Sunbeds: Are they simply an 'irrational' compulsion?

It’s 2017, and according to health officials and the media (the main informers of the British public), Sunbeds are BAD - an ‘irrational’ form of consumption.

Nowadays, the ‘rational-thinking’ individual should associate sunbed consumption with their negative effects… Redness, burning, peeling and blistering of the skin – risking skin cancer (melanoma) in the long-runAn unsustainable dependence on shallow compliments for self-esteem.Costly maintenance, inconvenient/awkward secrecies, and time wasted travelling.An undesirable association with a ‘Tanorexic’ identity. The stigma attached to ‘obvious’ sunbed users is not favourable. Katie Price? Kat from EastEnders? Not to mention many politicians …. And in horror films a ‘Tanorexic’ habit may result in being cremated alive … With such stigma in mind, how has this industry, worth millions of pounds, both persisted and thrived for over thirty years? And why do over 3 million Britons continue using them every year? The popularity of the indu…

Shoe Stories

In Footnotes on Shoes, an interdisciplinary group of writers reflects on the cultural meanings of shoes and, in particular, women’s fascination with shoes – something which it seems has existed through the ages and across the globe.  The editors Shari Benstock and Suzanne Ferris (2001) note in their introduction that there is an Imelda Marcos lurking in each and everyone of us, referring to the infamous wife of the Philippine dictator who amassed more than 3,000 pairs of shoes during her lifetime. Women seem to have an insatiable lust for shoes.
Feminist scholars have had plenty to say about this female obsession with shoes (Wilson, 1985; Wolf, 1990; O’Keefe, 1996; Bergstein, 2012).  Initially, they viewed women wearing high heels as the victims of male oppression. Stiletto heels were the ultimate symbol of female subjugation, reducing their wearer to the position of sex object, crippling and deforming them in the name of male-defined beauty norms, and preventing them from being able…

No filter needed – ‘Insta’ diversity

A couple of weeks ago, while scrolling through my Instagram feed, up popped a picture of Alexandra Shulman, former editor of British Vogue, in a swimsuit; undoctored, natural, highlighting all of her 59 year old self.  It stopped me in my tracks, mainly I think becauseit was in stark contrast to the homogeneous representation of beauty that the magazine she was at the helm of for 25 years propagated, and was consistently met with criticism for.
There is a sense of melancholy in how an undoctored picture of a 59-year-old in a bikini is seen as an act of revolution. For women in Western cultures, the mass media tends to portray slender or thin bodies as attractive and associates them with success, youthfulness, or social acceptability, in contrast to overweight bodies, which are often linked to a lack of control or laziness, leading women to be dissatisfied or pressuring them to either lose weight or be thin (Grogan, 1999: 6; Mask & Blanchard, 2011:54).
Social cognitive theory of mass…

Sweatshops and Shame

Should we feel shame about participation in sweatshop labour?  Most people know that clothes are produced under appalling conditions and that garment workers are paid poverty wages.  And yet consumption continues at a fast rate.
The liberal philosopher argues that individuals can act rationally and do what duty requires, that ‘our goodness (or badness) is entirely up to us’[1]. If we believe this story, it is easy to paint people who frequently purchase clothes as greedy and materialistic, leeching off the suffering of sweatshop workers. But feminist philosophers have long pointed out that people’s actions are constrained by oppressive social norms.
Clothes are loaded with meaning and many people (especially women) are crippled with anxiety about what to wear.  Type ‘deciding what to wear’ into google and 39,800,000 results come up.  A 2016 Marks and Spencers survey found that women spend six months over the course of their working lives deciding what to wear.  Why?
There are multipl…

Why banning skin-whitening products is not enough

Previously, I wrote about why skin-whitening products are trash and why the companies that produce them are shady AF. To recap, many skin-whitening products are highly toxic; they can cause permanent skin damage, they can be carcinogenic, and can even cost lives. Companies that produce these products can therefore be seen as culpable of harming the health of people of colour, particularly in the Global South, where the sale of these products is most prevalent. Crucially, even when less active products are deemed ‘safe’, the marketing used to promote them is both toxic and far-reaching, affecting not only consumers, but also all those in the communities in which the company is operating, including children and other vulnerable groups. The prevailing message in skin-whitening advertising equates lighter skin to improved life prospects, confidence, happiness, and wealth. This serves to reinforce and perpetuate systemic racism and colourism in the societies these products are being sold. …

What exactly IS Body Positivity?

We need to clear something up when it comes to body positivity. Body positive hashtags are all over the internet. On Instagram alone (at time of writing – July 2017) there are over three million posts tagged with #bodypositive, nearly a million with #bodypositivity, and almost exactly 350,000 posts with #bopo. Don’t get me wrong, it’s BEYOND exciting to think of so much self-love online against the backdrop of diet- and selfie-culture. And I’m totally here for the body positive movement and community, especially at a time where young people report to feeling under more pressure than ever before to look perfect. However, I feel like, occasionally, there is some confusion as to what the term ‘body positivity’ actually means - especially *eye-roll* when certain brands engage in the space for a heartbeat because it’s ‘on-trend’. 

Let’s start with what body positivity is not. As a holistic concept, body positivity is NOT thinking and feeling you are drop-dead gorgeous, 24/7. Absolutely no s…

Beauty standards, bodies, and virtual reality

Last April, I co-organised the workshop “The role of the body in virtual reality” at the University of Wollongong, Australia. Two of the talks given were, I think, of particular interest for raising philosophical questions on body and beauty in relation to technology. Stephen Gadsby (Macquarie University) spoke about “Disorders, body representations and virtual reality” and Robert Sparrow (Monash University) presented a talk on “Teledildonics and rape by deception.”
Stephen Gadsby has done research on how the distortion of body representations relate to body disorders, specifically anorexia nervosa. Gadsby presented how body representations can directly guide perception of affordances in the environment. For example, a person with anorexia nervosa might, when walking through an open door, move their shoulders at a steeper angle than would be expected based on their physical body size -- the suggestion is that overestimation of their own body image guides the person to make themself sma…