‘Naming and Shaming: Responding to Lookism’

A lively discussion followed the lectures, covering among many other issues whether choosing a partner on the basis of looks must count as an injustice, and whether calmly and clearly calling out discrimination might sometimes be a more appropriate or effective response than anger.
Philosophy can play, and is to some extent playing, its part, and here Prof. Widdows referred to the arguments in her Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal (Princeton, 2018) to the conclusion that our culture is now over-valuing, and mistakenly valuing, beauty to the extent that many are harmed through seeing their identity as dependent on their appearance. Prof. Widdows provided moving examples from stories posted on the website of the #everydaylookism campaign that emerged from her book, noting again the salience of shame in many of them.
On the evening of Friday 9 June, Prof. Heather Widdows presented the inaugural Michael Lockwood Memorial Lecture, as part of a weekend of events to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and the fifth of the MSt. in Practical Ethics, based in the Centre. The title of Prof. Widdows’ fascinating and suggestive lecture was ‘Naming and Shaming: Responding to Lookism’.
Prof. Widdows then provided evidence of lookism in employment and other domains, including the justice system and in the attitudes of young children. She suggested that lookism is less recognized than other forms of discrimination in part because its victims feel shame, and are hence unmotivated to call out that discrimination. Given that, she argued, we should seek to change that shame to anger or rage, as has happened in the case of sexism. This would increase the visibility of lookism, and make appearance at least a more plausible candidate for inclusion as a ’protected characteristic’ in equality legislation.
Prof. Widdows began with a definition of lookism as ‘unjust discrimination on the basis of looks or appearance’. If an appointment committee, for example, knowingly or unknowingly offers a job to someone because of their appearance, when that appearance is itself irrelevant to the job in question, this is lookist, as analogous decisions based on race or sex would be, respectively, racist or sexist.