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Professor Clare Chambers gave evidence for a Women and Equalities Committee report on tackling negative body image.

Professor Clare Chambers influences Select Committee report on body image

Evidence from Professor Clare Chambers, Fellow in Philosophy at Jesus, has influenced the UK Government’s Women and Equalities Committee report on body image.

The report by the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) sets out recommendations to tackle the harms of poor body image and to increase the number of people in the UK who view their appearance positively.

It cites oral evidence from Professor Chambers, speaking in her role as a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. In its evidence, the Council urged the WEC to consider how equality legislation – specifically the Equality Act 2010 – could be used to support the inquiry’s aims.

Reflecting on the range of harmful impacts stemming from negative body image, and the high prevalence of negative body image, Professor Chambers remarked that “body image is both a public health issue and an issue of equality and discrimination”.

Giving oral evidence, Professor Chambers noted that norms of appearance often reinforce discrimination and inequality based on protected characteristics such as sex, race, and disability. She stated, “Since all these characteristics are protected under the Equality Act, I do think there should be scope for using the existing legislation, the full range of powers under that Act, to enforce, advise and guide on challenging appearance-based discrimination wherever it occurs.” 

The WEC subsequently recommended that the EHRC should produce guidance for individuals seeking to use the existing Equality Act legislation to challenge appearance-based discrimination. It stated that this work should be completed within three months.

In addition to equality legislation, the Council’s evidence also cast a spotlight on the role of social media in addressing body image concerns. It suggested that as a first step in tackling body image pressures, social media companies should fund research so they can understand the impact their platforms are having. In its evidence, the Council grounded this recommendation in the fact that social media companies have a duty of care to their users. This duty means they should investigate positive and innovative ways of promoting healthy body image and protecting their users from body-image-related harm.

Drawing on this evidence, the WEC urged the Government to work closely with social media companies and academics to ensure that research on social media use and body image is up-to-date, evidence-based, and sufficiently funded.

The Government is required to respond to these recommendations, and others set out in the WEC’s wide-ranging report. The deadline for the Government’s response is 9 June 2021.

This is an edited version of an article originally published by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. It is reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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