Heather Widdows (Birmingham)
‘My Body, My Self?'
Abstract: That our bodies have become our very selves in a visual and virtual culture is one of the main arguments of Perfect Me. This is so widely believed that we often don’t recognise either that it is true (until it is pointed it out) or how surprising and transformative this is. We used to think of ourselves as our ‘inner selves’. Being better was knowing more, having a better character or being able to do more. Success is becoming appearance-success, and recognising the moral element in this is crucial to understanding what is going on. Body work has become virtuous. If we work hard enough – stick religiously to our diet, pump iron, run, buff, smooth and firm – we will be rewarded. And the rewards will be significant. We will be better people, and, in the logic of the beauty ideal, we will be rewarded with the ‘goods of the good life’. Better relationships, better jobs, happiness, better lives.
In ‘My Body, My Self?’ I will explore the move to bodies as selves under an ethical ideal and consider what this means. In locating the self in the body we do not simply objectify. The body is not passive. It is subject and object. The self is located across the bodies we have and imagine, the actual (flawed) body, the transforming body, and the imagined body, the perfect me. I will consider how we respond to the pressures which attach to the body-as-self, and argue that individual responses, to ‘just resist’, or to ‘be resilient’ are ineffective, and even unethical, and should be rejected in favour of public health and communal responses.
Heather Widdows is the John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics in the Department of Philosophy and Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research (Impact) 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. She has served on the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2014-2020) and previously on the UK Biobank Ethics and Governance Council (2007-2013). 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). Her most recent book is Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal (2018). She has co-edited, with Darrel Moellendorf, The Routledge Handbook of Global Ethics (2014). She co-runs the Beauty Demands Network and Blog (http://beautydemands.blogspot.com/) and the #everydaylookism project (https://everydaylookism.bham.ac.uk/).
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