Tales of the Tummy, or Bare Naked Ladies

Look down. If there is a naked, flaccid expanse between the top of your bottom and the bottom of your top, you are giving us a problem this season.

Not that the phenomenon of the exposed tummy is anything new. For several years now, this pudgy body part, once visible only in the bedroom or at seaside resorts, has been shamelessly gallivanting from boardrooms to red carpets to funeral parlors—and we just can't get used to it. Every time we see an exposed middle we are forced to wrestle anew with our feelings.

OK, first our visceral—or should we say gut—reaction: we hate this style. With the possible exception of your heinie crack, we can think of no other anatomical feature of yours we'd like to see less of. We think this fashion is gauche even when the wearer is nubile and the abdomen taut. And of course, nine times out of 10, the frisky blandisher is neither stunningly youthful or in perfect shape.

Maybe we should keep our opinion to ourselves, but unfortunately, we have one of those hopeless faces that registers everything we see. Last summer, as we strolled the East Village with a friend who has impeccable feminist credentials, our buddy noticed us viewing with evident disgust the stream of jiggling bellies crossing Astor Place. She caught our expression—it was hard to miss—and said softly but sternly that she thought it was wonderful that women of all different shapes and sizes, all varieties of beauty, were confident enough to flaunt their midsections. A deep wave of shame overtook us; we knew she was right.

So here we are, at war with ourselves over this flesh fest, wrangling with the eternal questions: How much is too much? Are we just hopelessly old-fashioned? Whatever happened to class?

And of course, the truth is our distress only begins with stomachs. It's a strange phenomenon of the early 21st century that the single-minded pursuit of comfort has resulted in the whole country trooping around in pajamas. But here we are.

We were stunned when the jilted fiancé of this weekend's runaway bride (isn't it fun to have a different trashy cable news story every weekend? Michael Jackson! The Atlanta courthouse shooter! Brad and Angelina!) was shown on TV wearing baggy shorts and a T-shirt with foot-high letters that read Polo and sipping from a paper cup. (No one ever told him, with all his southern manners and bible blather, that you're not supposed to gobble and slurp in public? And don't even get us started about people who swill pizza on the subway. We'll save it for another column . . .)

Still, on balance, nobody, not even us, wants to go back to the dark ages of corsets and hatpins and little white gloves. People in old photographs may look spiffy, but they were suffering. We once asked an older person of our acquaintance, a woman who spent many a summer sweltering in girdles and heels—OK, it's our mom—what she thought of the new ways. "I think it's great!" she beamed, tucking her "Montauk, New York" souvenir sweatshirt into a pair of elastic-waist fleece pants and giving us a peck on the cheek.

 
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