Body Odd

Belly button makeovers: Doctors help shape the 'perfect' navel

Aug. 22, 2014 at 11:02 AM ET

Considering that the human belly button is really nothing more than a scar from a cut umbilical cord, it seems a little strange to waste time gazing at your navel. That’s easy to say if you like the looks of that little “innie,” which is hopefully centered between your hips.

But for many people, a misshapen, misaligned, protruding or even missing belly button is a source of embarrassment. Fortunately, there’s a fix, and a new study published in ASJ, the journal of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, is providing doctors a road map to create what may be the “perfect” belly button.

Before and after belly button surgery
American Society for Aesthetic P
Before and after umbilicoplasty, or belly button surgery.

Using a computerized tool called the “Aesthetic Analyzer,” surgeons from Singapore tried to determine the optimal position of the belly button both vertically and horizontally, as well as its length and its shape. Pictures of Playboy playmates (37 to be exact) served as the source of “beauty.”

What they found was the beautiful belly button has a vertical ratio of 46:54, a midline horizontal position, a length that is 5 percent of the length from the xiphoid process (the lower part of the breastbone) to the lower limit of the vulvar cleft, and an oval shape with no hooding (29.8 percent) or superior hooding (21.6 percent).

In English, that means essentially the beautiful belly button is small, vertically oriented, and has a tiny flap or “hood,” explains Miami plastic surgeon Dr. Adam Rubinstein. “Using Playboy playmates is kind of an arbitrary sample. Just because these women are considered beautiful doesn’t mean they have beautiful belly buttons,” he says.

What people really want is to be in the “range of normal,” says Rubinstein. That means that most people want an “innie” even though an “outie” isn’t abnormal, and they want it proportional to their overall abdominal region. And there are some people who simply want a belly button.

“Adults can lose their belly buttons after a tummy tuck, for example, if the surgeon doesn’t create one, and sometimes they lose it just through another type of stomach surgery,” Rubinstein says. “Sometimes the belly buttons that are created are just really bad looking.” Weight gain, pregnancy and umbilical hernias can also make the belly button less than appealing. The procedure used to create a belly button is called an umbilicoplasty and it only takes about 30 minutes to about an hour to perform.

This isn’t the first study to define the beautiful belly button. Back in 2000, University of Missouri researchers analyzed and rated photographs of the belly buttons of 147 female participants ages 18 to 62. Their research, published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, also found the T-shaped or vertically shaped belly button with a little superior hooding the most appealing in terms of aesthetics. “Innies” were always preferred to “outies” and horizontal or distorted orientations were also unappealing.

Elizabeth Shulman found her new belly button “liberating.”  

“I had a botched tummy tuck in 1993 and for years I looked like I had a ‘bum’ in the front of my stomach, says Shulman, 55, of Hallandale Beach, FLA. “I looked like an alien.”

Last year, she had her tummy tuck redone and got a new belly button. “I feel like a new person, and my husband of 30 years is totally delighted with how I look and feel,” says Shulman, who rushed out to buy some two-piece swimsuits. “People who think their belly buttons are just fine are really lucky, but imagine what it’s like if yours is just horrible.”

Some doctors are seeing a whole new segment of people who want an umbilicoplasty.

“There are a number of people who have pierced belly buttons and now they have piercing regret, and scarring, and women who have had several children and now their belly buttons are misshapen, and then there are people with tattoos who say get rid of the tattoo and give me a new belly button,” says Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Brent Moelleken.  

“Creating a belly button is a work of art. No one really needs to walk around with a belly button that looks like a coin slot or a bullet hole.”  

Or an “outie” if you really want an “innie.”

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