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Professor Heather Widdows

Professor Heather Widdows, a University of Birmingham academic whose work and new book Perfect Me has secured considerable international attention; including in the New York Times, The New Yorker, Refinery 29, The Atlantic, Time magazine and on BBC Radio 3 and 4, will be speaking next Tuesday (4 September 2018) at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) as part of its ‘Within + Without: Body Image and the Self’ exhibition.

The event, ‘Perfect Bodies and Ideal Images’, is an informal conversation and discussion with Professor Widdows about the subject of body image, the rising demands of beauty, and the pressures to be 'perfect'. It starts at 2.00pm and it is free to attend. Professor Widdows will touch on some of the themes in the exhibition such as selfie culture, body anxiety and identity.

Professor Widdows is a professor with the University’s Department of Philosophy. For nearly 10 years she has researched the philosophy of the body and beauty, and the impact that the need for people to look good is having on their lives.

In Perfect Me, Professor Widdows tracks the rising demands of beauty as a globally dominant beauty ideal emerges. She argues that achieving a better body has become a moral imperative and for very many of us being better means improving our bodies. She argues this is very different from previous beauty ideals.

“Beauty failure is becoming the most important failure for women and girls, and more and more men and boys. Increasingly we believe that attaining some aspect of the beauty ideal – being thin or firm enough – will deliver the goods of the good life – relationship success, work success and happiness. In this brave new world to fail to attain a ‘perfect’, ‘good enough’ or ‘normal’ body is to fail across the board. It is to be a failure.

“Next week’s event will be an excellent opportunity for people to find out about this significant shift in what drives to us to look good. If you have ever felt the urge to ‘make the best of yourself’ or worried that you were ‘letting yourself go,’ come and join the conversation.”

‘Within + Without: Body Image and the Self’ is an experimental exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery exploring underrepresented stories of body image and identity, featuring works from artists such as Donald Rodney, Gillian Wearing, Helen Chadwick, Francis Bacon and Barbara Walker.

Lynsey Rutter, Community Engagement Team Leader at Birmingham Museums Trust, says:

“At a time when we are bombarded with images of ‘body perfection’ and idealistic physical forms through social media, advertising and TV, this important exhibition uses historical and contemporary images of the human body to uncover bodies and conversations that have historically been missing. Professor Widdows will continue the conversation with her fascinating talk and we look forward to welcoming her to the museum and digging deeper into the topic.

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