The “Changing Understanding of Body Image” workshop offered me, as a graduate student, the opportunity to present my in-progress dissertation to not only a new audience, but also an exceptionally talented group of individuals from an array of disciplines. I felt all of the academics, professionals, and graduate students in attendance came together in an incredibly dynamic way to foster very intellectually stimulating conversations and seriously challenge our understandings of beauty and self-image over the course of the two days.
I left the workshop with some really valuable feedback on my project and inspired to take my project in new and exciting ways. Having expanded my understanding of the ways in which body image and beauty demands shape the lives of so many women (and increasingly men) everyday I also left the workshop inspired to pursue some new areas of interest and new projects.
It was so great to have been invited to this event and I look forward to the future of the Beauty Demands Project and hearing more of the very interesting topics that are due to be presented on!
Beauty Demands project team member Melanie Latham, Reader in Law at Manchester Metropolitan University, has written about the cosmetic surgery industry. Read the full piece here.
‘Cosmetic surgery is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the medical industry, worth US$2.3 billion in 2010 and forecast to grow to $3.6 billion in 2015. Of this, non-surgical procedures, which include Botox and dermal fillers, account for nine out of ten procedures and 75% of the market value.
But it is clear that the industry is failing when it comes to proper regulation of procedures and the private practitioners who sell services to make a profit – cosmetic surgeons who may have little or no qualifications, no experience, non-sterile instruments and no insurance.’
The “Changing understandings of body image” workshop, hosted by the Beauty Demands Project, provided an excellent opportunity for intellectually stimulating, inspiring, and at times challenging, conversations regarding our perceptions of body image. As a graduate student, this was my first workshop of this kind and I found it very encouraging. I appreciated the opportunity to present my work in progress as well as to receive feedback from academics and professionals from a variety of backgrounds. I left the workshop with the feeling that I had not only broadened my understanding of the importance of my own work, but also of the work of others, and the Beauty Demands Project as such.
The Beauty Demands Project is an interdisciplinary project operating so as to push the boundaries of our understandings of beauty. Owing to this, it works to shed light on aspects of the body image that, at times, can be neglected or taken for granted as inevitable parts of being human. I am confident that this makes the project not only highly interesting, but also important in a world in which our understandings of beauty shape and form our negotiations with both the self and others. I recommend joining the project and participating in their workshops to anyone.
Want to hear what Heather (project lead) had to say at the Hay Festival? You can do it right here!
Heather Widdows: Perfect Me!
Hay Festival 2014, Saturday 24 May 2014, 2.30pm – Elmley Foundation Stage
The Professor of Global Ethics explores the idea of perfection as exhibited in contemporary ideals of beauty. She questions the ways the aspiration can be read: as an individual’s aspiration to perfect themselves (‘I want to be perfect’), as assertion of what being perfect is (‘this is what I would be if I were perfect’), and as a command which a woman feels she should obey (‘you should be perfect’).
Here are some blogs written by Heather (our project lead):
On the Birmingham University website she wrote The Demands of the Beauty Ideal: What is required of us?
‘Beauty is big business – particularly at this time of year – but it’s also an area of increasing public concern. With an ever-expanding array of technological tweaks and fixes on offer, the beauty and diet industries have become the subject of significant concerns over the safety of people who choose to undergo these procedures.
More than this, we worry – to greater or lesser degrees – about the extent to which we should engage with such practices. Do we need to wear make-up to work? What is required of us in terms of hair dying and body hair removal? Will youth-mimicking procedures such as Botox become par for the course in future? And what should we be telling our children?’
To read the full peice: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/perspective/beauty-ideal-widdows.aspx
On the Imperfect Cognitions blog (on delusional beliefs and distorted memories, confabulatory explanations and implicit biases) she wrote Beauty and Imperfect Congnitions
‘The power of the imagined self over decision-making makes claims of being fully informed questionable. For example, being fully informed requires knowing and being able to assess the risks and benefits. However, arguably those who engage in at least some kinds of beauty practices do so not only despite the risks, but often ignoring or playing down the risks. This claim is not that information is not given – it is – but rather about how it is understood. I suggest that the power of the imagined self – the end point of the ideal – is so powerful it distorts the risks and therefore makes them harder to assess.’
To read the full peice: http://imperfectcognitions.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/beauty-and-imperfect-cognitions.html
It was a true privilege to be able to participate in the Beauty Demands workshop on 6 March. Having space to present ideas that I had been working with on a rather ‘unconventional’ philosophical concept with a group of experts was helpful both on a pedagogical and personal level.
My university department is quite small, so having time to receive constructive criticism and discuss ideas was very welcome. It was equally (if not more!) beneficial to listen to the presentations given by other researchers. The breadth of the issue truly came out through these discussions, as did the topic’s importance to philosophical, legal and cultural dialogue. Finishing off the day with an artist’s interpretation of beauty in the layering of aging was both moving and engaging.
Truly a joy to be a part of this event! I do look forward to hearing more as the workshops continue.
Take a peek at what kinds of discussions will be taking place at the first Beauty Demands workshop!
Rikke Amundsen, ‘On revenge porn, speech acts and the sexual objectification of women’
This project addresses the question ‘can a feminist reading of the sexual objectification of women as speech, ground a normative case for making ‘revenge porn’ a criminal offence?’ Revenge porn refers to the act of disseminating sexually explicit images of a previous partner, without the consent of the pictured person (Guillemin, 2014). Objectification is referred to as the act of treating or perceiving another human being as an object or a thing (Papadaki, 2014). Drawing on J. L. Austin’s (1962) work on speech acts, the project uses as its starting point the idea that the sexually explicit images of individuals, disseminated as an act of ‘revenge’ by a previous partner, can be analyzed as speech acts.
This thesis will focus on revenge porn as a site of analysis of the sexual objectification of women, scrutinizing the sexual objectification of women in the context of revenge porn, in order to highlight the inherent nuances and complexities involved in the sexual objectification of women. The research aims to contribute to (1) the debate regarding the sexual objectification of women in the UK social media, and (2) the debate on revenge porn and whether it ought to be made a criminal offence.
The Beauty Demands project aims to bring scholars, practitioners, policy-makers together to consider the changing requirements of beauty. It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and aims to build a network of individuals, research groups, and centres of those working on the topic. The assumption of the network is that beauty image is becoming ever more demanding and defining of women, and increasingly men, irrespective of their professions. The project will ask whether this is the case, and how this norm is constituted and how it impacts upon women. It will also ask whether the dominant beauty norm is increasingly a global beauty norm, and thus open to less cultural and sub-cultural resistance. The project is especially concerned with role of technology in this. In particular, that procedures which were once regarded as ‘exceptional’ such as the use of surgery, are now regarded as ‘normal’ or even ‘required’ in certain contexts. The network will be built in many ways, and is primarily a virtual network. The most important ‘deliverable’ of the project is the network and the discussion which we hope to engender. There are also more traditional outputs, including papers and journal special issues, and policy briefing documents. The network is gradually growing and network members are encouraged to post on the blog and to begin debates and to follow up the posts of others. If you wish to blog – as an individual or as a series of posts from a research centre – please let us know. The type of blog posts we welcome are:
- Blogs which raise or comment on topic issues related to beauty
- Blogs which provide ‘case commentaries’ on topical issues – these can be on legal judgements or simply on cases in discussion in the media
- Blogs which report on research; including, posts which summarise a recent publication, posts which report on on-going research of an individual or a group; or posts which give an account of a recent or forthcoming workshop or conference
- Blogs which provide summaries of public events and debates in this area
This list is indicative not exclusive and we welcome alternative suggestions. We also encourage you to tweet to @BeautyDemands – again the aim is inclusivity not to endorse a single view. In addition to building the network there are a number of events which consolidate themes and prioritise issues. These workshops are:
- Changing understandings of body image, Warwick University, 4-5 March 2015
- Professionals, practitioners and beauty norms, Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 3-4 June 2015
- Globalisation of beauty, University of Birmingham, 14-15 October 2015
- Routine maintenance and exceptional procedures, Manchester Metropolitan University Date TBC
Other events are policy wrap events and, given the interest to date in the network, a large conference in 2016 may be arranged. Please note, while many of those working on the project occupy a position in the debate and take a particular stand on these issues the network aims to facilitate open and respectful debate and discussion. It aims to welcome those with all views and to encourage exchange of views and does not endorse one single perspective. For more information please see our website: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/beauty/index.aspx
Our first workshop is fast approaching, here is some more information on the types of discussions that will be taking place.
University of Warwick, hosted by Dr Fiona MacCallum (Psychology)
This workshop will consider changing body image. It will consider perceptions of ‘normal’, ‘healthy’ and ‘perfect’, conceptually, as they figure in the understandings of women’s and girls’ self images, and how they are understood in current practice and regulation. The extent to which the requirements of beauty are becoming more dominant for women of all types (and increasingly men); as the ‘minimal requirements’ extend and are required of more, perhaps all women (for instance, sportswomen, politicians and professionals). The way concepts function to support such demands will also be considered, for instance, deviance from normality is a criteria used to justify surgery. Such criteria both influence concepts of normality (as they define abnormal) and are also influenced by such concepts, as aesthetic concerns become medicalised.
Would you like to join the discussion? We’d love to hear from you – submit a post to the Beauty Demands Network here.
Network member Hannah Zeilig curated a 2 day event ‘Mirror Mirror: Representations and Reflections on age and ageing’ in October 2013. The conference asked questions about age and the arts, re-considering the category ‘age’ as well as the categories ‘fashion’ and ‘beauty’.
Here’s what the Guardian had to say about the event: How to grow old in style. What do you think about what the ‘Fabulous Fashionistas’ were discussing?
Please note: the network exists to share views on beauty norms and practices. Beauty Demands is encouraging debate between the network members and beyond. Content should not be read as endorsement by project staff of views expressed here.