bishop, while Anna Westin phenomenologically analyses the force of advertising images. Pressure to engage in beauty practices, and the ambivalent feelings these generate, are key to Agomoni Ganguli-Mitra’s story of hair and beauty ideals, and equally to Clare Chambers’s narrative on using make-up to “blend in or stand out”.  
  •          Publications and Presentations
At the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, volunteers from the public collaborated with staff on an exhibition on Body Image (still on until Feb 2019). In the spring of 2018, network member Carolyn Mair published her book on “The Psychology of Fashion”; a fascinating investigation of the reciprocal relationships and influences between fashion and human behaviour. And last, but by no means least, in June one of Beauty Demands’ leads, Heather Widdows published her book “Perfect Me”, presenting an original and rich exploration of the beauty ideal as an ethical ideal.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the blog posts this year, so huge thanks to our contributors. Here’s to more brilliant discussions and debates about beauty demands in 2019!



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