Resisting Body Oppression: An Aesthetic Approach

Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 3 (4):1-26 (2017)
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Open Access: This article argues for an aesthetic approach to resisting oppression based on judgments of bodily unattractiveness. Philosophical theories have often suggested that appropriate aesthetic judgments should converge on sets of objects consensually found to be beautiful or ugly. The convergence of judgments about human bodies, however, is a significant source of injustice, because people judged to be unattractive pay substantial social and economic penalties in domains such as education, employment and criminal justice. The injustice is compounded by the interaction between standards of attractiveness and gender, race, disability, and gender identity. I argue that we should actively work to reduce our participation in standard aesthetic practices that involve attractiveness judgments. This does not mean refusing engagement with the embodiment of others; ignoring someone’s embodiment is often a way of dehumanizing them. Instead, I advocate a form of practice, aesthetic exploration, that involves seeking out positive experiences of the unique aesthetic affordances of all bodies, regardless of whether they are attractive in the standard sense. I argue that there are good ethical reasons to cultivate aesthetic exploration, and that it is psychologically plausible that doing so would help to alleviate the social injustice attending judgments of attractiveness. This essay was the winner of the 30th Anniversary of the American Society for Aesthetics Feminist Caucus Committee Feminist Research Essay prize in 2020.



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Sherri Irvin
University of Oklahoma

Citations of this work

Is It Bad to Prefer Attractive Partners?William D'Alessandro - 2023 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 9 (2):335-354.
Personal Beauty and Personal Agency.Madeline Martin-Seaver - 2023 - Philosophy Compass 18 (12):e12953.
Engineering Human Beauty.Matteo Ravasio - 2022 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy:1-14.
Feminist Aesthetics.Carolyn Korsmeyer & Peg Weiser - 2021 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Engineering Human Beauty.Matteo Ravasio - 2023 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 101 (4):998-1011.

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References found in this work

Categories of Art.Kendall L. Walton - 1970 - Philosophical Review 79 (3):334-367.
Of the standard of taste.David Hume - 1875 - In Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary. Indianapolis: Liberty Press. pp. 226-249.
Thinking through the body: essays in somaesthetics.Richard Shusterman - 2012 - New York: Cambridge University Press.

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