Trust me, belly button piercings should have been left in the Noughties

Britney had one. So did Beyoncé. And so did every millennial woman who grew up in their thrall. But the return of the belly button piercing is a questionable fashion choice from the past that should not be revived, writes recovering belly bar-wearer Jessie Thompson

Saturday 16 March 2024 06:00 GMT
L-R: Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Beyonce sporting the ultimate Noughties accessory, the belly bar
L-R: Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Beyonce sporting the ultimate Noughties accessory, the belly bar (Getty/iStock)

It was an unremarkable afternoon in the Noughties, and I was working a slow shift at my Saturday job. There I was, behind the tills at Matalan, waiting for my next customer to appear, when I felt it. My body was interrupted by a sharp, sudden pain. A pain that seemed, upon closer inspection, to be coming from my midriff. “Ow!” I yelped. When I looked down, it became clear: the magnet that I used to remove security tags from blouses and bikinis was dragging me towards it by my belly button piercing.

I’m relieved to tell you that all was well. I did the rest of my shift with my body pointed at a slight 45-degree angle, and never wore the belly bar with the dangly heart on it to work again. No navels were harmed on that day. But imagine if a family with a large trolley had turned up before I’d realised what was happening – it could have been so different. Anyway, I thought the danger was over, in the past, but it turns out I was wrong. Because belly button piercings, it seems, are back. This week, Vogue heralded their return, while in last weekend’s Sunday Times, a mother lamented her 15-year-old daughter’s desire for one. “I don’t sleep very well the night before,” she wrote after agreeing to the procedure. I don’t blame her because, dear god, if we’re going to revive any of our questionable choices from the Nineties and Noughties, let’s not make it the belly button piercing.

That the humble belly bar has risen like a saline-solutioned phoenix from the flames is clear. Gen Z pop queen Billie Eilish has a belly button piercing, as do her fellow born-in-2000-and-onwards peers, Ice Spice and Addison Rae. On a recent red carpet, Margot Robbie wore a dress with a navel piercing jewel sewn on – nodding to the trend without risking infection – while Vanessa Hudgens appeared at the Oscars on Sunday night doing the thing that all belly button piercees contemplate with fear (but are generally too young to actually worry about): she kept hers in despite being heavily pregnant. Help! They’re everywhere.

Of course, fashion is cyclical; not much, quoth Taylor Swift, “come[s] back stronger than a Nineties trend”. And the reason practically every millennial woman once got a belly button piercing is only because we were also copying our cool pop stars. Britney Spears, the Spice Girls, the female members of S Club 7 – they all had twinkly, glittery navels, the lot of them.

Also, it’s probably fair to say that piercings are an undeniable rite of passage, destinations on a coming-of-age mission in which we feel the urge to have shiny jewellery dangling from different parts of our bodies. Growing up, you choose your fighter. To signal you are individually minded – but not in an intimidating way – there’s the nose stud (I got mine when I was 15). For the grungy older boy, an eyebrow or a lip piercing. For those who take it a bit too far, the tongue or septum piercing. And, of course, for the wannabe pop star, now and then, the belly button piercing.

Now, I don’t want to sound like an Old, but if there’s one thing from which the elder generation can take some satisfaction – perhaps even pride – it’s this: they made mistakes so that the younger generation could learn from them. For example, women in the Eighties got perms. Women in the Nineties had crushes on Tony Blair. In the Noughties, all hair was excessively backcombed. This was all fine, no one was hurt, but I wouldn’t recommend reviving any of these things. And that’s how I feel about the belly button piercing. Plus, of course, you might get hurt, if you are working on a till at your Saturday job.

Margot Robbie’s sewn on navel piercing – nodding to the trend without risking infection (Getty Images)

Strangely, other than my magnetic near miss, I don’t have many specific memories about my own belly button piercing. I don’t remember when I got it done, or when I decided to take it out. Probably when it became clear that I wasn’t going to become an international pop star who needed to expose my midriff on a daily basis, so therefore all the unenjoyable chafing against my waistline was quite pointless and unnecessary. The one thing I do remember, though, is how much I wanted one, and for how long. So although it slightly pains me to see a new generation go through the faff and rigmarole of attending to a bit of sparkly metal in their navels, I think I understand. Questionable choices – the kind no one can talk you out of – must and will be made.

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