There is vulnerability in exposing our bodies. Our anatomy is the same, and yet our bodies are diverse. In a world of different colored skin, obesity, blemishes, piercings, tattoos, and scars, bellies are among the most risky to show because they are the most easily hidden. And yet bellies represent a cycle (they housed us for nine months), and at their center, belly buttons are the scars of what doctors cut between our mother's bodies and our own. They represent, in a sense, nurture that has been fractured and terminated. I intend to examine this series in terms of returning emotional nourishment and analyzing our own bodies in regards to the standards we impose on them.
Let's talk about scars. They're increasingly common in this medical age in which many who would otherwise no longer be alive have overcome disease and injury. Living with the physical evidence of these traumas is a fairly new issue as medicine successfully trumps bodies' maladies again and again.
Notably, there are emotional repercussions of a scar. We live in a society in which we consider the aesthetic of a body before we consider the body itself. A body with a scar is a body that has been, or is in the process of healing. Shouldn't this feat of nature be the first thing that enters our mind? Such as "This person has triumphed over something!" Instead, society often considers scars disfigurement - the subject of morbid curiosity - something worthy of being stared at. Unbuttoned permits a consensual viewing
Physical differences are okay to acknowledge, and visualizing an altered body is of natural interest. We are empathetic and curious creatures, so lets look at some scars.
Belly button #15 says of her scar, "My ostomy saved my life, but at sixteen I thought my life was over due to my new cosmetic flaw. At twenty-three it's easier to love my scars and the story about my continuing battle with Crohn's disease." (Crohn's is a chronic illness in which the digestive track becomes inflamed; a majority of patients will need surgery.) "I love being able to share my story with whoever I can, and [Unbuttoned] allows me to do that," she says of modeling.
She calls her scar a "cosmetic flaw." In an evolutionary sense, the laws of attraction could arguably dictate an increase: they have a scar, so they have battled something and survived it. They are strong and resourceful; they can protect me. In a modern sense, of course, scars indicate a variety of things, mainly someone with a chronic or fatal illness, a victim of an accident, or someone who engages in risk-taking behavior.
These modern possibilities no longer indicate evolutionary attractiveness, specifically. Rather, scars in our modern experience (especially those related to an illness) might be considered an indication of personal and emotional strength. In a world where physical strength is no longer a necessity of survival, this gained emotional versatility of having survived a trauma and living to accept the remaining scar is a positive and attractive trait.
Yet society doesn't portray this value. Type "scar" and Google gives you "treatment" and "removal." In art history, there is an ethical conversation in preserving something of historic artistic value. Consider ancient ruins. These monuments have been damaged by age, but also by their physical geographic presence in times or war, occupation, and violence. Is it our duty as a society to repair these monuments, to preserve for the sake of their nation's value of its art? Or are we altering (or erasing) their historic testimony if we repair them? For what sake do we repair our body's history of scars? Attractiveness and desirability? A scar should not render a body unappealing or invaluable.
Belly button #14 says, "My stomach is the only visible evidence of my otherwise fairly invisible disease, cystic fibrosis (CF). Many CF patients, myself included, are born with a condition called jejunal artesia. Jejunal artesia occurs when a person is born without a membrane connecting the small intestines to the back of the stomach, causing a portion of the intestines to wrap around crucial arteries and cut off blood supply. As a result I was operated on twice as an infant. Additionally due to CF I was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis Related Diabetes (CFRD). Occasionally I have bruises on my hip caused by the insulin shots I self-administer."
Belly Button #37. describes her experience: "My scar is from a surgery I had when I was nineteen to remove my spleen, which had a cyst wrapped around it. The scar ended up being bigger than I thought it would be, and at the time I was very self conscious about it. Now, four years later, it continues to heal. I've learned not to let it bother me. It's now a part of who I am."
#36. explains his scars: "A thirty-two year old third degree burn stretches across my abdomen with noticeable skin grafting between burn patches. This is the result of a house fire accident that took place on June 3, 1983 when I was three.
"As my young boy's body grew into a man's, the severely burned skin had very limited expansion characteristics. The skin grafts are six layers of donor skin from other parts of my body (thighs/back/forearms/head), and some even came from pig skin and cadavers.
"This particular abdomen skin-grafting is in place to allow for growth and expansion as well as to aid in allowing better lung expansion for breathing. The grafted skin functions as normal expanding skin. I am an example of human adaptation and a body's willingness to exist.
"For those who are curious, skin grafting is ten times more painful than the actual burns. More often than not, the graft does not take for most patients. I've been told I am incredibly fortunate. My heart stopped over a dozen times during the first twenty-four hours after the accident."
#36.'s compelling narrative is hidden; all the scars appearing in Unbuttoned are restricted to the models' stomachs. No one would know these scars existed, unless the models personally exposed them. Unbuttoned allows both anonymity and a confidential reveal.
In summation, how can we change aesthetic pressures and standards without confronting the deviations? We benefit from opening up private conversations about our bodies that we are encouraged to hide through clothes, cosmetics, plastic surgeries, or simply by avoiding visual contact. We should know more about each other's histories, ask more questions, and experience the answers with engagement and respect.
If you live in Birmingham and are interested in modelling your belly button, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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