A Duty to be Beautiful?

 

A Duty to be Beautiful?

Prof. Heather Widdows

(John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics, University of Birmingham)

Old Staff Common Room, QUB
Friday the 16th March: 3.00pm – 4.00pm (doors 2.45pm)

 

The beauty ideal is changing, it is becoming more important and, in so doing, it is being transforming into an ethical ideal. Yet the extent to which beauty defines our identities, constructs the self, structures daily practices, creates meaning and against which individuals are valued (or not) is not well recognised.

This talk will explore beauty as an ethical ideal, a shared value framework against which individuals judge themselves and others. This framework sets aspirational standards that we are required to work towards. Meeting, or striving to meet, such standards has the character of a (moral) duty, where failure to confirm is a moral vice, engendering shame and disgust, whilst being beautiful is seen as a sign of virtue. Praise, blame and reward are apportioned in accordance with the norms of beauty. Understanding the ethical nature of the ideal changes the power of what it means when we say “I let myself go!” or “I’ve been good and stuck to my diet”. It also makes sense of other features of beauty, such as why we ‘choose’ to engage in painful or harmful practices, like waxing and cosmetic surgery, and why criticisms about appearance can be so damaging.