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Reflections on the 3rd Beauty Demands Workshop: ‘What Does Beauty Have to do with Politics?’

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In this post, Doctoral Researcher Alice el-Wakil (University of Zurich / Centre for Democracy Studies Aarau (ZDA)) shares her reflections on the 3rd Beauty Demands Workshop and considers the question, ‘what does beauty have to do with politics?’

Discussions about beauty norms are often considered superficial, little worthy of attention except in tabloid magazines.[1] When I started working on beauty from a political theory perspective, friends and relatives actually acted quite surprised: ‘What does beauty have to do with politics?’
The various contributors to the 3rd Beauty Demands Workshop offered valuable insights to start answering this question. They suggested that our beauty ideals and practices have played a role in shaping the way in which we live collectively. In this post, I want to rely on the papers presented and the discussions that took place during the workshop in Birmingham in order to highlight three ways in which beauty and politics are interrelated.[2]
1. (National) Po…

Beauty Norms, Children and the Ethics of Early Influence

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In this post, our new Research Network Administrator, Ruth Wareham, discusses how her research interests in the philosophy of education fit with the issues being considered as part of the Beauty Demands Project.




I am hugely excited to be working as the Research Network Administrator for the Beauty Demands project. Although my own philosophical work has never dealt directly with issues relating to cosmetic enhancement or perfectionism (at least, not in the sense of a moral imperative to improve or maintain the way we look), much of my previous research has revolved around the topic of autonomy and the idea that individuals should be granted the freedom to live their lives “from the inside” (See, for example, Colburn, 2010, p.41); to decide what constitutes the ‘Good life’ from their own perspective.
Given my philosophical preoccupation with the limits which ought to be set on (or may necessarily restrict) freedom of choice, the work being undertaken by the Beauty Demands team and members…

Variations on a beauty theme: The uses of ‘normal’

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In this post, our Principal Investigator, Heather Widdows, considers the concept of normality in the context of the beauty debate.










The current beauty ideal is becoming more dominant and narrower and it is harder to resist and reject. This makes it difficult to regard the ‘choices’ we make with regard to beauty as ‘free choice’ (See here). I’ve demonstrated this using the example of the increasing demands of body hair removal. Taken together I argue that the beauty ideal demands more; it applies to more types of women, for longer and is global (see my last post). In this post I want to focus on the various ways in which ‘normal’ functions in the beauty debate.
The concept of ‘normal’ and how it is interpreted, perceived and used in the beauty debate has emerged as a key ethical concern in all of the Beauty Demands workshops (and from across academic disciplines). Some of these ways are overtly normative, and others are apparently neutral but carry hidden normative assumptions, and others…

Call for Abstracts - Beauty Demands Workshop 4: Routine Maintenance and Exceptional Procedures

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Call for Abstracts Beauty Demands Workshop 4 Routine maintenance and exceptional procedures: 23-24 March 2016 Hosted by Manchester Law School, Manchester Metropolitan University
www.birmingham.ac.uk/beautydemands This workshop explores the popular rhetoric that ‘routine’ beauty procedures are similar to standard beauty practices (such as make-up application and hair dye) and therefore non- problematic. Many ‘routine practices’ have expanded and now include removal of body hair, salon manicures and ‘non-invasive procedures’ (such as fillers and Botox), procedures which require ‘beauty technicians’. Surgical procedures are not yet ‘routine’, but the resort to surgery is increasingly becoming ‘routine’. The workshop will explore the extent to which the boundaries between what is ‘routine’ and ‘exceptional’ are changing, and what this means in terms of what is demanded for ‘acceptability’, as well as regulating risky, but supposedly ‘routine’ procedures. Abstracts are sought from current gradua…

A global perspective on beauty - By Katharine Wright

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In this post, Katharine Wright from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics reflects on the recent Beauty Demands workshop on the globalisation and homogenisation of beauty held at the University of Birmingham.

Back in June, I wrote about the Beauty Demands seminar we hosted here at the Nuffield Council that looked at the role played by health professionals in both creating and meeting the increasing demand for invasive cosmetic procedures. In the next seminar of the series, held in Birmingham (also see Kate Harvey’s previous blog), we turned our attention to the globalisation of beauty, debunking the myth that the rising interest in surgical ‘fixes’ is a trend emerging only in the wealthy western world. In exploring the very different ways in which the demands of beauty play out in diverse societies around the world, some common and thought-provoking themes emerged.
Almost all speakers strongly challenged the idea that the growing use of surgery (and/or invasive non-surgical techniques such …

Smaller nose? Bigger boobs? Flatter stomach? There’s an app for that!

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Kate Harvey, Senior Research Officer at the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, explores the issues arising from the growing popularity of beauty apps for phones and tablets.
Two weeks ago, beautiful Birmingham was home to a two-day workshop on the globalisation of beauty.
The workshop – organised by the network BeautyDemands (more about the Nuffield Council’s involvement with the BeautyDemands here) – saw presentations from a wide range of contributors, but it was one issue in particular which led me to do a little further digging of my own.
A presentation by Professor Rosalind Gill focused on aesthetic entrepreneurship, which highlighted a body of work around beauty which she called, ‘The quantified self’. This session explored, for example, how self-tracking and self-monitoring materialise in digital technologies, and change the way we may relate to ourselves.
The application of self-tracking and monitoring is clearly very relevant to health contexts: for example, smartphones are optimised…

Alice el-Wakil on the Homogenisation & Globalisation of Beauty Norms

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Following the success of our third workshop on the homogenisation & globalisation of beauty norms, PhD student Alice el-Wakil discusses the idea that 'lookism' constitutes a form of social injustice.

Is it still the case that there are significant cultural differences in dominant beauty norms and ideals or are beauty norms becoming increasingly homogenised and global? If so what are the drivers of this? Is it a westernised norm?

Numerous empirical researchers who have studied the evolution of beauty standards have observed that beauty ideals and norms have much evolved over time. If some features appear to have been dominant through the ages (such as a relative thinness, harmony or youth of a body), both the place and the context seem to have influenced the development of specific norms. However, the scope for variety might have reduced in recent times. My intuition would be that new technologies as well as more widely accessible media – whose perspective has been playing a…