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The belly button debate, an Indian perspective.

by Marlies Dekkers
To show or not to show, that’s the question when it comes to belly buttons. While Taylor Swift vowed to never (ever, ever!) show hers, Indian women feel very different about it.

“Does my bum look big in this?” If we may believe the makers of commercials and the average sitcoms, this is women’s number one concern. But in reality –and I’m speaking from decades of experience as a lingerie designer- women seem to worry much more about their bellies. “Will it make my belly look big/fat/flabby? Am I too old to show my belly button?” are the kind of questions I hear when we discuss the proportions of panties and bikini bottoms. I have no hang-ups about my body myself, but I do very much sympathize. When a lover touches my stomach for the very first time, it’s an incredibly intimate moment. I feel like they touch my soul.

The first time I visited India, I saw bellies everywhere. And not just on glamorous Bollywood stars wearing short cholis (crop tops) with low waisted skirts. Six packs or love handles, it didn’t seem to matter; women of all ages and all sizes showed their midriffs. I was mesmerized. “For Indian women, the midriff is considered no more suggestive than the forearm,” someone explained, adding that in a culture where having enough to eat is not a given, a ‘muffin top’ is nothing to be ashamed of.

Reading up on it, I found out that in ancient Indian tradition, the navel of the God Vishnu the Protector is considered to be the center of the universe. In other words; the belly button is seen as sacred, rather than sexual. In Rajastan for example, women often cover their heads and even their faces in front of strangers, but they have no problem showing showing their midriff.

Which proves once again: concepts of beauty and modesty are very much relative. And so on the one hand, we have Indian brides wearing colourful saris that expose their bellies, and on the other hand 25-year-old American pop star Taylor Swift prudishly vowing never to show her belly button. (“I don’t want people to know if I have one or not. I want that to be a mystery,” she said in a recent interview.) Either way, these ladies following their gut feeling. Which is always a good thing.

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