A colleague was on point when she described Mara Altman’s Gross Anatomy: “It’s like Amy Schumer and Mary Roach got together to do an adult version of The Care and Keeping of You.“ Tackling topics ranging from body hair to sweat to "the air down there," this fascinating, funny, and informative book has an underlying message: Ladies, let’s be kind and accepting of ourselves. Here, Altman talks about the research she conducted to write the book, and as you'll see, she was very committed to the task.
DISCLAIMER: If frank discussions about the body make you squeamy, back away from this blog post.
Besides conducting research and interviews for my book, Gross Anatomy: Dispatches From the Front (And Back), I often had to get in the ring, so to speak, to fully grasp the subjects and write about them firsthand.
To wrap my mind around the Free the Nipple movement and why our culture is so uptight about breasts, I joined a group that went for a daylong topless bike ride around Manhattan. I was most surprised by how much I wanted to stare at all of the other women’s breasts. A close second was seeing a photo of me - black bars placed over my bare chest – published in The New York Post the next day with the headline “Breezy Riders.”
During my study of vaginal scents, I douched in order to ascertain what we miss, if anything, when our vaginas don’t smell like vaginas anymore. For example, if I suddenly smelled like “spring rain,” would my dog still eagerly greet me crotch first?
I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that purposefully inserting perfumed liquid into my body, a liquid that is commonly known to cause bacterial vaginosis (BV) and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) was quite an eye-opening ride.
My investigations into the body did not stop there. During my research into the butt paradox – that is, how we manage to fetishize the body’s very own septic tank – I visited Cindy Thorin, an anal bleaching expert. I thought she’d share some hard-won insights, but about 20 minutes into our conversation, I found myself on all fours without any pants on while she assessed the coloration of my anus. I won’t go into detail, but I’ll just say that I was sent home with a tub of her specially formulated bleaching cream. She was a fascinating detour, even if I was still weeks of research away from figuring out why we put ass cheeks up on a pedestal.
I conducted many more probes (the investigative kind) into the human body, many of which required that I be intrepid and egoless. At a plastic surgeon’s office, I placed my feet into stirrups as the surgeon used a Q-tip to outline the parts of my vulva he’d have to lop off in order to get rid of my camel toe. (I’m at peace with my toe and plan on keeping it, but the consultation was part of some necessary fieldwork). In another case, I called up esteemed evolutionary theorists and asked them if it was normal that I don’t make sex sounds when I hump. It was part of coming to terms with the fact that I’m a sex mute, but in the process, I learned about the origins of copulatory vocalizations and the rather fascinating role they play in our lives. I also went for broke by visiting a nudist resort at seven months pregnant with twins. It was a very hairy situation, so to speak.
Throughout my year and a half plus of reporting this book, I culled these experiences and many more to form a book that informs as well as celebrates our bodies in all of their heinous glory. I hope you get a kick and a gag out of it, too.
Another thing to get a gag out of is this hilariously cringe-worthy book trailer for Gross Anatomy, compliments of Ms. Altman: