BODYWATCHING by Desmond Morris


A Field Guide To The Human Species
Email this review


Morris is a blatant body-watcher, entranced by the human form in all its naked-apeness. He profits from his studies by producing pop works that combine some fact, some crack-fact, and a lot of what used to be called "pious pornography." Because he is a clever writer, because he writes about human behavior, and because he is not at all unhappy being found out on a limb, he commands and gets attention. Thus, Bodywatching, a brow-to-toe study of human parts and appendages, their uses and abuses in cultures now and then. A lot of this is tim, a lot borrowed from his previous, less opinionated study of human gestures (Manwatching). We learn about the head roils, the brow knits, the earlobe touches which come with universal or particular meanings. Touch an earlobe as you face a man in Italy, we are told, and it will be interpreted as an accusation of effeminacy--the guy should be wearing an earring. In Portugal, the same gesture means something delicious, from girls to food. Then there are the historical bits. Morris describes exactly how the feet of well-born Chinese girls were bound and how the resulting size and shape, called the Golden Venus, took on erotic meaning. His discussion of spittle is interesting, too. The association of saliva with the soul meant that spittle could be a reverential offering to the gods. Later, spitting was used to ward off the Evil Eye and generalized as an opprobrious gesture toward anyone undesirable. But beware. Some origins and explanations smack of Morris Just-So stories: that breasts are substitute buttocks, for example, or that man may have gone through an aquatic phase (one explanation for our protuberant noses). Even the anatomical/medical facts aren't always right. Not all head or chin hair would grow to record lengths if never cut. And the principal cause of tooth decay is not the bacteria named, but a certain streptococcal species. If the examples chosen suggest interesting topics but caveat emptor, fine. In addition, most of the body parts described here have sexual connotations (e.g., breasts, buttocks, legs, mouths), and here Morris the Macho reigns supreme: he is much more focused on female anatomy and interpretations, playing hard on the theme of women as submissive, helpless, virginal and nurturing than on his heap-big male hunter and protector. So expect many women to react with arms akimbo, if not chin stuck out. For the rest, keep your eyes wide open and be prepared to smile, frown, and hardly ever yawn.
Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
ISBN: 0586202749
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1985


NonfictionTHE LIVES OF THE SURREALISTS by Desmond Morris
by Desmond Morris
NonfictionTHE NAKED MAN by Desmond Morris
by Desmond Morris
NonfictionHORSEWATCHING by Desmond Morris
by Desmond Morris


NonfictionANATOMIES by Hugh Aldersey-Williams
by Hugh Aldersey-Williams