Blog: Helen Ryland

Birmingham University researcher describes her work on the Everyday Lookism project

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Has a comment about how you look ever made you feel bad? If so, you’re not alone. But we don’t have to put up with this. The #EverydayLookism campaign, led by Heather Widdows, professor of philosophy at Birmingham University, aims to call out body shaming and put a stop to it. Joining the campaign is simple – just anonymously share your “lookist” stories.

To upload yours, go to and join the hundreds of people who’ve done the same. Each story shows just how deeply comments about appearance cut, and how long-lasting the effects of lookism can be. Put the shame back where it belongs – on the person who body shamed. Together we can stop this.

Widdows has been raising lookism with MPs and NGOs, and ran a recent Facebook Live series. The  messages were clear. Lookism is serious and has long-term effects on mental health, such as body image anxiety, and physical health, such as encouraging steroid use to look buff. Lookism needs to be recognised as a public health concern.

Think of lookism as analogous to smoking. Until recently, smoking was seen as a trivial, everyday part of life, and a matter of individual choice. Once the health damage was proven, we changed how we thought about it. We reframed it as a public health issue. This enabled collective action. We changed laws and regulations and make it a core part of education and public health practice.

Widdows argues that lookism is currently viewed like early smoking was: normal and routine. As we did with smoking, we need to do something about the negative effects of lookism. These are three things we can do.

First, develop better policies and laws around lookism. We need stronger, clearer regulations for social media platforms. For example, social media companies need to be proactive rather than reactive, and remove lookist content, including fat shaming and discriminating against those with disfigurements. Conservative MP Dr Luke Evans’ draft bill on digitally altered images requires advertisers, broadcasters and publishers to display a logo if an image of a human body has been digitally altered in its proportions.

We should not judge people for what they individually do or do not do when it comes to beauty, but change the pressures

Second, develop better education about lookism. Lookist attitudes and behaviours are not innate; they are learned. We need to learn differently. We need to educate society as a whole about differences, lookism and its effects, and why it’s not OK to say certain things or do certain actions.

Third, we need a culture change. We need to shift the conversation away from the idea that body image and lookism are matters of individual responsibility. We should not judge people for what they individually do or do not do when it comes to beauty, but change the pressures. We need a collective culture change, as we did with sexism. By naming lookism, we can call it out and make it not OK to make comments about other people’s bodies or appearance. In doing this, we collectively shift the shame from the victim of lookism to the perpetrator.

Body shaming is people shaming, and we simply should not do it.

To join the #EverydayLookism campaign and help us end lookism, share your story at Helen Ryland is a postdoctoral research fellow in the philosophy department of philosophy at Birmingham University

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