Breaking legs for science

William Saletan tells the story of a woman who didn’t like being 5 foot 1 inches tall, so she went to Russia to have her legs broken and stretched for 6 months. Just one of many examples of extreme body alterations that have become more common lately:

Ban doesn't pretend her rationale was more than cosmetic. "A lot of young women feel insecure about their weight or their nose or their figure in general. Mine was my height," she told the Daily Mail. To Reuters, she added, "This is no different to having breast augmentation or nose procedures." To AFP, she underscored the social pressure behind such surgeries: "A lot of women, just through the way that society is and the pressure that we have, have insecurity and have some self-doubt."

I wonder every so often who will jump first when genetic techniques become feasible to alter human biology. And then I remember the extremes of cosmetic surgery – people sign up willingly, spending enormous sums and taking themselves away from their everyday lives for months, sometimes techniques that have very little objective impact on appearance.

I suppose I should just sigh and be glad there are so many willing guinea pigs for new surgical techniques. But I’m apprehensive about the herky-jerky pace of progress – fueled by anecdote-spreading networks of celebrities and idle rich people. Improvements in fertility treatments have largely occurred by this pathway, so there’s a very real prospect that other genetic techniques will as well.