Monday, May 16, 2011


With the fairly recent trend of decorated belly-buttons (navels, if you prefer proper nomenclature), much more attention has been given to that part of the body than in the old days. When my generation were young relatively no attention was paid to them. They weren't decorated, they weren't displayed, and they weren't adorned with pins or gems. (And as an interesting side note, my mother, who had a euphemism for everything, insisted that they be called "tummy-buttons" because "belly" was an uncouth word, according to her. Later she suggested we use "navel.")

Anyway, as I got older and took up an interest in psychology, I was faced with a new use for that part of one's anatomy. Below is how it is expressed in one spot on the web:

navel gazing

A pejorative term used to describe someone who is preoccupied with self-reflection and the understanding of oneself; preoccupation with attempts at understanding the psychological and/or existential meaning of the self.

Example: She was too busy navel gazing to be fully involved in the world around her.
I think this definition may be a little harsh, but I found it to be fairly descriptive of people I knew in that field. Those people drawn to psychology and allied fields seemed to be the most introspective people I've ever known. To a tiny extent I put myself in that category too; otherwise, what accounts for my delight at filling out every survey I can get my hands on?

I never spent much time thinking about the navel in an anatomical context, except that I knew that sometimes children had a herniated umbilicus, which luckily did not happen with my kids. (They all have innies.) For me at that stage in my life, a navel just was.

So it was a big surprise to find on the internet that a group of scientists at North Carolina State University has been studying the germs that inhabit our navels; the study is called the "Belly Button Biodiversity Project." Gross, you say? Read on.

Because most people more or less ignore their belly buttons, not scrubbing it specifically when they bathe or shower, and because it doesn't secrete anything, it becomes a good repository of the types of bacteria found on the body.

Now these scientists so far have collected nearly 500 samples from belly buttons on cotton swabs for their study. (That they have posted magnified images of each person's microbes on their website is just too bizarre, I think.) Anyway, they say that most of what is there is friendly - being common skin bacteria of the Streptococus and Staphylococcus variety. I'm not entirely sure they have discovered anything astounding, but Dr. Jiri Hulcr, a postdoc research assistant who is heading the project notes they are simply "trying to educate the public about the role bacteria play in our world."

There are many things to learn about belly-buttons.
1. Innies dominate.
2. You can't control whether you get an innie or an outie.
3. It can change shape.
4. Surgery can be done on them - called "umbilicopasty."
5. There is an ideal shape.
6. Some people are more prone to belly-button lint than others.
7. To wash, or not to wash?
8. Pause before you pierce.

In case you want to read more (and the details in the 8 things above are very interesting,) go to and search for belly button.

And just in case you are looking for more about navels, this also is fun to research on the internet: Did Adam and Eve have belly-buttons?


Olga said...

I read that article too. I still forget to pay attention to scrubbing out my belly button, though.

marciamayo said...

I thought the innie or the outie was based on how well the doctor or midwife clamped the umbilical.