Gina Mei
June 12, 2015 4:31 pm

If your feed has been flooded with friends awkwardly contorting themselves to touch their belly buttons lately, don’t worry: You’re not alone. The #BellyButtonChallenge is the latest “health craze” sweeping the Internet — but while it’s been rapidly gaining popularity across the web, you might want to think twice before giving it a try or taking its results to heart.

The social media trend started on Weibo (basically the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) earlier this week, and has racked up more than 140 million posts to date. Its origins are hazy — but allegedly, the challenge is based on a “scientific” study from the United States that claims if you can reach behind your back and around your waist to touch your belly button, you’re perfectly healthy. (Alternatively, if you can’t, you better start hitting the gym or going to yoga until you can.)

Many experts have weighed in on the matter, and the general consensus seems to be the same across the board: It’s some serious B.S. The #BellyButtonChallenge is basically the new “thigh gap,” in the sense that it’s a completely arbitrary way of determining skinniness and not really a very accurate measure of health. Also like the thigh gap — where your body is totally awesome and beautiful whether or not you have one — your body is totally awesome and beautiful whether or not you can wrap your arm around your waist, too.

“If you can touch your belly button from behind your back, you could be in better shape than someone who can’t — but you shouldn’t have a false sense of security about your health,” Dr. Charlie Seltzer, a weight-loss specialist, told Cosmopolitan. “You might have a small waist and look healthy, but your blood work could show that you’re just as unhealthy as someone who weighs 400 pounds.”

“If you can’t do it, don’t be completely freaked out,” he continued.

There are multiple factors that go into being able to reach your belly button that have nothing to do with your waist size, as well. Flexibility is a big one, and arm length another. For the sake of full disclosure, the HelloGiggles office tried the challenge, and only one of us could do it. (Hint: It definitely wasn’t me.)

But, of course, more concerning than the mechanics of achieving the #BellyButtonChallenge are the standards it perpetuates. The social media phenomenon explicitly suggests that skinniness is synonymous with health, and that’s not always the case. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being thin (and hey, if you worked hard to lose weight, good for you!); but likewise, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with not being thin, too — and we should be celebrating healthy bodies of all sizes.

“Social media challenges like these can stoke comparison and body insecurity, especially for those struggling with disordered eating,” Claire Mysko, program director at the National Eating Disorder Association, told ABC News. “We advocate for body positivity challenges, which are empowering and encourage self-expression, not self-criticism.”

The #BellyButtonChallenge encourages body dysmorphia in perfectly healthy and fit people by implying that there’s something wrong with our bodies if they don’t look a certain way. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and have attempted to lose weight by dieting. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty estimates that 7 in 10 girls feel like they aren’t good in enough in some way — including their appearance. The pressure to fit a very narrow ideal of beauty is overwhelming enough as is without yet another “measure” to aspire to.

“Quirky poses and pictures can be fun but sometimes they also become expressions of competitiveness or insecurity,” Jolene Tan, a senior manager a women’s rights organization, told the BBC. “We need to do more to promote acceptance of diversity in women’s bodies.”

Yes, the #BellyButtonChallenge is fun and silly if you take it at face value — my attempt at trying it was laughable — but it’s important we talk about the potential damage it can do, too. The best way to find out how healthy you are is to talk to a doctor, and to do what feels right for you — not by trying a random social media challenge. Luckily, it seems like most people stateside are a little skeptical of it as a measure of health, too.

“It’s sad that being able to do the Belly Button Challenge is seen as some kind of achievement,” Leyah Shanks, positive body image campaigner, told The Huffington Post. “It seems that social media has a tendency to push women to extremes, often towards a goal which is simply not attainable for them. Personally, I hope that social media will stop spewing out trends like this which encourage us to compare ourselves to others, and instead produces trends that empower us to be our own kind of gorgeous!”

We completely agree. Our bodies are beautiful because of all that they can do, not just how they look — and we should be celebrating them whether or not we can touch our belly buttons Cirque du Soleil-style.

(Images via.)

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