Jacki Lyden, of NPR's All Things Considered
, discussed a new fad among teenage girls: navel removal
. The procedure, called a navelectomy, was being performed in mini malls on both the west and east coasts.
Critics of the procedure pointed to the risk of infection and scarring. But its proponents noted that it made the belly a "blank canvas," which was convenient for getting a tattoo. Also, "the aborigines in South America have it done, so it's totally natural, and it's really safe."
One mother was unhappy with her daughter's decision to have the operation because it had removed their connection from the womb.
First came belly button rings and tummy tattoos and now a new trend is showing up on the midsections of America's youth, and for some parents this may really cause their stomachs to turn over.
Some kids, mostly young women, according to the mag Teen Buzz, are getting their navels removed. The fad started, as so many seem to, in Southern California, but it's been reported in big cities throughout the west and east coasts, and we decided to go belly up to the mall and check it out.
Jacki Lyden: We're speaking right now with Brittany. Brittany, may I have your age?
B: Um, I'm 17.
JL: And we read that this sort of thing is going on all over the country. Now Brittany, what was wrong with your belly button before?
B: Well, there was nothing really wrong with it. But I was going to get it pierced, and then I didn't want to put anything like a piece of metal through it. So I decided, well, this way it would still be kind of cool, but I wouldn't have to put like a foreign object in it. And I hear that, like, the aborigines in South America have it done, so it's totally natural, and it's really safe. I got my ears done at a mall, so I don't see why I shouldn't get my belly button removed at a mall.
JL: Now you're wearing one of those little midriff tops that seem to be all the fashion for girls your age, and I must say I can see where your bellybutton used to be, and... a bit strange... I mean, it's very, well... it's smooth is what it is.
B: Yeah, I really like it. You can tell it's really smooth, and this way if I want to get a tattoo... I guess they say, it's a blank canvas
JL: A blank canvas. Right. You wouldn't have to go around... You wouldn't have to make the belly button the nose on the head of someone.
B: Right. Sometimes your belly button gets in the way of a tattoo. Like, so this way you can have a bigger tattoo and you don't have to worry about the belly button, like, sticking out.
JL: Did you tell your parents you were going to get this done?
B: Well, no. I didn't tell them before I had it done, I mean, you know...
JL: Right. right. Of course not. What did they say when they saw that it was gone?
B: Ooh. Well, at first they were kind of upset, but now they've kind of gotten over it. And my mom was really upset at first. I guess, you know the whole baby in the womb, and that was my connection to her, and now the connection is gone. But now, actually she's really gotten over it, and we go shopping, and she bought me this top so it shows off my belly button, or actually more where my bellybutton used to be.
JL: Yeah, well, did this hurt? I mean, you had this done here at the mall. Did it hurt?
B: Well, you know, It was sore at first, but, you know, it didn't really hurt that much. I mean, it's really safe.
Despite Brittany's reassurances, we decided to find out for ourselves if this procedure is safe. We called Dr. Lucia Stern, a cosmetic surgeon, to find out more about what is officially called a navelectomy.
LS: You know, when I first heard about this procedure I was really shocked, as a physician and as a mother. You know, the girls are putting themselves at an absolutely unnecessary risk. Whenever you perform any kind of surgery there is always a risk of infection. There is a risk of scarring, and then, if the patient has a tendency to form these thick scars, that are known as keloids, she can really make things very complicated later in life if she ever needs a caesarean section. And I can tell you, as a mother, I know how capricious teenage girls can be. They may think that they want this procedure now, but they would be better off to save their money now because later on they might need some procedure. Something useful like liposuction.
Dr. Stern isn't alone in her concerns. The procedure has caught the attention of parents and lawmakers, some of whom are looking at ways to ban the removal of navels. But the practitioners who perform navelectomy say there's nothing wrong with the procedure. In fact, they contend that it can do some good.
TM: Well, you know, there are so many girls out there who, like, you know, they wish they could wear bikinis or midriff tops, but they don't because they're unhappy with their belly buttons. But now, you know, like, they don't have to worry how they're going to look any more, because they're not going to have belly buttons.
Trey Morgan is what's known as a body artist. He's not a doctor. But he performs navelectomies in his clinic, the Naval Academy, located, of course, in a mini mall in Santa Monica. He says the procedures are safe, although he wasn't very clear on the details.
TM: Well, you know, I've done, like, maybe 20 of them. And I've had very few problems. People just don't have problems at all. I mean, maybe 5 or 6 have had infections, and, you know, maybe one of them went to the hospital. But, you know, overall it's a pretty safe procedure.
JL: Excuse me, Trey, you said 5 girls out of 20. Math may not be my forte, but 5 out of 20 means that a quarter of these girls had problems.
TM: Yeah, but, like, 75 percent haven't had any problems. And I don't think your math is right anyway. It's more like 2 percent.
His math skills led us to inquire why he felt he was qualified to do what amounts to minor surgery, but at that point Mr. Morgan asked us to leave and refused to answer any more questions.
Back at the mall, Brittany was joined by her friend Tia who was also wearing one of those little midriff tops, and we'll let her have the last word on navelectomy.
B: Well, I, I, I just think you'd have to be a fool not to get it.
And for this evening, that's NPR's Weekend All Things Considered.