The Belly Button Challenge Is Body-Shaming At Its Worst

Body ImageHealthSelf ImprovementSocial Media 8 Comments

By Marci Warhaft-Nadler – For those of you who’ve been thinking that it’s been far too long since the internet has given us a way to judge and hate our bodies, you can relax because there’s a brand new “am I skinny enough?” challenge fresh from China that’s trending like crazy, called the “belly button challenge.”

The idea is that if you can wrap your arm around your waist and touch your belly button, then CONGRATULATIONS, you’ve proven your worth as a human being and can feel comfortable leaving your house and being seen in public (as long as you’re not eating, because that could change your results). This challenge started on WEIBO, the Chinese version of Twitter and has received over 130 million hits in less than a week, with people eager to post pictures of themselves trying to touch their belly buttons.

Of course, anyone who has any knowledge whatsoever about health and fitness knows that this, in no way, indicates a healthy body. What it can indicate however, are long, flexible arms, which is not the same thing. It’s hard to hear about this and not be reminded of the infamous “thigh gap” trend from a couple of years ago, that had millions of women cursing their thighs for having the audacity to touch each other when they stood or walked.

I find it infuriating every time one of these idiotic trends pops ups, but the fact that millions of people fall for them and let them impact the way they feel about themselves makes me incredibly sad. What scares me is the fact that a lot of people don’t realize just how dangerous these fads can be for anyone battling an eating disorder and how many people that actually is.

These challenges take common eating disorder behaviors and turn them into a game.

These challenges take common eating disorder behaviors and turn them into a game. In fact, I can remember putting myself through very similar waist and tummy checks when I was a teenager at the start of what would be a lifetime of devastating disordered eating. Eating disorders are on the rise among adults, teens and even children and have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder and while I don’t believe that social media causes all eating disorders, it sure as hell can fan the flames that lead to complete self-destruction.

Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders aren’t caused by looking at skinny models in magazines or listening to never ending diet advice from the billions of fitness “experts” who pollute our media. They are much more complex than that. I suppose I could just ignore this ridiculous trend until it goes away, but I need to say something first.

When I was 17 years old, I felt invincible, as a lot of teenagers do, but then my world was ripped apart when my big brother, only 21 at the time, got sick and died. Suddenly, the world was cruel and dangerous and I felt completely out of control. I was consumed with grief and fear. At that point, something in my brain took over and made me think that if my life wasn’t under my control anymore, then at least my body could be. That’s when my eating disorder showed up and took over.

My eating disorder told me that my brother was a better person than I was and deserved to be alive more than I did, and I believed it. I decided that if I was going to be taking his place in the world, I had to earn it and I couldn’t do that by being average, I had to be extraordinary. Unfortunately, I had completely lost confidence in myself and felt that since I was never going to be smart enough, funny enough or interesting enough, I sure as hell better be skinny enough. Anyone who has battled an eating disorder or who has loved someone who has, learns very quickly that to us, there is no such thing as skinny enough, but we keep trying. I starved myself of food while devouring every weight loss tip and trick I could get my hands on and while my body disappeared, so did my spirit.

If you really want to wrap your arms around yourself, forget measuring your waist and give yourself a hug instead.

These skinny body challenges aren’t funny trends, they’re loaded weapons aimed at every man, woman and child that is looking for something to make them feel validated as a human being. These contests give people who stopped believing in who they are, a way of focusing on how they look in the hopes that they can finally earn their spot and be the best at something, even if it kills them. If you think I’m being overly dramatic, consider the fact that Dr. Tom Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health stated that while on a trip to China, where the belly button challenge originated, mental health officials in Beijing and Shanghai shared that their number one fear was anorexia nervosa. We tend to assume that eating disorders are an American issue, but sadly that’s just not the case anymore.

We need to stop perpetuating body hating trends that serve no purpose other than to give us tools to judge ourselves and others more harshly. If you really want to wrap your arms around yourself, forget measuring your waist and give yourself a hug instead.

Self-worth shouldn’t be measured in pounds.

About The Author

Marci_WarhaftMarci Warhaft-Nadler is a body image advocate, founder of the Fit vs Fiction workshops, blogger for The Huffington Post and author of “The Body Image Survival Guide for Parents: Helping Toddlers, Tweens and Teens Thrive”. After recovering from her own severe body image and eating disorder issues, she’s teaching children how to be critical of the negative messages thrown at them by the media instead of being critical of themselves or others.

For more information on Marci’s Fit vs Fiction body image workshops for kids and parents check out her site You can also follow Marci on her blog and on Twitter.

Editor’s note: We are so grateful to Marci for sharing this piece with us. In speaking with her about what drives her to do the important work she does, this is what she shared… profound words from a woman you should know.

“I battled really severe body image and eating disorder issues for most of my life and they very nearly destroyed me emotionally, physically and psychologically. It’s been a hell of a ride. As a mom, I couldn’t stand to see so many kids struggling the way I did so I started speaking out about the issues affecting their self-esteem and created my workshops, Fit vs fiction. By sharing my story, I give kids a safe place to share their own and you wouldn’t believe some of the stories they’ve shared with me! Kids are so much smarter than most people give them credit for and they deserve so much more respect than they get. I’m helping them believe in who they are, instead of judge who they think they’re not.”


Lead image source: Instagram

  • Samantha

    Stretching your arm around your torso to touch your belly button doesn’t make you a skinny person. These trends are so unhealthy for young people already struggling with eating disorders! Self-love and positive body image messages need to go viral instead of smut like this. Another website that promotes positive body image in young people is it equips women and girls with tools to resist media messages affecting their self-esteem and understand media literacy.

  • MoMo

    I started feeling “fat” in college when I realized I cold no longer wrap my thumb and middle finger around my upper arm and have them touch. I place my middle finger and thumb together now, look at the tiny circle, and wonder how even the bone could fit into that ring…

  • maybe kids these days need better hobbies than narcissism

  • Steven

    …but this is about how far a person can stretch. It’s stupid, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t “body-shaming” and saying that people think being able to do it means a person proved their worth as a human and can go out in public is ridiculous. Trying to stop this is like saying no one should ever do anything that other people can’t do because it makes them feel bad. A larger person could do this if they were flexible. I can’t do it now, but I never stretch…if I had a daily routine were I stretched my arms and waist for a few months I probably could do it without losing any weight. I get out of breath when I run because I’m out of shape so I’d like everyone in the world to stop running because I can’t do it and that’s body-shaming.

  • Jackie

    Im one of the skinniest girls I know being 5’7″ and never being over 125lbs in my 24 years of life. But there is no way my out of shape body could reach my belly botton. I don’t play sports anymore and I never exercise. Its just not going to happen. If you take the post the wrong way thinking its body shaming thats your own insecurities. I have seen “over weight” ladies run faster, longer and jump higher then my skinny ass ever will. All the power to all women out there who can touch that sassy belly button.

  • Fiona1933

    “The idea is that if you can wrap your arm around your waist and touch your belly button, then CONGRATULATIONS, you’ve proven your worth as a human being and can feel comfortable leaving your house and being seen in public ”
    Oh stop the silly exaggerations! It isnt even making a point. This is just a silly girly craze like anything else silly girls do. They all want the new Segways as well.
    Practically nobody can do this challenge and the girls who can are able to drop and twist their shoulder…and did you miss that actually the big hero of the challenge is a fat guy called Buddha Belly or something who is really fat but totally able to do it proving its about a flexible shoulder and a long arm. He is China’s hero at the moment because actually nearly everyone thinks this is really dumb.
    Stop making mountains out of molehills and look at the real reasons for anorexia. How come these body issues didnt use to exist when I was growing up? Apart from the fact that nobody was fat because nobody ever had snacks except at Christmas (seriously). Why is everyone so self-obsessed? Why does everyone think their feelings are so very important? Anorexia is a very selfish behaviour. A person who is anorexic is completely ignoring everything except her own feelings and her own appearance, no thought for anyone in her family: no real difference between this and going onto drugs.
    I think there should be some hard looks at this whole idea of treating kids as princes and princesses and encouraging them to believe they are important when they arent. They dont need to hear I love you every day. This means it will be taken for granted. They do need to be disciplined. They do need to hear that they suck at something when they do. A ‘D’ is not ‘a good try’. Its abysmal. And not saying this is a mark of disrespect for your child. Your kid is tough enough to take it..if you explain that. Kids know well that a ‘D’ sucks. They know you are lying and they despise your cowardice. And the hovering needs to stop..let them go and play alone..there are no kidnappers! Let them work out their own pecking orders. Its all this stuff of protecting your kid and telling them they are special and clever and pretty and then they go to school and find out they arent…and they cant take it, because you didnt prepare them to take it. So they get self-obsessed. They become victims. And they become abominably selfish because who has told them they are ordinary? At home you learn you’re a princess…at school, you’re a pig. any surprise there is conflict and confusion and the girl tries to take control in a world as random as this?
    Its time to set up proper rules. Treat kids as ordinary and humble. Remind them of their place. Remind them to think of others and model that behaviour. Hot mums is also a bad idea…selfish, again. If mum is fixated on her looks, what a role model. Make them understand there are pecking orders and you wont necessarily be at the top. But that’s ok. whatever your place is, its fine. Just dont go getting spiteful and jealous and demanding and full of despair because others are prettier and clever. Accept that someone always will be. You will have your own talent. and its not all about you. Its about what you can give, no matter how little, but dont talk up a doggerel into a poem.
    I once saw a thinspiration in which the maker had put a series of shots of Paris, Lindsay and Britney and added the words “When will I look like them…can you tell me?” i could scarcely believe it. Never, is the answer…why would you ever even think that? Why would you think that you could aspire to that? Can you sing? Are you an heiress? No? so get on with your ordinary life. And dont forget to do your chores. Ordinary is fine. Ordinary doesnt need to be on billboards. It doesnt need to be validated by fashion. Its fine on its own.

    • canaduck

      Good grief, what is wrong with you?? Learn a little about anorexia–like seriously, anything–before you make such insane statements and go off on a completely irrelevant tirade about lack of discipline and D grades and helicopter parenting.

      By the way, I can promise you that body issues and anorexia did indeed to exist when you were growing up–and long, long before then, too. The fact that you aren’t aware of something doesn’t negate its existence.

  • AtlantisAK

    Long arms, flexible arms, etc…the author is right. I’m 215lbs and 5’8….and I can touch my belly button that way. I AM healthy (all doctors I’ve seen have confirmed), but this is definitely a horrible way to determine someone’s ‘health’.