"Sometimes it's stinky. Sometimes it's crusty. And sometimes it's slimy. But hey, it's your body," writes Sylvia Branzei, author of the book, Grossology: The Science of Really Gross Things.
The book has become a cultural phenomenon, translated into Japanese, Korean, Bulgarian, Spanish, and French. A Grossology museum exhibition is also touring; it's an interactive biology lesson featuring boogers, burps, poop, snot, scabs, spit, farts, and body odors.
By Helen Kirwan-Taylor
Many years ago I had a falling-out with a girlfriend that proved so painful, I can hardly talk about it today. My friend (let's call her Mary) was a colorful television personality and had the world at her feet. She was engaged to a handsome European, and her face was plastered across the newspapers. I was working for 60 Minutes at the time, and we often met for lunch. Then one day her show was canceled and she asked me - casually, as though it didn't really matter...
"I realized a long time ago that you have to get kids' attention, and children have an affinity for disgusting stuff," says Branzei, who spent many years as a science teacher (kindergarten through high school) in California.
"The goal is really to teach science, not gross anybody out," Branzei tells WebMD. "But the grossness is definitely the hook."
Farts, after all, are cool to kids. "So is poop," Branzei notes. "I think I'm normal, but maybe not -- I always look at my poop. Yet one woman told me she never looks at hers. The take-home lesson is that what you excrete tells you whole lot about yourself and your diet. The color of what you excrete is super important. My poop and snot probably look different from other people's. People need a baseline ... they need to look at their stuff, so they can tell when it changes."
The exhibit and book focus on "the everyday disgusting stuff," she explains. "So it's the 'eeewww' factor combined with the 'this-is-familiar' factor - so we can teach anatomy and physiology and health science. The hope is that if they learn more about their bodies, then they'll be inclined to take better care of themselves."
"It's totally like the Fear Factor TV show, but with biology behind it," says Sharon Horesh, MD, instructor of clinical medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "The best biology teacher teaches you things you remember, and always answers the 'why' questions ... the questions about biology that most people don't know the answers to."
"Puking is pretty important for your body," writes Branzei. "It gets rid of the stuff that your body thinks could be dangerous to you. In fact, throwing up is so important that there is part of the brain called the vomit center that causes this uncontrollable act. Once the vomit center goes into action, you cannot help but let loose."