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Clothing showing midrif

In the human body, the midriff is the section of the body between the chest and the waist, i.e. the diaphragm area. Its main outside anatomical feature is the navel. "Midriff" is often misspelled "mid-drift" or "midrift".

It is a word of very old origin in the English language, known before 1000 AD.[1] It is written in Middle English as "mydryf".[1] In Old English it is written as "midhrif", with the old word "hrif" literally meaning stomach.[2] The word was essentially obsolete after the 18th century, but the word was revived in 1941 in the world of fashion.[2] This was partly to avoid use of the word "belly" which many women consider undesirable in reference to their bodies as it has connotations of obesity.

This body area is exposed when wearing a crop top or bikini. The sari or choli worn by Indian women also expose the midriff, though at the time the garment was not known for having sexual connotations.


Culture and History

In some cultures, exposure of the midriff is socially discouraged or even banned. But in Western cultures and many other global areas, it has become fashionable for women to expose the midriff. While exposure of the female midriff and navel was first brought out into fashion in the 1960s, it was not until the rise of Madonna in the early 1980s that popularized the style. Popularity of the bare midriff continued well into the late 1990s[citation needed]. When Shania Twain, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera entered the music scene, the midriff & navel became a permanent mark in female fashion.

The modern trend of exposing the midriff has usually been confined to women, aside from a male belly-button shirt fad in 1980s fashion (men usually bare their midriff only when they take their shirts off entirely).

While the West was more resistant to midriff-baring dresses until the 1980s, it has always been a fashion in Indian women attire.[3] Indian women and especially from Southern India have traditionally worn saris that bares the midriff and the navel.[4][5] In Indian culture, exposure of the navel is not considered a taboo and has, in fact, long been accepted as a graceful identifying mark of a woman.[3] A curvaceous midriff is considered a special asset of any prospective bride especially amongst South Indian women. Other Indian communities that take midriff in their stride include the Rajasthanis and Gujaratis, whose women leave the midriff exposed while wearing short cholis with traditional gypsy skirts. However, these women cover their heads with a 'chador' and even cover their faces in front of strangers, which lends credence to the belief that midriff-baring in India has a symbolic, almost mystical, association with birth and life and that the display is meant to emphasise the centrality of nature in the nurture role. .[6]

Along with the acceptance of midriff display in Western societies, navel piercing is becoming more common among young women. Short shirts that expose navels may also be worn to expose stomach/navel tattoos.

In the Song of Solomon, a book in the Hebrew Bible, there are allusions to exotic things in nature, with frequent interweaving of nature with erotic imagery. The navel figures in Solomon's lavish praise of his love (the country girl, Sulaimi) thus: "thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor"(7:2).

For a period during the early 1980s, bare midriffs were in style for men, with several manufacturers producing t-shirts that ended above the navel, mainly for athletic purposes. However, in recent years shirts exposing the male midriff have been associated with homosexuality and effemininity.[citation needed]

In Beijing, where the hot weather can be harsh, men commonly roll up their shirts, exposing their midriff and navel. This is done purely to relieve themselves of the heat, as it is frowned upon for them to completely remove their shirts. However, women in Beijing usually do not do this.

With belly dance now being popular throughout the world, the female midriff is not just given total exposure, but also displayed in what can be done with it. With proper dance instruction and physical conditioning (like with pilates), the midriff is capable of incredible physique. Belly dancers such as the tribal Rachel Brice and pop singer Shakira are a good example of this muscular midriff control.


According to PBS Frontline documentary, "The Merchants of Cool",[7] Midriff is a marketing classification for an American, teenage female characterized as prematurely adult, consumed by appearances, and a collection of the same old sexual cliches.

Controversy in schools

Today, the midriff is commonly revealed when girls wear tighter clothing that hugs the skin. That is, in ordinary standing positions, the midriff may not always be visible, but during stretching or other actions that require the arms to be raised, the midriff and navel may often be seen. Most American secondary schools have a rule against attire that leaves the midriff exposed. Some schools will require the student to raise her arms if it is suspected that her shirt will expose her midriff. Although more tolerable with younger girls, females 18 and over can, and sometimes are severely disciplined, for exposing their navels on school campuses. Some state laws even permit public schools to expel female students over age 18 for exposing their midriffs on campus.

As an example, the dress code of the Sherman Independent School District in Texas requires that "there must be no exposure of the midriff area or undergarments. The midriff area must not be seen while bending over, while standing, raising arms, and stretching."[8] Though most American secondary schools have similar rules regarding the exposure of the midriff, the actual enforcement of such rules depends on the school itself. At American secondary schools with more relaxed or unenforced dress codes it is not uncommon to see most girls with some midriff showing or exposed lower back midriff while sitting in class.


  1. ^ a b "Midriff",
  2. ^ a b "Midriff, the Online Etymology Dictionary
  3. ^ a b Miller, Daniel & Banerjee, Mukulika; (2004) "The Sari", Lustre press / Roli books;
  4. ^ Alkazi, Roshan (1983) "Ancient Indian costume", Art Heritage;
  5. ^ Ghurye (1951) "Indian costume", Popular book depot (Bombay);
  6. ^ Beck, Brenda. (1976) The Symbolic Merger of Body, Space, and Cosmos in Hindu Tamil Nadu. Contributions to Indian Sociology 10(2): 213-43.
  7. ^ PBS: The Merchants of Cool
  8. ^ "Sherman High School Dress Code". 


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