INTACT at Epoché

Intact Bodies: The Ambivalence of The Natural and The Normal – John C. Brady in Conversation with Clare Chambers was published in the February 2022 issue of Epoché, the monthly magazine for the Philosophy diaspora. You can read the interview here.

Clare Chambers is a professor of political philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Her work deals with contemporary liberalism, social construction, feminism, and social justice. Her latest book, Intact (Allen Lane, 2022), is an analysis of the ways in which the body is a political site where the inequalities of sex, gender, race, disability, age, and class are reinforced. The book argues for the value of the ‘unmodified body’. The unmodified body is not an empirical concept, such a thing would be impossible in actuality (our bodies are undergoing constant revision and intervention). Rather, it is a political tool for resisting forms of coercion and oppression that would have us viewing our bodies as never good enough as they are, and thus requiring their modification, concealment, and conformance in myriad ways. However, the unmodified body cannot be viewed as a simple ‘body positivity’ any more than it can be asserted as an empirical concept. Rather, it is a new notion that cuts orthogonally across various ideals that we have previously held the body to: the natural, the normal, and the sovereign. Because of this orthogonality, these various ideals show themselves, under Chambers’ analysis, to have an ambivalent character. The book functions as both a political and cultural call to arms, and an astute analysis of how our bodies becomes ensnared in oppressive structures that inhibit the road to equality.

INTACT at Oxford Literary Festival

I’ll be discussing INTACT at the Oxford Literary Festival on 26th March 2022. You can buy tickets here.

Philosopher Clare Chambers argues that it is time for men, women and children to reclaim their bodies and that an unmodified body is a key principle of social and political equality.
Chambers ranges across a variety of areas from bodybuilding to makeup, male circumcision, breast implants, motherhood and childbirth. She argues that social pressure to modify your body sends a message that you are not good enough, and it reinforces inequalities of sex, gender, race, disability, age, and class.
Chambers is professor of political philosophy and a fellow of Jesus College in Cambridge. She is regarded as one of the most original philosophers in the UK today and is a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. She is author of
Against Marriage and specialises in feminism, bioethics, contemporary liberalism, and theories of social justice.

INTACT at Cambridge Literary Festival

I’ll be discussing INTACT with Rachel Cunliffe of The New Statesman at the Cambridge Literary Festival on 23 April 2022. You can buy tickets here.

In the hit BBC TV series ‘Fleabag’, a feminist asks a room-full of young women whether they would trade five years of their life for the so-called ‘perfect body’. In this rousing talk, best-selling author and political philosopher Clare Chambers makes a passionate case for why loving the body we were born with is a radical act. Arguing that our choices – even the most personal ones – are not made in a cultural vacuum, Clare illuminates how ingrained sexist norms, ageism and social media distort our perceptions of our selves.

INTACT in i news

“The rise of ‘shametenance’, the exhausting things we do to hide our natural bodies because we feel inadequate. Why are we so ashamed of the way we look?”

A wonderful article on INTACT by Kasia Delgado of i news, which includes a charming photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger. You can read the article here.

The political power of your body – INTACT in iai news

We all feel pressure for our bodies to look a certain way: 70% of women say they feel pressure to have a perfect body, and two thirds of men feel ashamed of how they look. However, those pressures don’t affect everyone equally. The standards by which our bodies are judged reflect and reinforce other unjust societal hierarchies. Furthermore, the failure to adhere to society’s beauty standards is often interpreted as a deeper failure of character, encompassing our entire identity. By being aware of the sources of these pressures we can remind ourselves that the unmodified body is valuable just as it is, writes Clare Chambers.

Read the whole article here.

Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Act

In October 2021 the Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Act was passed. This law makes it illegal for under-18s in England to access Botox or fillers for cosmetic reasons. This Bill follows the Nuffield Council on Bioethics report Cosmetic procedures: ethical issues. I was on the Working Party that produced that report. It recommended (amongst many other things) that children and young people under the age of 18 should not be able to access cosmetic procedures, other than in the context of multidisciplinary healthcare.

Since publication of this report the Nuffield Council (of which I am a member) have made a sustained effort to follow up our recommendations, and secured meetings with Department of Health and Social Care Ministers that were influential in prompting this new legislation. The Council continued Parliamentary engagement throughout the passage of the Bill (for example, I gave evidence to the Women & Equalities Select Committee) and the report was referenced numerous times in the Second Reading in the House of Lords, and included in the House of Commons Library briefing for MPs.

The new law comes amidst pressure on the Government to take stronger action to regulate Botox and fillers amongst the whole population – another recommendation made in our report. I gave evidence on the Council’s behalf to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Beauty, Aesthetics and Wellbeing to push this issue forward, and they published recommendations for Government in July which mirrored some of the Council’s.

The Nuffield Council published a statement to welcome the new law, saying:

“We are delighted that our work to promote ethical practice within the cosmetic procedures industry has contributed to this new law which prevents people from giving Botox or cosmetic fillers on a walk-in basis to children and young people under 18. We feel strongly that children and young people should not be able to access any form of cosmetic procedures other than in the context of multidisciplinary healthcare, and would urge further action to broaden the restrictions to all types of cosmetic procedures.”

You can read the bill here.

Intact: A Defence of the Unmodified Body

In an age of social media and selfies, of pixel-perfect pictures and surgically-enhanced celebrities, the pressure to change our bodies can often seem overwhelming. We are told we should conceal the signs of ageing and get our bodies back after pregnancy. We ought to perfect our complexions, build our biceps, trim our waistlines, cure our disabilities, conceal our quirks. More than ever before, we should contort our physical selves to prejudiced standards of beauty and acceptability.

In this thought-provoking work, acclaimed political philosopher Clare Chambers argues that the unmodified body is a key principle of equality. While defending the right of anyone to change their bodies, she argues that the social pressure to modify sends a powerful message: you are not good enough. The body becomes a site of political importance: a place where inequalities of sex, gender, race, disability, age, and class are reinforced. 

Through a clear-sighted analysis of the power dynamics that structure our society, and with examples ranging widely from body-building to breast implants, makeup to male circumcision, Intact stresses that we must break away from the oppressive forces that demand we alter our bodies. Instead, it offers a vision of the human body that is equal without expectation: an unmodified body that is not an image of perfection or a goal to be attained, but a valued end in itself.

Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd 
ISBN: 9780241439043 
Number of pages: 256 
Dimensions: 240 x 156 mm

To be published in February 2022; available to pre-order here and from all good bookshops.

Women & Equalities Select Committee Report

The Women & Equalities Select Committee has published their report “Changing the perfect picture: an inquiry into body image”. The report quotes evidence I gave to the Committee on behalf of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, and adopts a number of the Council’s recommendations. You can read the report here, and the Nuffield Council’s statement here.

Nuffield Council on Bioethics project on gender identity

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is launching a new project that will explore the ethical, social, and legal issues associated with the care and treatment of children and adolescents in relation to their gender identity.

Increasing numbers of young people and their families in the UK have been seeking advice and support in relation to gender identity issues in recent years. In autumn 2019, we spoke to a wide range of individuals about the challenges involved in providing care and treatment for young people in relation to their gender identity. From those meetings, it is clear that there are many areas of consensus, but there are also a number of unresolved ethical questions that deserve further consideration. 

This project will look in more detail at some of those issues, including the nature of gender dysphoria, the balance of benefit and harm in treatment and non-treatment, and the ability of young people to consent to medical interventions. 

Our aim is to contribute information and insight on these issues to inform and support practitioners and policy-makers, to contribute to the broader public debate, and, ultimately, to improve the well-being of gender diverse and gender incongruent children and adolescents by helping ensure they receive ethical, appropriate, and high-quality care.

During this project, we want to listen to a wide range of views – including those of young people themselves. If you are interested in being involved or would like to find out more, please email gender@nuffieldbioethics.org. We will be launching a call for evidence in the coming weeks. For more information on the project, please visit the project page

Rethinking The Body on BBC Radio 5 Live

My essay Rethinking The Body was featured on BBC Radio 5 Live on the Stephen Nolan show with Rick Edwards on Saturday 27th June 2020 at 9pm. After the essay was broadcast the first hour of the show discussed body image in the context of the pandemic with me and several other guests.

You can listen to the programme here.

Rethinking The Body on Woman’s Hour

My radio essay “Rethinking The Body” was featured on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on Wednesday 24th June.

From the Woman’s Hour website:
Rethink is a series of essays and discussions across BBC Radio 4, 5 Live and the World Service that looks at how the world might change after the coronavirus pandemic. Today’s essay features the political philosopher Clare Chambers who considers how our relationship with our bodies, and our appearance has been affected by the lockdown. To discuss Jenni is joined by Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism project, Kate Lister, Lecturer in the School of Arts and Communication at Leeds Trinity University, and Shahidha Bari, Professor of Fashion Cultures and Histories at the London College of Fashion.

You can listen to the essay and discussion here.

Rethinking The Body

I have recorded an essay on how we think about our bodies for Rethink – a BBC radio series that considers how the world should change after the coronavirus pandemic. You can listen to the programme and see the others in the series here.

Member of Nuffield Council on Bioethics

I am honoured to be appointed as a Council Member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent body that examines and advises on ethical issues that arise from developments in biomedical science and healthcare. I have previously worked with the Council as a member of the Working Party that produced the report on Cosmetic Procedures. I’m extremely pleased to be able to join the Council and play a part in shaping the overall work of the organisation. You can find a full list of Council members here.

Medically unnecessary genital cutting and the child’s right to bodily integrity: an international expert consensus statement

In American Journal of Bioethics Vol. 19 (2019).

Keeping our focus exclusively on a Western context for the purposes of this article, we argue as follows: Under most conditions, cutting any person’s genitals without their informed consent is a serious violation of their right to bodily integrity. As such, it is morally impermissible unless the person is nonautonomous (incapable of consent) and the cutting is medically necessary.

This paper is authored by the Brussels Collaboration on Bodily Integrity (2019).

This work grew out of informal discussions among participants in the G3 International Experts Meeting on FGM/C in Brussels, Belgium, May 20-22, 2019, along with other scholarly collaborators. We are physicians, ethicists, nurse-midwives, public health professionals, legal scholars, political scientists, anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, and feminists from Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas with interdisciplinary expertise in child genital cutting practices across a wide range of cultural contexts. 

You can read the paper here.

Corresponding author: Brian D. Earp, Associate Director, Yale-Hastings Program in Ethics and Health Policy, Yale University and The Hastings Center, 2 Hillhouse Avenue, New Haven, CT, 06511, USA. E-mail: brian.earp@gmail.co

Blending in and standing out: comfort and visibility in beauty practices

“My thought is this: a significant aspect of beauty practices is comfort and visibility. Comfort relates to discipline: discipline makes some actions and inactions seem comfortable and others effortful. Visibility relates to surveillance: some beauty practices make us seem visible or hyper-visible, others make us feel invisible. Sometimes beauty practices aim at making the practitioner visible: she wants her appearance to be noticeable. But beauty practices can also aim at invisibility: at making a person blend in rather than stand out. Both make up and its absence can have this effect, depending on the person and context involved.”

This short piece is published on the Beauty Demands blog. You can read it here.

Reasonable Disagreement and the Neutralist Dilemma

Chambers, Clare, “Reasonable Disagreement and the Neutralist Dilemma: Abortion and circumcision in Matthew Kramer’s Liberalism with Excellence” in The American Journal of Jurisprudence (May 2018).

You can read the paper here.

Abstract: This paper starts by investigating the idea of reasonable disagreement. It then considers Matthew Kramer’s argument that there is no neutral solution available to the disagreement over abortion. The paper argues that Kramer’s account has wider application, and identifies a neutralist dilemma. The neutralist dilemma applies when, of two policy options available to the state, one is unreasonable. It follows that the state should enact only the reasonable policy. However, in a neutralist dilemma the fact of reasonable disagreement due to the burdens of judgment means that it is not possible for the state to act at all, whether legislating or not, without deviating from neutrality. The paper develops the concept of the neutralist dilemma and then applies it to another case discussed by Kramer: infant circumcision. The paper argues that the debate over infant circumcision can be framed as a neutralist dilemma, but that the most plausible resolution of the dilemma results in an argument in favor of the legal prohibition of the practice. This is a surprising result, since most liberal states do not restrict circumcision and since prohibition of circumcision might initially appear to be non-neutral or even illiberal; however it is consistent with the tenets of neutralist liberalism.

Neutrality at University of Edinburgh

I presented my paper “Reasonable disagreement and the neutralist dilemma: Abortion and circumcision in Matthew Kramer’s Liberalism with Excellence” at the University of Edinburgh in March 2018. You can read their account of the session on the Just World Institute blog here.

Cosmetic procedures: ethical issues

Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 2017

This report was written by the Working Party on Cosmetic Procedures, of which I am a member.

There has been increasing demand for invasive cosmetic procedures in the UK, prompting questions about potential risks to users and the lack of regulation and professional standards in this area. This report explores ethical issues in cosmetic procedures with a particular focus on the role and responsibilities of health and scientific professionals and others in responding to demand for invasive non-reconstructive procedures that aim to enhance or normalise appearance. It engages in detailed ethical analysis and makes recommendations affecting all parts of the sector.

You can read the report here.