Don't Try the Belly Button Challenge

How not to give a second thought to this week’s misbegotten body-image trend

Salvador Dali's "Venus de Milo With Drawers" (Georgios Kefalas / AP)

Over the past few days, a trend known as the “belly button challenge” has taken off on, you guessed it, the social media. It began in China but is now uncontained, and involves many thousands of mostly young people posting self-portraits while trying to reach an arm behind their back and around to touch their belly button. A successful attempt is met with praise and affirmation, under the pretense that the challenge is a test of health and fitness. You are thin enough to reach around yourself, so you must be okay. An unsuccessful attempt is met with quiet inward shame.

I include no such photo here, because it’s dumb. But also, at this point, big enough that it’s maybe worth being apprised of. The following is a convincing ordinal list of reasons not to try the belly button challenge:

  1. Body shame and dangerous culture glorifying disordered eating, which is a social disease.
  2. It’s actually a test of shoulder flexibility, not fitness. The shoulder has the greatest range of motion of any joint in the body. If you’re looking to impress people, how about telling them that fact?
  3. All other reasons are inconsequential, and some are fictional.
  4. It is insensitive to people who don’t have belly buttons. These people were nourished in the womb only by inhaling amniotic fluids like some kind of uterus fish, and so are small in size and character. They are given to retribution and should not be mocked.
  5. Even if you can touch your belly button, that doesn’t change the fact that no one likes a gloater. Support that you may receive on social media is hollow envy masquerading as love, people drawing you close only to be near enough to have a good view when you fall.
  6. Several people have tried so hard that their arms have fallen off. Usually at the shoulder, but sometimes at the elbow or wrist.
  7. The reactionary hashtag #boobsoverbellybuttons took off today as a body-positive alternative, wherein people post photos of themselves performing a self breast examination. Other alternatives include #malariapreventionoverbellybuttons or #anything.
  8. Belly buttons are loaded with bacteria, for better or worse.
  9. Okay actually it’s fine to try it if you want. I don’t want to give this some kind of forbidden-fruit status. But only try it if you promise not to feel anything, regardless of the result. Promise to feel nothing. This is all nothing.