Professor Heather Widdows

Professor Heather Widdows

Department of Philosophy
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Knowledge Transfer)
John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics

Contact details

As Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Transfer, Heather is responsible for delivering the University’s research strategy and for positioning the University amongst the leading universities in the UK. Heather is committed to research that matters; research which breaks new ground, shapes thinking, creates innovation and changes the world. Heather oversees all aspects of research development, innovation and delivery, including research post-graduate students, research partnerships, research grants and innovation. She sits on the University Executive Board and is Chair of the University Research Committee.

Heather is a moral philosopher and has been at the University since 1999, and the John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics since 2009. She led, with others, the development global ethics, and is author of Global Ethics: An Introduction and co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of Global Ethics, and is known for her distinctive claims about the problems of consent, particularly, but not only, in genetics. She has held grants from the AHRC, the ESRC and the European Commission and she held a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship. Heather is Deputy-Chair of the Philosophy sub-panel in REF 2021 and was a member of the Philosophy sub-panel in REF 2014. She is also active and committed beyond academia. She served as a member of the UK Biobank Ethics and Governance Council (2007-2013) and served the maximum term on the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2014-2020).

Her most recent book, Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal (Princeton University Press), was described by Vogue as ground-breaking. She continues to write on the rising demands of beauty and the way visual and virtual culture is shaping human experience. She co-runs the Beauty Demands blog and is the founder of the #everydaylookism campaign.

Qualifications

University of Edinburgh BD(Hons), PhD

Postgraduate supervision

Heather continues to supervise a very small number of PhD students in the Philosophy Department.

Research

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.

#everydaylookism

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

Publications

Books:

  • Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal, Princeton University Press, 2018
  • The Connected Self: The Ethics and Governance of the Genetic IndividualCambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013
  • Global Ethics: An Introduction Routledge, 2011 (2nd edition in progress)
  • The Moral Vision of Iris Murdoch Ashgate, 2005

Edited Collections:

  • Routledge Handbook of Global Ethics, Edited with Darrel Molloendorf, Routledge, 2014
  • Global Social Justice, Edited with Nicola Smith, Abingdon: Routledge, 2011
  • The Governance of Genetic Information: Who Decides?, Edited with Caroline Mullen, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009
  • Women’s Reproductive Rights, Edited with Itziar Alkorta Idiakez and Aitziber Emaldi Cirión London: Palgrave, 2006

Peer-review Journal Articles:

  • ‘Structural Injustice and the Requirements Beauty’, Journal of Social Philosophy, On-line-first, 1 February 2021. 
  • ‘The Neglected Harms of Beauty: Beyond Individual Choice’, Journal of PracticalEthics 5, no. 2 (2017), 1-29
  • ‘The Neglect of Beauty: What’s in and what’s out of Global Theorising and Why? Special Issue of Protosociology edited by Barrie Axford (2016) pp. 167-185
  • ‘Altered Images: Understanding the Influence of Unrealistic Images and Beauty Aspirations’, with Fiona MacCallum,  Health Care Analysis 23, no 3 (2018), pp.235-245
  • ‘Global Health Justice and the Right to Health’, Health Care Analysis, 23(4), 2015, pp. 391-400
  • ‘Revising Global Theories of Justice to Include Public Goods’ with Peter West Oram in Special Issue of Journal of Global Ethics, edited by Monique Deveaux, 9 (2), 2013, pp. 227-243
  •  ‘The right not to know: The case of psychiatric disorders’with Lisa Bortolotti in Journal of Medical Ethics, 37, 2011, pp. 673-676

Expertise


Heather works with policy-makers and the third sector to address appearance discrimination (lookism) and the epidemic of body-image anxiety. She also speaks about the importance of University research for cultural, social and economic flourishing.