The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) has set out a series of recommendations to increase the number of people in the UK who view their appearance positively.

In a report published last week, the WEC cites oral evidence from Clare Chambers – a member of the Nuffield Council and professor of political philosophy at the University of Cambridge – and supplementary written evidence provided by the Council. Both evidence contributions draw on the Council’s 2017 report on cosmetic procedures.

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. Giving oral evidence, Professor Chambers stated, “Since all these characteristics [including disfigurement] 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.” This builds on the Council’s recommendation that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) should develop guidance on disfigurement and appearance-related discrimination, and take such discrimination into account when monitoring other areas of equality, including age, race, gender, and disability.

In its new report, 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, WEC urges 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.

The Nuffield Council will continue to follow and report on developments on this inquiry.