Sorry, this course is not currently running. Browse other Psychology & Mental Health courses.

  • University of Birmingham logo

Perfect Me: Understanding the Beauty Ideal

Explore the changing nature of the beauty ideal and the need to address body image anxiety as a global epidemic.

2,123 enrolled on this course

Perfect Me Logo
  • Duration

    2 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Learn how and why a global beauty ideal has been created

The quest to look beautiful, or just ‘good enough’, is something that drives and dominates people all over the world. The rise of body image anxiety has become a global epidemic and the need to be perfect or be better is becoming an ethical requirement.

On this course, you will discover the features and differences of the emerging global beauty ideal. You will explore the role of ‘normal’ and how beauty as an ethical ideal defines the way you view yourself and others. You will also look to the future and learn how the rising demands of beauty can be addressed in a more positive way.

Download video: standard or HD

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.

What topics will you cover?

  • What is an ethical ideal and how is beauty an ethical ideal
  • What are the features of the beauty ideal
  • The role of ‘normal’
  • Why does the beauty ideal give rise to a duty to be beautiful
  • Are beauty ideals converging globally?
  • What are the drivers of the global beauty ideal
  • Is there a global epidemic of body image anxiety?
  • How can the future be better?

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Identify and understand why the emerging global beauty ideal has the features of an ethical ideal
  • Describe the four defining features of the emerging beauty ideal
  • Explain the process by which the modified body is becoming normalised and why this adds to the rising demands of beauty
  • Investigate how the global ideal is narrowing and homogenising and the differences between a global ideal and previous beauty ideals
  • Reflect on how the causes of a demanding global ideal are complex and include the rise of a visual and virtual culture and the technological imperative
  • Explain why Body Image Anxiety and other consequences of a more demanding ideal need to be regarded as a public health issue

Who is the course for?

This course is for anyone interested in or studying beauty ideals and practices or global ethics.

Who will you learn with?

John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. Author of Perfect Me, and passionate about addressing the epidemic of body image anxiety.

Who developed the course?

University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is a public research university, consistently listed as a leading UK university and ranked among the top 100 in the world.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

Want to know more about learning on FutureLearn? Using FutureLearn

Do you know someone who'd love this course? Tell them about it...

You can use the hashtag #FLperfectme to talk about this course on social media.