In this blog post for Justice Everywhere, I am not developing a new argument. Rather, I pay tribute to the work of my friend and colleague Heather Widdows's fascinating work on Beauty. She is the author of Perfect Me. Beauty as an ethical ideal (Princeton University Press, 2018).
In this video, Heather gives a very quick introduction to her main argument in Perfect Me:
In my blog post, I try to do two things.
First, I summarise my take on Heather's argument very briefly, with a focus on how the beauty ideal is not all evil: it also offers pleasurable individual and communal practices; (many forms of) body work are good for us; beauty objectification can be empowering, protective, promising, and transforming; and beauty can serve some egalitarian purposes in that it shortcuts some existing power hierarchies, and erodes some harmful social features (such as class and wealth) which have traditionally structured society.
However, we will have to prevent a bleak future scenario in which the beauty ideal becomes increasingly narrow, demanding, punishing, divisive, and thus increasingly harmful. And rather nurture and facilitate the positive aspects of beauty – those that enhance, respect, connect, and cherish people.
One of the main actions to be undertaken to this effect is to end Lookism. In our visual and virtual culture, our bodies have become our selves, and therefore when we shame bodies, we actually shame people. Negative comments about other people’s bodies cut deeply and are unacceptable prejudice. This is lookism, and it has to stop.
Sharing these lookism experiences can also have a more immediate and intrinsic effect as well because it can be helpful in processing such negative experiences. It can be immensely important for people who have been (or are being) subjected to lookism to know that they’re not alone, and that other people (victims and non-victims alike) reject it as the prejudice it is. And it is exactly this that can empower us to end everyday lookism.
What can philosophers do? This campaign will only succeed if we all work together. One of the tasks of philosophers would be to analyse the instances of everyday lookism in order to identify possible structures and trends behind them. In addition, the data consisting of real and highly specific instances gives us a firm ground to methodically examine the prejudices involved, to report these harms in the public domain, and to influence policy. Finally, I believe that our theoretical work on collective action, structural injustice, and responsibility can inform the campaign and the steps to be undertaken to end everyday lookism.
The complete Blog Post can be read on Justice Everywhere, here.