Intact: A Defence of the Unmodified Body by Clare Chambers - review by Rachel Fraser

Rachel Fraser

Come As You Are 

Intact: A Defence of the Unmodified Body

By

Allen Lane 432pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

At thirty-two, I started to consider Botox. Deciding to have Botox isn’t like picking vanilla ice cream over chocolate. The preference for smooth skin isn’t one I just happen to have; it’s the product of a culture which punishes women who visibly age. If I choose Botox, I work to sustain that culture; by shoring up its norms, I make it harder for other women to choose differently. So, ought I to let my skin crease?

Clare Chambers thinks that it should be up to me whether I get Botox (good!). But she also thinks that there would be political value in my choosing to age naturally. Why? One argument is egalitarian. Some groups – women, deaf people – face disproportionate social pressure to modify their bodies. And if wrinkled women face more deprecation than lined men, and deaf people are pressured into getting cochlear implants, it is because our social norms mark older women as inferior to older men, and deaf people as inferior to the hearing. Fine – though in the context of feminist politics (and feminism is Chambers’s political home), this argument can feel passé. Increasingly, men are terrified of crows’ feet too.

A second argument is based on the value of well-being. Social pressures to modify the body, Chambers says, make us miserable. Perhaps, but all sorts of things make us miserable: poor-quality housing, precarious work, noise pollution. Why care about beauty norms in particular? Chambers answers by arguing that

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