06/16/2015 12:35 EDT | Updated 06/16/2016 05:59 EDT

The Belly Button Challenge Is Body-Shaming at its Worst


For those of you who've been thinking that it's been far too long since the internet has given us a way to judge and hate our bodies, you can relax because there's a brand new "am I skinny enough?" challenge fresh from China that's trending like crazy, called the "belly button challenge."

The idea is that if you can wrap your arm around your waist and touch your belly button, then CONGRATULATIONS, you've proven your worth as a human being and can feel comfortable leaving your house and being seen in public (as long as you're not eating, because that could change your results). This challenge started on WEIBO, the Chinese version of Twitter and has received over 130 million hits in less than a week, with people eager to post pictures of themselves trying to touch their belly buttons.

Of course, anyone who has any knowledge whatsoever about health and fitness knows that this, in no way, indicates a healthy body. What it can indicate however, are long, flexible arms, which is not the same thing. It's hard to hear about this and not be reminded of the infamous "thigh gap" trend from a couple of years ago, that had millions of women cursing their thighs for having the audacity to touch each other when they stood or walked.

I find it infuriating every time one of these idiotic trends pops ups, but the fact that millions of people fall for them and let them impact the way they feel about themselves makes me incredibly sad. What scares me is the fact that a lot of people don't realize just how dangerous these fads can be for anyone battling an eating disorder and how many people that actually is.

These challenges take common eating disorder behaviors and turn them into a game. In fact, I can remember putting myself through very similar waist and tummy checks when I was a teenager at the start of what would be a lifetime of devastating disordered eating. Eating disorders are on the rise among adults, teens and even children and have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder and while I don't believe that social media causes all eating disorders, it sure as hell can fan the flames that lead to complete self-destruction.

Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders aren't caused by looking at skinny models in magazines or listening to never ending diet advice from the billions of fitness "experts" who pollute our media. They are much more complex than that. I suppose I could just ignore this ridiculous trend until it goes away, but I need to say something first.

When I was 17 years old, I felt invincible, as a lot of teenagers do, but then my world was ripped apart when my big brother, only 21 at the time, got sick and died. Suddenly, the world was cruel and dangerous and I felt completely out of control. I was consumed with grief and fear. At that point, something in my brain took over and made me think that if my life wasn't under my control anymore, then at least my body could be. That 's when my eating disorder showed up and took over.

My eating disorder told me that my brother was a better person than I was and deserved to be alive more than I did, and I believed it. I decided that if I was going to be taking his place in the world, I had to earn it and I couldn't do that by being average, I had to be extraordinary. Unfortunately, I had completely lost confidence in myself and felt that since I was never going to be smart enough, funny enough or interesting enough, I sure as hell better be skinny enough. Anyone who has battled an eating disorder or who has loved someone who has, learns very quickly that to us, there is no such thing as skinny enough, but we keep trying. I starved myself of food while devouring every weight loss tip and trick I could get my hands on and while my body disappeared, so did my spirit.

These skinny body challenges aren't funny trends, they're loaded weapons aimed at every man, woman and child that is looking for something to make them feel validated as a human being. These contests give people who stopped believing in who they are, a way of focusing on how they look in the hopes that they can finally earn their spot and be the best at something, even if it kills them. If you think I'm being overly dramatic, consider the fact that Dr. Tom Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health stated that while on a trip to China, where the belly button challenge originated, mental health officials in Beijing and Shanghai shared that their number one fear was anorexia nervosa. We tend to assume that eating disorders are an American issue, but sadly that's just not the case anymore.

We need to stop perpetuating body hating trends that serve no purpose other than to give us tools to judge ourselves and others more harshly. If you really want to wrap your arms around yourself, forget measuring your waist and give yourself a hug instead.

Self-worth shouldn't be measured in pounds.


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