Why I Detest the Belly Button Challenge, but Couldn't Resist Trying It

Face drawn around female navel in black ball point pen.
Face drawn around female navel in black ball point pen.

As I write this, #TheBellyButtonChallenge is on fire, a bizarre self-test in which a person can determine fitness levels by wrapping one arm behind their back, around their side and over to their belly button. If their fingers meet their innie or outtie, congratulations are--apparently--in order. They've got a rockin' bod. If not, unspoken shame seeps in: time to hit the gym and back off the bagels.

In some ways, this reminds me of silly games my friends and I used to play during our childhood. For example, in the second grade, there was a test to see how long our hair would grow by the end of the school year. We'd tilt our heads back, waiting for a classmate to scurry behind us and point to where our existing hair now fell. This spot indicted where our tresses would land a few months later.

Even during junior high, we'd invent games that were equally absurd. An evening at the bowling alley turned into a challenge designed to predict our future binkie and diaper purchases; any pins still standing upon the ball's release represented the amount of children we'd have as an adult.

Clearly, all of this was purely nonsense for the sake of it, nothing more than enjoying some giggles and passing time. After all, I never did have hair that grazed the top of my buttocks during the third grade, and these days, I'm a 40-year-old woman who apparently must have scored a 300 every time.

Fighting inner voices, temptation

So when I first saw teens and adults partaking in the belly button challenge, I--a person who came dangerously close to letting eating disordered behaviors destroy me a few years ago--rolled my eyes. It was just a fun thing, right?

Try it. You know you want to.

I fought the voice in my head when it came to this bizarre trend.

I'd keep seeing mention of it on several sites though, one media outlet after another talking about the craze. Pictures of arms stretched around backs and over to belly buttons continue to flood the Internet. Yikes.

Thankfully, there's been serious backlash about the craze. Experts have likened the act to the earlier, and just as popular--but equally ludicrous--thigh gap challenge. Others have also extended warnings about mental and physical health, saying that getting in on this trend is detrimental for body image and our physiology. On social media, efforts such as #BoobsOverBellyButtons strive to counter this challenge with a healthier, in-your-face attitude.

Still: Try it. You know you want to.

The more body-confident challenges seem wonderful in a world that tends to be more on board with jumping down the eating disordered rabbit hole. There, people are virtually applauded, a collection of hashtags rooting us on.

Tipping my toe in the Belly Button Challenge waters...sort of

Confession time: I tried it.

I tried it, though, for the right reason. Or what seemed like the right reason.

See, I knew full well I wouldn't be able to reach my belly button, a far cry from the days when I easily would have been able to. That, my friends, was the victory right there. Not being able to introduce my innie to my pinkie reinforced my successful departure from daily perfection quests and food fears.

However, my thrill in not meeting the goal in this challenge was quickly replaced with thoughts I recognized all too well. For the first time in a long while, I felt a pang of disappointment. I caught myself in the mirror striking a pose in which I was half-hugging myself, trying to embrace an ideal. I was astutely aware of the space between my fingers and my navel. I even took my other hand to "measure" the distance with my outstretched fingers, and then stared at it.

My goodness, I'm a 40-year-old woman. I might as well tilt my head back and hit the bowling alley.


I wasn't even close.

Even though I'm eating regular meals and have put on weight since my "no thanks, I'll pass on that extra carrot" days, I have to admit that every so often, fleeting pangs of strange eating temptations set in. Yet I continue to enjoy healthy fats, carbs and even whole yogurts. I don't give in to strict, limiting behaviors.

Instead, I sit satisfied that I didn't meet the goal of a viral body craze, while realizing that trying it in the first place means I still have some challenges of my own to overcome.