Put together the right to freedom of expression and the technological ability to modify yourself however you want, and you get the right to morphological freedom: the right to be whatever shape you want, or to have any appearance you want.
People today rarely consider their physical bodies to be a significant canvas for self-expression. Those that do choose to modify their appearances are often looked down upon, considered weird, fringe, or just vain. But there’s reason to think that in the future, changing your physical appearance could be as simple and easy as changing your wardrobe. If you got to choose how you looked, what would you choose?
It’s easy enough to imagine a world of supermodels, with hourglass figures or 6-pack abs as one prefers, but it’s harder to envision a reality in which one’s own body could be a means of protest. The only real comparison we have in current society is the battle for trans* rights, where wearing a dress or having plastic surgery can be seen by some as an assault against traditional values.
The stigma against deliberate body modification, be it exuberant peircings or the choice to change your body to better fit your gender identity, shows that the fight for morphological freedom is likely to be a long, slow slog. Polite society doesn’t just demand that you wear certain clothes to work, it often requires specific hairstyles, body shapes, and a lack of tattoos or piercings.
We live in a world that rewards women with a very specific, genetically-determined features such as a small nose and big eyes – and yet, if you’re dealt a bad hand in the genetic lottery, having surgery to give yourself the necessary traits to follow a career as a model or in acting or indeed in any form of entertainment would be considered scandalous, shocking, a kind of cheating.
More frighteningly, exerting your right to self-modify won’t just make it harder to get a job (which is bad enough), right now it can mean being denied medical care or even being attacked. We have a long, long ways to go before we can expect the general public to be respectful or inclusive of those who choose to express themselves through body-modifications.
Let us hope in the future we are free to look however we want. The technology is coming rapidly – the barrier is whether society will let us use it.