The Naked Woman: A Study of the Female Body © 2005 Desmond Morris
The Naked Man: A Study of the Male Body © 2009 Desmond Morris
Years ago I read Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape, an anthropological look at humanity. In scrutinizing human beings’ animal nature directly, Morris was something of a pioneer. The Naked Man and The Naked Woman borrow that title’s naming trend, and provide a study of the human body from the top of our hair to the bottom of our feet. The result is an entertaining if sometimes opinionated study that mixes biology, history, culture, and speculation. Morris begins with the top of the head and moves steadily downward, although he spends proportionately more time around the head for each subject – understandable given how many different individual subjections our heads contain. Morris typically opens by describing the section of the body in question, commenting on its variations within nature, elaborates extensively on its use in body language, and wraps up with how the body part has been regarded, used, or abused across cultures. The study of how different body parts have been decorated or mutilated in some cultures provided fascination and horror at the same time. Although Morris sometimes repeats himself across the books, it isn’t terribly noticable unless you read them back to back as I did. A bit of repetition is unavoidable to some degree, since some body parts aren’t hugely variated. Sexual differences are enormous, though, and not merely the obvious bits that we think of; there are differences in shoulder size, forearm length, eye dilation and more that make the male and female distinct, and place sex well beyond surgical erasure. Both books abound in interesting information (like the importance of spit in sealing human pacts) and speculation – like Morris’ offering that breasts draw male eyes not for their parental potential, but for their similarity to the buttocks, where male primates across species have looked for sexual-interest cues. Although our bodies, male and female, are unalterably distinct from the other, Morris does not argue that one is better than the other; the male grip may be stronger, but the female grip is more flexible. We are partners made for the other, each possessing different strengths – not rivals.