Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds HEATHER WIDDOWS: I’ve been working on global ethics and gender justice for the best part of 20 years. And gradually, I was wondering about beauty. Beauty has morality all over it. You deserve it. You’re worth it. But why is it that people hadn’t been working on what is, for many people, one of the most important and defining features of their lives? Beauty, as a globally dominant ethical ideal, is something new. In the past, beauty might have mattered to some people, but it could not have been a shared ethical ideal. By shared ethical ideal, I mean a number of things. I mean it’s a value framework. It’s literally how people grade themselves and others.
Skip to 0 minutes and 45 seconds Beauty success becomes moral success and without succeeding at beauty, you become unable to succeed in general. Increasingly, it is the unmodified body which is the abnormal body. And gradually, more is required just to be good enough, just to be normal. Beauty practises change into hygiene practises. So you have to remove body hair. You have to erase your wrinkles. I argue there are four features of the global beauty ideal, thinness firmness, smoothness, and youth. And you can be different in all kinds of ways, but not in these. There are many drivers. First is an increased individual consumerism.
Skip to 1 minute and 25 seconds The second is a visual and virtual social media culture so you can compare yourself not just against those in your village, but almost everybody. The technological imperative– because we can do things we think we should. And importantly, it’s an ethical ideal. In a visual and virtual culture, you are judged on how you look rather than what you say or what you do. There is a single emerging global beauty ideal. This does not mean there are no cultural differences. There are all kinds of cultural differences in the way that the ideal embeds, in how we manifest it, and importantly, in the stories we tell about why we engage.
Skip to 2 minutes and 2 seconds As researchers, we need to take seriously beauty, not to treat it as something trivial or individual. There is a global epidemic of body image anxiety. This is a public issue, not fluffy, not trivial. And it needs attention and serious academic research.