2015-06-17

The Belly Button Challenge

I first heard of the "belly button challenge" this morning, via the news. I didn't hear about how fun it is, who started it, why it was started, or who has been impacted by it. No, I heard about what a terrible thing it is, because it makes people feel bad about themselves.

Here's The Washington Post:
“A successful attempt is met with praise and affirmation, under the pretense that the challenge is a test of health and fitness,” James Hamblin of the Atlantic wrote in “Don’t Try the Belly Button Challenge.” “You are thin enough to reach around yourself, so you must be okay. An unsuccessful attempt is met with quiet inward shame.” 
The challenge, it was said, not only proved triggering to those battling eating disorders who seek “thinspiration,” but also did not prove good health.
In that citation, I notice two claims: (1) that the challenge was "triggering" for people with eating disorders, and (2) that the challenge does not demonstrate good health.

The Post article does not buttress either of these claims with any sort of citation or evidence, not even anecdotal evidence. So, I followed the link to The Atlantic and discovered that James Hamblin's article contains a lone citation to a BBC news story which merely provides an account of the Belly Button Challenge in similar scope to the Washington Post article. It certainly provides no support for Hamblin's claims about eating disorders.

The BBC article, to its credit, cites a single expert in support of its (the BBC's) claim "some experts" argue that the challenge promotes eating disorders.

Thus, all this "eating disorder" hullabaloo really comes down to the opinion of a single Westerner cited by the BBC in the context of a story about a Chinese social media fad. So much for The Post's first claim.

What about the claim that the challenge does not demonstrate good health? Well, according to Hamblin,
It’s actually a test of shoulder flexibility, not fitness. The shoulder has the greatest range of motion of any joint in the body. If you’re looking to impress people, how about telling them that fact?
According to this 12th Grade public school lesson plan (or alternatively, this page from the U.S. Army), flexibility is one of the five major components of physical fitness. (The others are body composition, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular endurance.)

So it would appear that the Belly Button Challenge is indeed a gauge of physical fitness, no matter how "triggering" some in the Western media might believe it to be.