Monday, April 30, 2018

Heather Widdows's "Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal"

Heather Widdows is the John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham.

Widdows applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal, and reported the following:
The demand to be beautiful is increasingly important in today’s visual and virtual culture. Rightly or wrongly being perfect has become and ethical ideal to live by, and according to which we judge ourselves good or bad, a success or failure. There are numerous consequences of the emergence of beauty as an ethical ideal - many are harmful as we suffer an epidemic of body image anxiety and engage in increasingly demanding and risky practices – simply to feel good enough, to feel normal. If trajectories continue and we do nothing to stop the rising demands the future will be bleak indeed. Yet there are positive aspects of the beauty ideal not least it is embodied and recognises we are situated in bodies which are key to how we understand and express ourselves. The first two arguments of the book claim that beauty is first and ethical ideal and second that it is global. Page 99 comes at the end of these arguments having argued that “the demandingness, and likely future demandingness, of the ideal is particularly troubling in light of the growing dominance of the ideal and its increasingly ethical nature.” It then goes on to begin what will become a claim that there is nothing ‘routine’ about daily beauty practices and it is easy to gradually move from the hairdresser to the clinic, and that we should rethink the assumptions we have about surgery being different from other beauty practices. On page 99 I being the description of routine beauty practices:
Routine practices include the daily application of lotions and potions. These have to be purchased and then used in the correct layered order; in itself a costly and time consuming business which has to be learned. For example, a standard beauty routine might be to maintain skin health using lotions, which may include the use of products in turn: cleanser, toner, serum, moisturiser, eye cream, BB/CC cream and primer. Having prepared and protected the skin then you are ready to apply make-up. The daily application of make-up is done by very many women, and again, requires the application of products in the correct way. Putting on ‘your face’ standardly requires the use of some or all of these products – foundation, powder, blusher, eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, lipstick – sometimes less, sometimes more and perhaps most for the contoured ‘natural look’.
I then go on to argue that under the beauty ideal the self is located in the body, but not just in the actual flawed body. It is also in the transforming body, a body of potential and possibility, and the imagined body, full of promise, the Perfect Me. The final arguments of the book are about choice, and why is it that we say we choose to engage and yet feel we have to.
Learn more about Perfect Me at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue