I remember the first time I heard the term “meat” applied to the human body. I was visiting another university, and had lunch with someone who referred disdainfully to his form as the “meat” that enclothed him. I was struck by that turn of phrase, as if his body was simply some unfortunate sartorial choice. The personal dissociation it implied troubled me greatly.

Fast forward a decade, and this view of the body has seemingly metastasized within our society. Plastic surgery was once uncommon and kept discreet; now it is not only commonplace and flaunted, but there is now a market for more extreme surgery, and we have even seen the emergence of a market, though still rare, for the removal of ears and noses, and the implantation of horns or splitting of tongues. 

You can also see the extremist slide in tattoos; whereas in the past, tattoos were not all that common, tattooing is now a booming business, and these days full sleeves of tattoos, and even full body tattooing, is becoming more common.

There have always been fads of adornment in human cultures, but these recent developments strike me as something more than that. They speak to me of a deep dissociation from the body, of the “meat” view of the human body that borders on disdain for our very incarnation.

Unease with incarnation can only lead to an unease with sex, for without sex there can be no bodies created. This had led to a new market for surgeries to modify sex, which really means to remove sex. A recent longitudinal study found that such “gender affirming” surgeries had tripled over a three-year period, and tellingly, the most common surgical procedure performed on genitals was hysterectomy. Elective hysterectomy, let us say, along with elective mastectomy. The elective destruction of one’s biological sex. 

A very troubling example of what seems to be a disdain for the body is the new market for surgeries that modify sex, potentially compromising healthy function and having a high complication rate. There is also an emerging market for surgery of people who wish to be nonbinary or those who wish to remove a limb, becoming elective amputees. One Texas doctor offers procedures that essentially remove any evidence of biological sex at all, or alternatively, create a body with parts that appear both male and female.

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But invasive adornment and the removal of sex are not the only routes to dissociation from the body. The world of transplantation has also become more extreme over time. All cheered when transplants that allowed people to live rather than die were developed, such as heart, lung and liver transplants. Then, many cheered as transplants were pioneered that allowed people to regain what had been taken from them by tragic accident, even though their lives were not at stake, such as hand transplants or even face transplants.

But now there is an emerging market for temporary transplants that will be removed within a few years; such is the case with the new womb transplants. Stick in someone else’s body part and then have it removed and discarded, as if we were playing with living building blocks. 

And there are real feminist issues involved in this logic; as Janice Turner puts it, “The womb comes attached to a woman: it is not an interchangeable Lego part, a crop to be harvested, or a vessel sold to the highest bidder for rent or sale.” Women are not a collection of spare parts for someone else’s purchase.

It’s time to find a way to escape not our bodies, but the disorienting view that our bodies are what we must escape. Political philosopher Savannah Eccles Johnston articulates that alternate view:

“Embodiment is central to the purpose of life (and) thus changes how we view our own bodies. Our bodies are no longer Plato’s ‘wretched prisons’ but prized gifts. Receiving a body is literally the key point! Indeed, our embodiment is essential to our eternal happiness. Furthermore, embodiment radically alters our view of women (for) women have historically been denigrated for their connection to the body. ... To do violence to the body is to do violence to the living soul. Likewise, pornography and prostitution are far more serious trespasses against the dignity of the individual when we understand the doctrine of embodiment.”

We must begin to question our ever-intensifying, ever more invasive treatment of the body. Our bodies are not objects we tailor and snip to our satisfaction; we are our bodies. They are our way of being in this world; there is no other way. Our bodies deserve respect, not violence, at our hands.

Valerie M. Hudson is a university distinguished professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and a Deseret News contributor. Her views are her own.