Body Worlds Vital Debuts at Anchorage Museum September 28: What Parents Should Know

Copyright Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plasination, Heidelberg, Germany

Bodies; we all have ‘em, live in them, and treat them with varying levels of respect. Temples or trials, being human means residing within a framework of bone and sinew, the likes of which we can only begin to understand. Behold Body Worlds Vital, the newest exhibit at the Anchorage Museum, due to be unveiled September 28th with the hope of both inspiring curiosity and cultivating health and wellness among Alaskans.

On display through January 5, 2013, Body Worlds is certainly intense. The exhibit is the newest of seven Body Worlds currently touring the planet, each with a different focus but the same intent; education and awareness. Body Worlds Vital is the newest, and very pertinent to a state with disappointing statistics for obesity and tobacco use – the exhibition will provide honest results of lifestyle choices that lead to disease or disability, and their mitigation.

Intense in nature and scope, Body Worlds Vital is a rare opportunity for Alaskans of any background to experience the inner structures and mechanisms by which we all survive. But it’s not for everyone. The Anchorage Museum has carefully crafted the exhibit’s physical location and activities to reflect both the sensitivity of the topic and respect for those who would really rather not go there. And who should, by the way, go see the exhibit? Indeed, it features real bodies of deceased individuals that have undergone a process known as plastination – the removal of fats and fluids to be replaced by resins and elastomers (substances that allow for both preservation and posing of the bodies). The process was invented by Dr. Gunther von Hagens in 1977 (in fact, the entire Body Worlds exhibit carries his name), and allows for static displays of adult bodies, both male and female, in various stages of activity to showcase a particular system, muscle group, or skeletal arrangement.

It’s amazing, all right. It’s also quite graphic, and potentially unnerving. Below are a few things to ponder before buying tickets to Body Worlds Vital for your family:

Copyright Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plasination, Heidelberg, Germany

Visit the Anchorage Museum website, first. The Body Worlds Vital pages have tons of absolutely critical information about history, mission, and goals of the exhibit’s arrival in Alaska. Another must-click link is to the Body Worlds website, where details about the bodies, their donation, and the process of plastination are explained. Do some homework ahead of time before presenting the idea to your kids.

Know how Body Worlds is staged. The exhibit will be displayed on the 3rd floor of the museum, far away from the Imaginarium and other kid-friendly exhibits. What’s more, the Body Worlds Vital entrance area will be laid out so as not to be viewed by anyone not actually within the space, so there is no worry about anyone wandering unattended into the exhibit. Museum staff, a dedicated cadre of volunteers, and residents from Providence Alaska Medical Center’s Family Residency program will also be on the floor, answering questions, providing information, and helping those who seem to be ill-at-ease with the exhibit. Important: IF, after about 20 minutes, you find Body Worlds not to be a good fit, you may leave and receive a full refund.

Respect kids’ ages and stages. The recommended age group for exploring Body Worlds Vital is grade 5 and up. BUT, you know your child’s level of maturity better than anyone else. Some 10 year-olds are in no way ready to look at bodies with reproductive organs intact and in full view, or view a diseased lung, or see a slice of abdominal muscle. A tip: Consider attending with children who already know the lines of communication about sensitive subjects are wide open. That is, if you’ve had the “boys’/girls’ bodies are different” conversation, and answered the questions, then it will be decidedly easier to have the further discussions while at Body Worlds. If you and your kids have already honestly and openly shared the information, it is to your advantage. Also respect a child’s decision not to attend (with you or a school group), no matter their age. Real life can be uncomfortable, and some kids are more sensitive to painful sights and awkward moments than others. Reassure that it’s okay to feel as they do.

Relate the models to kids’ own bodies, within the framework of common activities. Who knew those abs hold up more than just a six-pack? Hmm, guess we better start eating healthier. And that black lung – how do you think it could affect a cross-country runner if he/she decides to try smoking? Kids relate to things that matter to them, personally. Take advantage of that moment of truth and drive home a mission of a healthy body and brain.

Discuss appropriate behavior.  Yes, it is easy to catch a case of unintended giggles when approached with an unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation; we’ve all been there. However, giggling in tandem with inappropriate comments, or shouting “OH GROSS!” is not so cool. Remind kids that each and every body there used to be a living, breathing person who donated their body to be used for this project. Respect is paramount, so be fully prepared to escort youngsters out of the exhibit if they can’t control themselves. Also ask kids to be models for others their age. No iPhone photos or videos, no texting, no Facebooking. In fact, ditch the phone before leaving the car.

Prior to opening day, the Anchorage Museum will host members of the local media. AKontheGO will post one more, Anchorage-specific piece to keep parents and educators in the loop, and hopefully make this experience one to remember in a positive way.

"Skull" by Sarah Yakawonis

NOTE: Tickets go on sale for Body Worlds in September, and will cover the entire museum facility. It might pay to consider a Museum Membership, allowing unlimited access to the exhibit. Best times/days to visit are between 10 a.m-3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. In addition, a number of age-appropriate events for both kids and adults will be happening throughout the exhibit’s appearance at the museum. Go HERE to find out the topics, dates, and times.



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