Heather Widdows – No Duty To Resist: Why individual resistance is an ineffective response to dominant beauty ideals

Event Date: 18 October 2021
Virtual [ZOOM] University of London
Malet St
London WC1E 7HU

The Aristotelian Society presents:

Professor Heather Widdows (Birmingham) – No Duty To Resist: Why individual resistance is an ineffective response to dominant beauty ideals

In this paper I argue that the way to reduce the power of overdemanding beauty ideals is not to advocate that individuals have a duty to resist; that the way to challenge dominant beauty norms is for women to simply refuse to engage in beauty practices and body work. I begin by refuting the argument that women who ‘do’ beauty are suffering from false consciousness. I then give five additional arguments against advocating a ‘duty to resist’ as an effective means to challenge dominant beauty norms. First, that it has proven to fail. Second, it is an individual approach which divides and silences. Third, it induces shame and blame and undermines effective collective action. Fourth, it ignores the empowerment that beauty engagement can bring. Fifth, it fails to recognise the privilege which makes resistance possible. If we wish to change the power what is a dominant and increasingly demanding beauty norm we need to focus away from what individuals’ do or don’t do to their bodies.

Heather Widdows is the John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics and Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research and Knowledge Exchange) at the University of Birmingham. She is Deputy Chair of the Philosophy sub-panel for REF 2021 and was a member of the 2014 sub-panel. Her most recent book, Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal (2018), was described by Vogue as “ground-breaking” and listed by The Atlantic as one of the best books of 2018. She is author of The Connected Self: The Ethics and Governance of the Genetic Individual (2103), Global Ethics: An Introduction (2011), and The Moral Vision of Iris Murdoch (2005). She has co-edited, with Darrel Moellendorf, The Routledge Handbook of Global Ethics (2014). She co-runs the Beauty Demands Network and Blog and the #everydaylookism project.

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