Belly Buttons and Body Image: The Latest Fitness Test?

The ideals of Hollywood used to feel so distant and fake, but now “normal” people appear to meet these standards too. In addition to the magazine covers at grocery store check-out lines and television shows that highlight the statuesque physiques of celebrities, a certain ideal is now celebrated right on my own Facebook timeline. How can women, especially young women, find beauty within them when digitally altered and surgically constructed bodies have become the new norm?

The latest craze hitting the Internet by storm is the “Belly Button Challenge.” According to Buzzfeed, it originated in China where young women took selfies to show off their small waists. In fact, their waists were so small that they could wrap one arm around their back and still touch their belly button. While I’m impressed with their arm flexibility, this was meant to highlight the “fit” female figure rather than be a neat party trick.

This obsession with small waists is not new. The now viral challenge has just repackaged the same harmful messaging that prioritizes thinness over health, while adding a new twist! Nevertheless, these ridiculous “standards” of beauty are targeted particularly at young people through a social media platform. Over 90% of Instagram users (where this challenge is very popular), are under the age of 35, and 68% are women.

It is important to note that there have been plenty of negative responses associated with the Belly Button Challenge.  People appear to understand that the ability to do this depends more on flexibility than weight, and there have even been some counter challenges aimed at celebrating diverse bodies or promoting healthier practices. However, the damage has already been done. Although the trend is an inaccurate and unscientific measure of health, it can still be triggering for people who are dealing with eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem.

About 30 million people in the United States develop an eating disorder during their lifetime, and many more struggle with their body image.  It seems like everyone always wants to lose “a few pounds,” even when at a clinically healthy weight. I used to often think to myself, “If they need to lose weight, then I definitely do.” After growing tired of all of this negative energy, I made the personal decision to stop caring about the number on the scale and start leading a healthier lifestyle.

All women deserve to feel healthy and empowered, not shamed by ridiculous “fitness” tests. I think a healthy and happy body, mind, and spirit is beautiful, and this will look different for every woman. Summer has officially started over the weekend, and instead of focusing on getting “bikini ready,” let’s focus on health.

Sydney Butler was a NWHN Intern in Summer 2015.

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