Bioethics Blogs

Body image, beauty myths and cosmetic procedures

This blog post was written following the second Beauty Demands workshop. The third workshop will take place 14-15 October in Birmingham and will focus on the globalisation of beauty. The deadline for abstracts is 16 July at 4pm. This is the first of two blog posts.

Earlier in June, the Nuffield Council hosted a workshop on ‘Professionals, practitioners and beauty norms’, bringing together academic experts on body image and fashion, psychologists, philosophers, lawyers, surgeons and GPs to debate the role of professionals in responding to the changing requirements of ‘beauty’.

This was the second of four such workshops to be held as part of the year-long multi-disciplinary AHRC-funded BeautyDemands project looking at changing attitudes to body image, and the consequent changing uses of procedures that have traditionally been regarded as ‘medical’ in order to attempt to achieve beauty norms.

Speaker after speaker presented evidence as to the ever stronger emphasis and value placed on women’s (but also increasingly men’s) looks, and how the fashion ideal of looking ‘very young, very thin, very white’ (plus big breasts) is translating into demand for invasive surgery. In the UK, the operation most in demand is breast augmentation surgery, followed by eyelid surgery and facelifts, while we were told that in China leg-lengthening is de rigueur, and in South East Asia eye-widening to achieve a more ‘western’ look is popular.

A recent growth area of demand in the UK, one for which there are only isolated case reports from the 1970s, is that of ‘corrective labiaplasty’ for women (and girls) troubled by the size of their labia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.