The Neglected Harms of Beauty: Beyond Engaging Individuals

Journal of Practical Ethics, Vol 5, No. 2, December 2017

29 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2020

See all articles by Heather Widdows

Heather Widdows

University of Birmingham - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: December 08, 2017

Abstract

This paper explores the neglected ‘harms-to-others’ which result from increased attention to beauty, increased engagement in beauty practices and rising minimal beauty standards. In the first half of the paper I consider the dominant discourse of beauty harms – that of ethics and policy – and argue that this discourse has over-focused on the agency of, and possible harms to, recipients of beauty practices. I introduce the feminist discourse which recognises a general harm to all women and points towards an alternative understanding; although it too focuses on engaging individuals. I argue over-focusing on harms to engaging individuals is somewhat surprising especially in liberal contexts, as this harm can broadly be regarded as ‘self-harm’ (done by individuals to themselves, or by others employed by individuals to do so). The focus on engaging individuals has resulted in the neglect of significant and pressing harms-to-others in theory, policy and practice. In the second half of the paper I turn to actual and emerging harms-to-others. I focus on three particular harms-to-others as examples of the breadth and depth of beauty harms: first, direct harm to providers; second, indirect but specific harm to those who are ‘abnormal’; and third, indirect and general harm to all. I conclude that, contrary to current discourses, harms-to-others need to be taken into account to avoid biased and partial theorising and counter-productive policy-making. I advocate recasting beauty, in a parallel way to smoking, as a matter of public health rather than individual choice.

Keywords: Practical Ethics, Harm, Beauty

Suggested Citation

Widdows, Heather, The Neglected Harms of Beauty: Beyond Engaging Individuals (December 08, 2017). Journal of Practical Ethics, Vol 5, No. 2, December 2017, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3087195

Heather Widdows (Contact Author)

University of Birmingham - Department of Philosophy ( email )

Centre for the Studies of Global Ethics
Birmingham B15 2TT
United Kingdom

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