I’ve always been hesitant about showing my belly cleavage in public. While I am one of those lucky ones who never struggled with body shame, somehow I was always certain that this part of my body should stay private. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the unrealistic standards that the fashion industry dictates to us, consumers, and I came to the conclusion that belly button taboo is just the tip of the iceberg.
Have you ever noticed which type of female body gets the most criticism in our society? You can become world-famous for your abnormally big butt or breasts (think, for instance, about Kim Kardashian and Christina Hendricks), but not having a flat stomach is a big no-no. What I do not understand is why having “extra” curves on certain parts of our body is okay while other parts must be flat. In my opinion, it is just another way to plummet women’s self-esteem.
Remember how many discussions were provoked from that one publication in Glamour magazine when the editors decided to publish a picture of a real woman as opposed to the over-Photoshopped images of 16 year old models? In my opinion, that one photo of a normal woman symbolizes the beginning of the body image revolution that we still observe today. Dove’s “Real Women” campaign, Christina Hendricks’ New York Magazine corset cover, and a controversial “plus-size” ad by Calvin Klein featuring Myla Dalbesio are examples of how real women images have entered the world of advertising.
But you know what? If you look precisely at all the popular plus size models, you will notice one thing that they share in common. Even though these women are officially “plus size,” they still have (or Photoshopped so they have) a flat stomach! Look around and recall what real women around you look like. Have you ever seen a curvy lady with an absolute flat stomach? (If so, it is probably an exception from the general rule). What I am trying to state here is that legitimization of plus-size models does not necessarily mean that our society has finally accepted any kind of female body. It is just another advertiser’s trick used to force normal size women to buy more…and still not feel confident about their bodies.
I think that the new standards for plus-size models are no better than those unrealistic ideals of beauty that already exist in our society. They create a different type of body shame for those who do not fit into the standard criteria of beauty. While normal weight women might already have a complex that they are “too fat,” images of the ideal plus size models create an additional occasion for stressing out over — “not having a flat stomach.” The flat stomach dilemma that is relevant for women in all weight categories goes hand in hand with another type of body image complex, the belly button shame.
When I grew up in Russia back in the 1990s, my female friends and women in general had a completely different approach to displaying their belly button area. Piercings and tattoos and foreign influences were seldom seen in the USSR. In post-USSR Russia influences from around the world were in vogue, and tons of women inspired by the Spice Girls and Britney Spears rushed to get their belly buttons pierced and their tops cropped. Old-school parents and grandparents did not necessarily approve of this new unfamiliar trend, but it had nothing to do with the amount of fat that these girls had or didn’t have on their stomachs (such comments were mostly related to piercings and tattoos that were not common in the Soviet Union).
Does anybody know what happened with these belly button pierced girls? I visited Russia this summer and I saw none of the girls demonstrating their pierced navels. Somehow over the course of 10+ years, belly buttons turned from approved to disapproved areas of our bodies. In my opinion, this phenomenon is tightly connected with the overall tendency of feeling ashamed about the female body in general. Since today’s women are so brainwashed about losing weight, perhaps they do not feel confident enough to open up those areas of their bodies that still “need some work.”
The tendency of women losing confidence about their bodies is not a new thing, to some extent it always existed in our society. But somehow I feel that this problem becomes more and more palpable. We, as a society, are still not over eating disorders and self-confidence problems, and here is another addition to the list of the distorted body image problems — belly button shame.
…I love fine arts, and one of the most intriguing areas of research for me is to observe how the idea of human beauty has changed in the last couple of decades. What fascinates me most is how beautiful these different representations of people’s figures are, no matter the weight or shape of the specific body parts they have. What I do not like about today’s society is that people around me directly and indirectly tell me what to do and how to feel about my body. As a form of public protest,I hereby announce my right to own my body image and have it under my control, no matter what my weight is or what parts of my body I want to show or hide.
Have you ever experienced a pressure by a society to be thinner? What do you think about unrealistic beauty standards that exist in our society?
P.S. – I highly recommend the following articles related to the topic of body shame:
- The Belly Is The Last Taboo For Women’s Bodies by Constance Caylar, Huffington Post
- Ideal Size for a Fashion Model by Macey J Foronda, Angela Vitello, and Alex Rees, BuzzFeed
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Katya Bychkova, StyleSprinter
- Lena Dunham and My Belly Button by Shannon Sutherland, Huffington Post
- A Cold War Fought by Women by John Tierney, The New York Times
- People Are Outraged That This Is Calvin Klein’s Idea Of A Plus-Size Model by Hayley Paterson, Business Insider
- How ‘Plus Size’ models are Really Skinny Girls with Padding: From Size 12 to Size 16… in Three Easy Steps by Gemma Champ, The Daily Mail
- Documentary “Killing Us Softly 4” by Joan Kilbourne