Gross Anatomy by Mara Altman
“I thought there were just two kinds of girls in the world. The fat ones and the skinny ones. I never knew there were so many things to hate about myself.” Mean Girls
There is an infinite amount of things that can be wrong with a person’s body. From chin hair to not moaning sexily enough during sex to vaginal odor, author Mara Altman takes the female form on in her new book “Gross Anatomy.”
From head to toes, existing in a female body can often feel like living in a war zone. Just when you’ve squelched one nemesis, like your armpit hair, in an act of guerilla warfare, a new enemy will arise, like a pimple, and you’ll be deep in the throes of battle again. Reading Altman’s book was like reading the account of a fellow journalist documenting living life in a warzone. A very funny journalist, living life in a mostly safe warzone. But a warzone nonetheless.
In this book, Altman both contends with her feelings about her own body and raises some cultural questions I’ve been pondering for a while. There’s the Butt Paradox. Why are butts so sexualized when in truth they are sewage disposal pipes? Is PMS a real thing? Why is the fashion world not paying more attention to the plight of cameltoe? Why are women raised to hate their bodies so they will buy beauty supplies they don’t need?
Answers are few and far between, but in this case, even the act of asking the question makes fellow questioners (me) feel seen.
At the end of the book, there’s a nude photo of the author, with all the not-safe-for-work bits tastefully blurred. Altman recalls finding freedom while pregnant and playing tennis in a nudist resort. “I wanted a photo to remind myself of everything - the hair, the sweat, the swollen ankles, the acne covering both face and chest, and the massive ball of babies on my front — because in that moment, that’s who I was and there was no shame.” That feeling of escape from the pressure of occupying a physical form, of not caring what the flesh vessel that covers your soul looks like, of catching a glimpse of your reflection and liking it, is a powerful, intensely female one. It’s how you end up becoming yourself.
Altman’s book has no clear agenda. It’s not a screed on body positivity (although of course it is, in a way), it’s not a feminist reinterpretation of the self (although it also is, in a way) and it isn’t a dark reckoning with body issues (it’s a light one!).
It’s just a book exploring one woman’s relationship to her body. I felt very seen by it. So in a way, it’s not just one woman. It’s all of us, and we’re all hot, lumpy boobs and beards and crooked hairlines and acne and all.
Shira Feder is a writer. She’s at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story "Mara Altman on the female body anatomy" was written by Shira Feder.