Do we have a duty to be beautiful? Heather's current research explores the moral and ethical nature of beauty, particularly the increasing demands of beauty. Heather research was funded by two main grants, a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship and an AHRC Network on 'The Changing Requirements of Beauty'.
Perfect Me, Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship (Oct 2014 to Sept 2016)
This fellowship supports the completion of a monograph Perfect Me!. ‘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.
In addition to analysing the ideal of perfection as it is manifested in the dominant beauty ideal as a moral ideal, Professor Widdows will critique the current reliance on individual choice and consent in determining the ethics of beauty practices. She will also focus on the picture of the moral self which underlies this ideal and suggest that there is a shift from identification of the self with the physical/observed body to the imagined body.
The Changing Requirements of Beauty, AHRC Network (January 2015 – June 2016)
PI Heather Widdows, Co-I Jean McHale
This project considers changing attitudes to body image and the consequent changing uses of procedures which have traditionally been regarded as 'medical'; for instance, according to BAAPS, 43,172 surgical procedures were carried out in 2012, and the most popular are concerned overtly with appearance and beauty (the most popular procedures in the UK are breast augmentation, eyelid surgery and face/neck lifts). Moreover, surveys suggest that if money was not an issue far more women would undergo such procedures, which are seen as increasingly 'normal', 'routine' and part of the 'beauty regimes' of 'ordinary women'.
This project considers the beauty norms which underlie this trend from cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral perspectives. The assumption of the network is that beauty image is becoming ever more demanding and defining of women, and increasingly men, irrespective of their professions. The project will ask whether this is the case, and how this norm is constituted and how it impacts upon women. It will also ask whether the dominant beauty norm is increasingly a global beauty norm, and thus open to less cultural and sub-cultural resistance. The project is especially concerned with role of technology in this. In particular, that procedures which were once regarded as 'exceptional' such as the use of surgery, are now regarded as 'normal' or even 'required' in certain contexts. Other increasingly demanding beauty requirements include hair removal and 'non-invasive' procedures to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. All of these procedures, whether 'routine' or 'exceptional', require time and effort to maintain, and arguably the 'minimum' required is increasing; fewer women go 'bare faced' or bare their flesh without hair removal.
This project will explore the extent to which beauty norms are changing and how as well as what this means for individuals, for regulation and for clinical practice. It explores the 'perfectionist trend' that extends the use of medical and scientific procedures to 'cosmetic procedures'. In light of this it will explore how the use and development of such procedures in the service of such norms changes the concepts of 'health', 'normality' and 'perfection' and in turn how these feed into self-understandings and identity, social expectations, medical practice and regulation.
ESRC Nuclear Ethics and Global Security: Reforming the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime (Oct 2014-2016)
PI is Professor Nicholas J Wheeler, Co-Is Dr Dr Anthony Burke and Professor Heather Widdows.
At a moment of profound crisis, uncertainty, and yet potential opportunity in the nuclear non-proliferation regime, this project will investigate possible paths for the reform and strengthening of the regime through an engagement with ethical and normative thinking in the fields of Philosophy and International Relations. The project straddles the related sub-fields of global ethics, political theory, normative international relations theory, and security studies.
The project questions how far the bargain at the heart of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is ethically defensible and whether the relationship between hierarchy and sovereignty within the treaty can endure. It will also explore how far a new ethical dispensation in the nuclear field would require new legal, institutional and normative arrangements to successfully protect future human, national and global security.
The key member of staff from Philosophy and Global Ethics working on this project is Dr Scott Wisor (S.L.Wisor@bham.ac.uk).