Professor Heather Widdows BD(Hons), PhD

Professor Heather Widdows

Department of Philosophy
John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics
Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor Research (Impact)

Contact details

ERI Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Professor Heather Widdows is the John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics and the Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research Impact. In this role she seeks to support and extend the impact of Birmingham's research across policy, cultural and industrial sectors. Her track-record shows her commitment to public engagement and work with policy makers. As such she has served as a member of the UK Biobank Ethics and Governance Council (2007-2013), the Philosophy REF-panel (2013-2014) and she is currently a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 

She is currently working on the increasing demands of beauty, which she examines in her latest book Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal (Princeton University Press) and her ongoing research into A duty to beautiful. She also co-runs the Beauty Demands blog, a research network addressing the changing requirements of beauty, and founded the #everydaylookism campaign. Prior to this project, she has run multidisciplinary grants on Property Regulation in European Science, Ethics and Law, the ethics and governance of human tissue, and collaborated on grants on terrorism and trust.


Heather Widdows is a leading international researcher across applied ethics. In 2005 she was awarded a visiting fellowship at Harvard University, where she worked on issues of moral neo-colonialism. She has led a number of funded projects on issues of property in the body; reproductive rights; human tissue; war on terror and ownership and governance of the genome. Heather's current research explores the moral philosophy of beauty, funded by a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship (2014-2016) and an AHRC Network on 'The Changing Requirements of Beauty' (2015-2016). Her latest book, Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal, was published Princeton University Press in May 2018.

Currently Heather serves as a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and is also on the REF Philosophy Sub-Panel. Previously she was a member of UK Biobank Ethics and Governance Council (2007 to 2013) and co-lead Saving Humans, one of the two inaugural themes of the University's Institute of Advanced Studies.



Heather is currently not teaching UG or MA students, but she is still accepting doctoral candidates.

Postgraduate supervision

Professor Widdows is particularly interested in the ethical issues which arise in the context of globalisation, including those of technological development, war and terrorism, poverty and development, as well as bioethical issues, particularly those of reproductive, research and genetic ethics. She is happy to supervise PhD students in any of her research areas.

Find out more - our PhD Philosophy  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


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.

·       Find out more about Perfect Me and the book's key arguments

·       Read the introduction and buy Perfect Me on the Princeton University Press website


The demand to be beautiful is increasingly important in today’s visual and virtual culture. Conforming to beauty ideals is becoming ever more demanding and defining of women, and increasingly men, irrespective of their professions. Rightly or wrongly, being perfect, or just good enough, has become an ethical ideal to live by, and according to which we judge ourselves good or bad, a success or a failure. We are so used to people commenting on beauty that the harshness of their moral judgement can pass us by: you should ‘make the best of yourself’, you’re worth it, you deserve it and, whatever else you do, you should not ‘let yourself go’. The moral pressure to ‘do’ beauty is growing. Increasingly being perfect – or trying to be – is what we value most. It is what we think about, talk about and what we spend our time and hard-earned cash on. Heather launched the #everydaylookism campaign to end body shaming in June 2019 at Annual Global Ethics Conference at the University of Birmingham. Negative comments about other people's bodies matter. When we shame bodies, we shame people. These are lookist comments.  We no longer put up with sexist comments, we don't need to keep putting up with lookist comments. Sharing your lookism stories shows how common lookism is, it calls it out, it says it's not ok. You can read the anonymous stories and share your own if you wish on the #everydaylookism website.

·       Follow the #everydaylookism campaign on Instagram

Beauty Demands Network

The Beauty Demands Project began with the funding of two key research initiatives. First, a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship held by Heather Widdows which finished in October 2016. This fellowship supported the completion of a monograph Perfect Me! (under contract with Princeton University Press).‘Perfect me!’ can be read in a number of ways: as an individual’s aspiration to perfect themselves (‘I want to be perfect’), as assertion of what being perfect is (‘this is what I would be if I were perfect’), and as a command which a woman feels she should obey (‘you should be perfect’). Perfect Me! explores all of these meanings, with particular focus on the moral element that each reading implies: the first, that being perfect is worth having; the second, a judgement that this is what perfection is; and the third, a moral imperative to attain it.  Second, an AHRC Network Grant ‘The Changing Requirements of Beauty’ which finished in June 2016 (PI Heather Widdows, Co-I Jean McHale). The network brought together scholars, practitioners, and policy-makers from across disciplines including gender studies, history, law, medicine, philosophy, psychology and sociology. The assumption of the network was that body image is becoming ever more demanding and defining of women, and increasingly men, irrespective of their professions. The project ran a series of four workshops: Changing Understandings of Body Image; Professionals, Practitioners and Beauty Norms; Globalisation of Beauty; Routine Maintenance and Exceptional Procedures. In addition to the workshops key deliverables are the on-going Beauty Demands Network and its associated blog and the Beauty Demands Briefing Paper. The briefing paper contains key findings of the network in ethics, psychology and law, and makes policy recommendations based upon these. The briefing paper was launched at the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in June 2016. The work of Beauty Demands continues in the growing network and the blog, in addition to further research initiatives currently in progress. 

·       Follow the Beauty Demands Project on Twitter

·       See the members of the Beauty Demands network

Other activities


Highlight publications

Widdows, H 2018, Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal. Princeton University Press.

Widdows, H 2013, The Connected Self: The ethics and governance of the genetic individual. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Widdows, H 2011, Global Ethics: An Introduction. Acumen, Durham.

Widdows, H 2005, The Moral Vision of Iris Murdoch. Ashgate, Aldershot.

Widdows, H & Moellendorf, D (eds) 2014, The Routledge Handbook of Global Ethics. Routledge.

Recent publications


Marway, H & Widdows, H (eds) 2015, Women and Violence: The Agency of Victims and Perpetrators. Gender and Sexualities in the Social Sciences, 1 edn, Palgrave.

Widdows, H & Smith, NJ 2013, Global social justice. Taylor & Francis.


Widdows, H 2021, 'Structural injustice and the requirements of beauty', The Journal of Social Philosophy.

Widdows, H 2017, 'The Neglect of Beauty: What’s in and what’s out of Global Theorising and Why?', ProtoSociology.

Widdows, H 2017, 'The neglected harms of beauty: beyond engaging individuals', Journal of Practical Ethics, vol. 5, no. 2, 1, pp. 1-29. <>

Widdows, H & MacCallum, F 2016, 'Altered images: understanding the influence of unrealistic images and beauty aspirations', Health Care Analysis.

Widdows, H & Marway, H 2015, 'A Global Public Goods Approach to the Health of Migrants', Public Health Ethics, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 121-129.

Widdows, H 2015, 'Global health justice and the right to health', Health Care Analysis, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 391-400.

Baylis, F & Widdows, H 2015, 'Human Embryos and Eggs: From long-term storage to biobanking', Monash Bioethics Review, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 340-359.

Marway, H & Widdows, H 2015, 'Philosophical feminist bioethics: past, present and future', Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 165-174.

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Widdows, H 2017, Exploitation and the global demands of beauty. in M Devereaux & V Panitch (eds), Exploitation: from practice to theory. Studies in Social and Global Justice, Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 179-194.

Marway, H & Widdows, H 2015, Introduction. in H Widdows & H Marway (eds), Women and Violence: The Agency of Victims and Perpetrators. 1 edn, Gender and Sexualities in the Social Sciences, Palgrave, pp. 1-12.


McGuinness , S & Widdows, H 2017, Access to basic reproductive rights: global challenges. in L Francis (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Reproductive Ethics. Oxford University Press.

Widdows, H, Marway, H & Johnson, S-L 2014, Commodification of Human Tissue. in B Gordijin & HAMJ ten Have (eds), Handbook of Global Bioethics. Springer, Netherlands, pp. 581-598.


Widdows, H & MacCallum, F 2018, 'The Demands of Beauty: Editors’ Introduction', Health Care Analysis, pp. 1-13.

View all publications in research portal


Ethics, Policy and governance issues in particular:

  • Beauty, Everyday Lookism, Public health Crises
  • Global Ethics, Moral Theory
  • Feminist Theory, Women’s rights
  • Bioethics, Reproductive Technologies, Medical Tourism, Genetic Ethics and Governance
  • War on Terror, Global Justice

Find out more about Heather's publications and mentions in the media, including popular media articles and public events



  • Beauty from the perspective of moral philosophy and justice, including cosmetic surgery
  • Issues of body image and global demands of beauty
  • The ethical issues which arise in the context of globalization, including those of technological development, poverty and development, and gender justice
  • Bioethics and global health, particularly genetic ethics, reproductive ethics and research ethics