Belly Button Shame

Belly Button Shame and  Body Shame

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. 

Kim Kardashian and Christina Hendricks

Kim Kardashian and Christina Hendricks

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.

Simone de Beauvoir Quote Body Shame

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. 

Calvin Klein's model Myla Dalbesio

Calvin Klein’s model Myla Dalbesio

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.

Robyn Lawley and Kate Upton Plus Size Models

Plus size models Robyn Lawley and Kate Upton

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.

Plus size model Crystal Renn

Cover of Crystal Renn’s book

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).

Plus size model Katya Zharkova

Plus size model Katya Zharkova

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.” 

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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.

Amy Bloom Quote Self Esteem

…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. 

Marc and Spencer Plus Size Models

Marc and Spencer plus size models ad

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:


  • Wow, I never even thought much about this before but you’re so right- women’s stomachs are definitely idealized. The same even goes for men- I’m sure men feel pressure to have rock solid abs. I’ve always been self conscious about my stomach area since it’s the 1st area that shows when I put on weight. I was always super thin growing up, but in the past years I’ve gained a bit of weight- I refer to it as “being in a loving relationship” weight 😉 While I’ve never experienced the cruelty of being called “fat”, people “joked” and said I had an eating disorder growing up. It’s quite sad that there is still such standards in society. I wish the focus was more on overall health.
    Great, thought-provoking post!

    from the desk of j

    • I completely understand you, Jenny! I also sometimes feel that people are too nosy when it comes to my weight and body. I can’t even recall how many times my Russian friends told me that I need to gain weight and American friends noticed that I am gaining weight. The truth is my weight haven’t changed for the last 5+ years. I guess people just like to get into someone’s business.
      Loving relationship with your body is the best thing that you can do for yourself. It brings confidence, and confidence is the most beautiful thing ever.
      I also agree with your argument about being healthy. It is, perhaps, the most important thing, and so many girls disregard it.
      Thank you for reading and for your thorough comment and beautiful thoughts!

  • Christel

    great images and post 🙂

  • Hmm, this is a really interesting topic, Katya! I’ve never really thought about it too much, but now that you bring it up, I realize how true it is — these “plus-size” models are always depicted with these perfectly flat stomachs and not an ounce of cellulite! Far from “real” despite the fact that yes, they are bigger than your average models. Thanks for sharing your thoughts — this was a really informative and well-researched post!

    Ali xo

    • Thank you, Ali, you are so sweet!
      Ohh I totally forgot about cellulite–you are right, popular plus size models don’t seen to have it at all! They look like regular Photoshopped models with some curls. Nothing to do with the reality!

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  • Before having my little one, I used to hit the gym 6 times a week, 2 hours every time so my body was pretty fit. After delivering my baby, I lost all but 2kg of my pregnancy weight within 2 weeks and yet, a relative poked fun at my flabby tummy due to giving birth. Best part? She poked fun about it in front of others, it was seriously depressing and yes, I truly understand this post and the crazy obsession about flat tummy in a woman. I wish people would just let us be, no one should care about others weight unless it is borderline unhealthy and is risking the health. Thank you for another great and well written post, Katya, always a food for thought!

    Reflection of Sanity

    • Ohh Shireen, I really wish more people were thinking in a way you do, “wish people would just let us be.” Unfortunately, media dictates people unrealistic standards that many people take as a rule and blindly follow. I’ve met those ladies whose only goal in life is to have a beautiful body and to meet those unrealistic ideals. As a result, we have an epidemy of eating disorders and depression… I am getting upset when I see what girls are doing with themselves and how confident they are that a beautiful body in the only way to be accepted by a society.

      Recently, I’ve watched a Ted Talk where a speaker told about teenagers that post videos asking the world if they are beautiful or not… I wonder what is going on with our society? Why beauty is seemingly the only thing we all care about? I don’t mean to sound like a hypocrite (at the end of the day, I am a fashion/beauty blogger), but it really should stop. There are so many wonderful things around us that are much more exciting than a size of clothing we are wearing. Ladies, let’s be nice to each other and really let each other “just be.”

      P.S.– Here is a link to the Ted Talk I am talking about:

  • Ellen Bourne

    I think you’re very correct in this piece. I certainly note the smooth stomachs & thighs of ‘plus size’ models and think, bloody oath, I wear in AU8 and don’t have smooth thighs. Still, I tend to remove myself from most magazine advertising (preferring to get my sartorial inspiration from vlogs, blogs & the streets) but you can still see the way it bombards our society. Especially where women are concerned, though men clearly have their troubles with this too.

    I posted an outfit post over on my blog the other day in which I’m wearing a cropped T shirt, because that’s my general style. I realised after posting it that I must currently weigh a little more than usual because the photo didn’t look how it normally might. At first I thought, ‘oh I guess atm I’m not quite as thin as I could be, maybe I should remove that’ then I remembered, no way! I’m still cool & I still look nice in that outfit regardless of whether or not my belly is a little wider than it was a few weeks ago.

    Also, Kate Upton is a plus sized model? Christ on a bike, I’d never have guessed that!


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