Bioethics Blogs

A global perspective on beauty

Back in June, I wrote about the Beauty Demands seminar we hosted here at the Nuffield Council that looked at the role played by health professionals in both creating and meeting the increasing demand for invasive cosmetic procedures. In the next seminar of the series, held in Birmingham (also see Kate Harvey’s previous blog), we turned our attention to the globalisation of beauty, debunking the myth that the rising interest in surgical ‘fixes’ is a trend emerging only in the wealthy western world. In exploring the very different ways in which the demands of beauty play out in diverse societies around the world, some common and thought-provoking themes emerged.

Almost all speakers strongly challenged the idea that the growing use of surgery (and/or invasive non-surgical techniques such as fillers and botox) as a means to achieve beauty ideals is simply an example of ‘westernisation’ or ‘Americanisation’. Of course the US is a major source of cultural exports – of media, fashion, and celebrity culture to name but a few – but these influences exist alongside, and often in relationship to, local cultural and beauty norms (which are not, necessarily, either more or less benign than the imported variety). In Japan, we were told, there are competing beauty ideals of ‘American’ larger breasts and ‘Japanese’ smaller ones, while in Brazil, breast reductions in response to the traditional preference for smaller breasts are one of the most common surgeries performed, despite the parallel popularity of implants. The US, moreover, is far from the only exporter of culture, technology or aesthetics: South Korea and Brazil were cited as examples of countries with their own pop and celebrity cultures whose influence extend well beyond their national borders.

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.