Don’t Fall for the Belly Button Challenge! (#bellybuttonchallenge)

thFirst there was #thighgap…now we have the #bellybuttonchallenge to look forward to.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen the “belly button challenge” all over social media. Apparently, it began in China, but has exploded online.  So…what is the belly button challenge you ask?

Reach behind your back and around your waist and see if your hand can cover/touch your belly button.  For the sake of this blog post, go ahead and try.  Can’t do it? Well, then you are considered “too heavy” according to Chinese social media. But really, it could also mean that your arms are really muscular-right?  When you come down to it… it’s actually a test of shoulder flexibility, and not fitness. (I learned that the shoulder has the greatest range of motion of any joint in the body.)  The belly button challenge has become a way for teens, mostly girls – to seek approval online with their body while shaming others.  It also says a lot about China’s obsession (really everyone’s obsession) with being thin. Teens are snapping #selfies of them-self while doing the challenge and posting them online.

A successful belly button challenge attempt is met with praise, “likes” and affirmations that YOU are thin enough.  If deemed thin enough, then you are accepted by the online “belly button” police.

And if you can’t do the challenge, there is a double standard.  For a boy posting a photo of himself failing the challenge, he still receives “likes.”  Many of those photos will show the boy desperately struggling to reach his belly button while making funny faces, contorting his body and laughing. However, for girls posting their failed attempts online for all the world to see, isn’t met with praise or “likes.”  She is telling the world that she is unhealthy…. unworthy, and shameful. This can do a number on anyones body image and self-esteem.

So if you are a teen, don’t fall for this challenge or take it too seriously. Remember, it has nothing to do with health. It’s just another silly social media game to laugh about… and nothing more.

How do Selfies Impact Self-Esteem?

The debate of whether teenage girls are overly sexualized by magazines, television and movies has been discussedand debated for decades…..and for good reason. But social media like Facebook, Twitterand Instagram have transformed the playing field completely.  Now, teens have control over what they post, what others see and what they share.

Although teen idols such as movie starts and pop singers still play an important role in adolescent development, many young girls now draw comparisons to their classmates, peers and friends as well.  In addition, the way young girls choose to communicate has also changed.  Instead of sitting on the home selfiesphone for hours while chatting w BFF”S or writing in a diary, they are now communicating by online chat, text, IM and now via  “selflies”  as a way to express themselves.  What’s a selfie? This is where you take a photograph of yourself with a phone or camera from arm’s length.

The selfie is such a popular concept that it was recently crowned the word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries. The phenomenon has seemed to spread to all corners of society – from prime ministers and the pope, to athletes, and politicians–not just teens.  Now, instead of these pictures being stuck on a bedroom wall, many of them end up online – broadcast to hundreds, if not thousands, of people. So is this a boost for self-esteem, or something that can damage an impressionable teenage girl’s confidence?

Some believe that the selfie does boost self-esteemAccording to a Time magazine article, some researchers believe that selfies have the ability to allow teenage girls to express their moods in a way not possible before. During a phase of life where there is plenty of experimentation, they are able to snap away with different outfits, hair styles, and poses. This helps them to determine the identity they feel most comfortable with, hence boosting self-esteem. Plus, the power of likes and retweets is not to be underestimated. For a teenage girl, receiving likes on Instagram or Facebook can be seen as an endorsement that they are beautiful, from people who are within their social circle. Comments are there to compliment one’s appearance in a way that doesn’t normally happen in a typical personal encounter.

There is also the benefit of inclusion. There have been more than 90 million photographs uploaded to Instagram using the hashtag #selfie. Participation in this club is a way to bond with friends and strangers alike. You feel like you have a community to go to, if you are feeling alone or isolated. But is this real?

Others believe the selflies are harmful. Teen Vogue (of all places) believes that selfies place too much emphasis on the physical appearance of teenagers, rather than their personalities.  There are psychologists who believe the same. Likes and comments that build self-esteem can crush it as well. After all, if two photos are posted – the first with nine likes and the second with two likes, some girls could perceive this as feeling less valued.  And of course, in a world of cyber bullying, negative comments are also a possibility, which can be so hurtful not to mention embarrassing.

Maybe help is on the way. A new app called Snapchat also raises the issue of how inappropriately selfies can be immortalized and used as a weapon for bullying. This new software allows a user to send a photo or video (called a snap) that’s only visible for 10 seconds before it is deleted. However, screenshots can be taken, meaning that an innocuous, embarrassing or ill-judged photo could be used as a weapon for intimidation against you.

Overall, opinions are mixed on the true value of the selfie. But by and large, for teenage girls, it seems to simply be a way to have fun and interact with friends – “possibly” boosting self-esteem. However, it also seems that confidence can be crushed when photographs are taken with the intention of soliciting “likes” only and none are given. Regardless of this new craze, by definition self-esteem can only come from within and not by external means. I’d hate to think that true self-esteem (high or low) is only one photo away.