Our bodies are never good enough. And the social pressures to change them are overwhelming. We strive to defy ageing, build our biceps and conceal our quirks. Surrounded by filtered photos and surgically-enhanced features, we feel we must contort our physical selves to accepted standards of beauty. Perfection is impossible, and even an acceptable body seems out of reach.
But do we have to accept these pressures? That’s the question that philosopher Clare Chambers explored when she came to Intelligence Squared to talk about the themes of her new book Intact: A Defence of the Unmodified Body. Chambers explained that these pressures are not only discriminatory in terms of age, race, gender and disability, but the very idea that some sorts of bodies need to be changed is a denial of their basic equality or moral worth. Through stories about ‘nearly nude’ makeup, male circumcision, the rigours of body-building and disastrous cosmetic surgery, Chambers challenged many of our assumptions about what the 'natural’ or ‘normal’ body is. And while defending our right to change our bodies, she argued that 'when virtually everyone feels bad about their bodies, the bodies are not the problem. It is time to reclaim the value of the unmodified body.'