Navel-Gazing: Britney Spears, Stomach Buttons, and Me

I suppose Britney Spears’s stomach button is the place it begins. Life, in spite of everything, begins on the navel—that vestige of our time within the womb, the scar of our severed connection to our moms, the middle of our earthly kinds, a gap on the underside of our fleshy, susceptible bellies. Navels accumulate particles—snacking, apparently, as they peek out from underneath our garments. Once you look down they stare proper again up, mouths open in perpetual shock: O courageous new world.

It’s a query of some theological controversy as as to if Adam and Eve had navels—there are those that imagine their prehistoric torsos had been easily intact. That sounds pleasing, besides when one is confronted with a kind of uncommon of us and not using a stomach button. One thing feels off, and one longs for the wabi-sabi pucker denoting human symmetry. Karolina Kurkova, the supermodel, barely has a visual navel due to a surgical procedure when she was an toddler, and that hardly ever goes with out remark in her line of labor. (Prior to now, a stranger’s navel has been photoshopped onto her abdomen.) I watched a actuality program the place a girl lamented how a tummy tuck had robbed her of her stomach button. She was in a surgeon’s workplace asking to get it again. Positive it was a scar, but it surely was her scar.

I had a navel earlier than 1998, however I used to be by no means so conscious of it till I noticed Britney Spears’s. Mine was a bit divot in my spherical abdomen, as if my abdomen was the occasion horizon of my navel’s black gap. Britney’s was a playful little indent in her impossibly slim abdomen, a flat slab of tanned muscle gyrating under a sports activities bra and above saggy pants within the music video for “…Child One Extra Time.” It peeked out nearly accidentally, as if the teenager Britney had in a single day outgrown her little-girl garments. That 1998 music video is a semiotic minefield, with Spears in pigtails and lipstick, pink poufs in her hair, dancing via the halls of a highschool in a deconstructed faculty uniform. The stomach button spoke of childlike nudity—a child working via a sprinkler, uncovered however carefree. However it additionally winked knowingly, undulating like a stomach dancer’s, suggesting different crevices, inviting a distinct type of play. I had pigtails, lipstick, and even a faculty uniform, however regardless that I used to be sucking in my abdomen to mimic her, it was instantly apparent to me that I might by no means, might by no means, be Britney Spears. She was openly toying with sexual maturity and the scraps of girlhood, sending the nation right into a frenzy for pinpointing precisely what would possibly flip it on.

“I’m Not a Woman, Not But a Girl” didn’t come out till 2001, however that music’s paradoxical title is the essence of Britney’s sexual attraction, the uncomfortable line she danced on for years. That grey space lasted longer than any of us might have imagined: This summer time Britney testified that for 13 years, she has been underneath an “abusive” authorized conservatorship that curtails her independence, telling a choose, “I simply need my life again.” However once I turned a youngster it was undeniably her second, and her energy held us all in thrall.

And once I say energy, what I imply is, her stomach button. Early on, Britney by no means did a video with out flaunting her navel, even in “Fortunate,” which is partially set in a nostalgic film star period. She’d pull up the underside of her high and pull down the waistband of her pants if she needed to. Her stomach button invited a fastidiously calibrated intimacy to an orifice sandblasted clear of human grime, but it surely was intimacy nonetheless. It additionally instructed a whiff of the splendid international whereas remaining grounded in Britney’s southern-accented, mall-friendly, small-town attraction.

On the MTV VMAs in 2001 she leaned into her so-called “unique” influences, shifting onto the stage oiled and tousled with an albino Burmese python draped over her shoulders. Her backup dancers, many dark-skinned, lurked round her, daubed with one thing like struggle paint. Rhinestones and scarves bedecked her hips. And within the heart was her navel, fishhooked with a outstanding piercing, glinting underneath the stage lights.

In 1993, after Alicia Silverstone pierced her navel as an act of defiance within the video for Aerosmith’s “Cryin’ ” and Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington flaunted navel rings on runways, the stomach turned a fixture of the one-world, New Age ’90s. Fiona Apple, TLC, and Sinéad O’Connor all bared theirs.

However as soon as Britney claimed the navel, its tenor modified. It wasn’t susceptible in its nakedness, it was highly effective—particularly when packaged with low-rise denims, a “whale tail,” the place the of-the-moment thong crept up previous the waistline, and a “tramp stamp” lower-back tattoo to seal the deal. The truth that teenage women had been inspired to empower themselves by embracing their sexuality reveals how sneakily the pursuits of the presumed male observer trumped the ladies in query. Mockingly, Britney’s navel had energy, however she didn’t.

Witness how 1999’s American Magnificence slavers over Mena Suvari’s stomach. The picture on the poster isn’t within the movie, however the demure sensuality, beckoning the male viewer, is potent nonetheless. Within the film, she’s being ogled by Kevin Spacey, and the goal of this teen sexuality, as with Britney’s movies, is the male viewers member, inspired to look however unable to the touch. Keira Knightley, and her navel, broke out in 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham. Within the following yr’s Love Truly, writer-director Richard Curtis was reportedly so taken by her naked midriff that he requested the costumers to design her wedding ceremony costume to showcase it. A bridal crop high was apparently thought-about, however ultimately they went the translucent route. | Navel-Gazing: Britney Spears, Stomach Buttons, and Me


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