A duty to be beautiful?

About Heather Widdows

Heather Widdows is the John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham. Her current work focuses on the increasing demands of beauty.

Heather's research on beauty is currently formed of two main strands: Perfect Me, her latest book, and the Beauty Demands Project and Network.

Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal

Perfect Me is Heather's latest book, exploring how looking beautiful has become a moral imperative in today’s visual and virtual world. Rightly or wrongly, being perfect has become an ethical ideal to live by, and according to which we judge ourselves good or bad, a success or a failure. Perfect Me explores the changing nature of the beauty ideal, showing how it is more dominant, more demanding, and more global than ever before.

Heather argues that our perception of the self is changing. More and more, we locate the self in the body--not just our actual, flawed bodies but our transforming and imagined ones. As this happens, we further embrace the beauty ideal. Nobody is firm enough, thin enough, smooth enough, or buff enough—not without significant effort and cosmetic intervention. And as more demanding practices become the norm, more will be required of us, and the beauty ideal will be harder and harder to resist. Perfect Me examines how the beauty ideal has come to define how we see ourselves and others and how we structure our daily practices—and how it enthralls us with promises of the good life that are dubious at best. Perfect Me demonstrates that we must first recognize the ethical nature of the beauty ideal if we are ever to address its harms.

Beauty Demands Network

The Beauty Demands Project began with an AHRC Network Grant on 'The Changing Requirements of Beauty' (co-led by Heather and Jean McHale, University of Birmingham). The project's foundational assumption was that body image is becoming ever more demanding and defining of women, and increasingly men, irrespective of their professions. The network consists of scholars, practitioners, and policy-makers from across disciplines including gender studies, history, law, medicine, philosophy, psychology and sociology.

Whilst the project finished in June 2016, culminating in the release of the Beauty Demands Briefing Paper, the network is still growing and active, publishing a fortnightly blog on all aspects of beauty, including cosmetic surgery, body image, and visual culture and social media. The network is currently co-led by Heather and Fiona MacCallum (University of Warwick). You can find out more information on the Beauty Demands Project website