Our Obsession With Modifying Our Bodies

The Health Issue.
Photograph by Naila Ruechel for The New York Times.

A body is the first thing we are given, at once our most valuable and most vulnerable possession. It's public and private at the same time, the thing the world sees (and comments on, even when we wish they wouldn't). Being in a body is a complicated endeavor: so much comfort and agony, trauma and shame, peril and pleasure all rolled up in one perpetually aging instrument that, for most of our history as a species, we couldn't do much to change. Identity might be fluid, but the body was a relatively fixed thing.

No longer.

We have more opportunities to modify the body than ever, and as a result, we have become obsessed with this sort of tinkering, and with the questions of identity that it raises.

Our annual health issue this year is about an era when body modification is more popular and possible than ever. Whether the aim is to be thinner or curvier, taller or bulkier, to come closer to what society, at the moment, has deemed ideal beauty or to finally manifest our innermost selves, the one thing that's constant is change.


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