GROSS ANATOMY by Mara Altman


Dispatches from the Front (and Back)
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A journalist/author explores the whys and hows of the female body as she confronts the “volatile and apprehensive relationship” she has with her own body parts.

Altman (Thanks for Coming: One Young Woman's Quest for an Orgasm, 2009, etc.) grew up with two hippie parents who eschewed all bodily enhancements. Her mother “never wore any image-altering materials” and never shaved; her father “turned his nose up at anything he deemed unnatural,” including perfume. This led to the author’s hyperawareness of corporeal expectations for women and the nagging sense that she was somehow a misfit. Drawing on research and interviews, Altman considers everything about the female body that society often shames women into hiding. In “The Top Half,” the author discusses some of her favorite top-of-the-body fixations, such as body hair and its removal. Her investigations did nothing to cure her of her own depilatory compulsions, but at the same time, they revealed that the reasons behind shaving, waxing, and tweezing were rooted in everything from cultural/patriarchal norms (which equated hairlessness to sensuality) to biology (which equated hairiness to age and infertility). Altman then goes on to ponder other personal issues—e.g., hairy nipples, overactive sweat glands, protruding belly buttons, head lice, and the inability to vocalize sexual pleasure—with which she has struggled. In the second section of the book, “The Bottom Half,” Altman considers what inevitably draws dogs to the human vulva, why buttocks, the site of the grossest of all bodily functions, are also “one of the most sexualized parts of the human body,” and why society too often maligns features of the female body like labial lips (the so-called “camel toe”) and menstruation. By turns neurotically perverse and hilarious, Altman’s doodle-illustrated book is not just a memoir of her own quest to embrace physical imperfection. It is also an endearingly outrageous attempt to demystify the female body while shedding light on the causes of female corporeal insecurities.

A simultaneously funny and informative memoir about the wonder of the human body.

Pub Date: Aug. 21st, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-399-57483-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2018


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