Body Worlds exhibit at MSI in Chicago is kid-friendly – for the right kind of kid

The new Body Worlds exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry is an up-close tour of the human body, plain and simple. “Body Worlds: Cycle of Life” is a fascinating look at what makes us work, play, love, age and, yes, die: More than 20 full-size plastinated bodies and dozens of smaller exhibits show the effects of smoking and obesity, the causes of Alzheimer’s and aneurisms, and the flexibility and strength used by athletes.

But is it good for kids?

Maybe. Certainly it’s not good for very young kids, who will have the exhibit’s skinless, glass-eyed figures to thank for a new vision of the boogeyman.

But at the exhibit’s premiere, there were plenty in the 8 to 12 set and none of them seemed traumatized. To be safe, we’d recommend 10 and up.

Aside from the opening room, which has more than two dozen fetuses at different stages of development (and even that minefield is remarkably well handled), nothing in the exhibit is likely to upset kids middle-school-aged and up. Overall, Body Worlds is graphic without being gory and surpassingly artistic, from the graceful gymnast to the hockey and football players suspended in a midair collision.

Body Worlds isn’t geared toward kids the way YOU! The Experience or Science Storms just around the corner are. But some kids may find its honesty enlightening and some of the exhibits – like the smoker’s lung – could spark genuine discussion betwen you and your children.

In part, it depends on the kid. Everyone knew that kid growing up who collected bugs at recess in elementary school and in high school biology class, was the one holding the scalpel as everyone else held their noses. If your child is one of those kids – innately curious and not overly sensitive – then Body Worlds is a winner.

But really, it depends on what kind of parent you are, and whether you’re prepared for the onslaught of questions that comes with such an honest view of the human body. Walking around the exhibit, I heard more than a few variations on “Mommy, what’s that and why don’t I have one?” I suspect that more existential questions about death and the body came up on the car ride home. This exhibit is one that sticks with you for a while, so be prepared for a few weeks of follow-up questions.

While there’s nothing inappropriate about the plasticized bodies – it’s all anatomy, folks – these aren’t artfully draped nudes at an art museum. There are no stone fig leaves, and if you think the time isn’t right to have that talk – and all that goes along with it – with your kids, I’d say hold off on Body Worlds.

But if yours is the kind of household where penises are called penises, then there’s no downside to a trip to MSI.

And the upsides are many. An exhibit on exactly how smoking kills you is more powerful than any textbook. A plasticized ostrich reminds us just how closely connected we are to the animal world. A pair of hockey players locked in a midair collision both shows us why we love sports and why a stream of headlines are now making us think twice.

Two things to consider if you’re taking the kids: The first full room contains a series of plasticized fetuses that could be disturbing for some kids, as well as a panel on sexual intercourse slightly hidden around a corner. Again, nothing traumatizing, but maybe something to skip with your preteen-or-younger.

Body Worlds runs through Sept. 5 at the Museum of Science and Industry and is not included in general admission. Details

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