Midriff is a particular term to denominate the section of the human body between the thorax/chest and the pelvis/hips. It is used (1) as a genteel avoidance of synonymous belly (with its primary external physical feature, the navel); (2) as a synonym for waist; and (3) as a name for the area around (yet mainly below) the diaphragm (particularly including the stomach region).
The midriff is exposed when wearing a crop top or bikini. The cholis worn by Indian women also exposes a thin section of midriff, usually 3 to 4 inches, though the garment is not known for having sexual connotations and is a mark of traditional modesty.
The Eastern art of belly dancing places the female midriff on center stage. With proper dance instruction and physical conditioning, the midriff is capable of a wide range of physical movements. Belly dancers such as the tribal Rachel Brice and pop singers Britney Spears and Shakira are well known examples of this muscular midriff control.
"Midriff" is an old term in the English language, coming into use before 1000 AD. In Old English it was written as "midhrif", with the old word "hrif" literally meaning stomach; in Middle English it was "mydryf". The word fell into obsolescence after the 18th century, until it was revived in 1941 by the fashion industry, partly to avoid use of the word "belly" which many women considered undesirable in reference to their bodies, as it has connotations of obesity.
Culture and history
In some cultures, exposure of the midriff is socially discouraged or even banned, and the Western culture has historically been resistant to midriff-baring styles. Bill Blass commented, "It is too difficult. Women will much more readily wear bare-back or plunging-neckline styles." It was introduced to fashion in 1932 by Madeleine Vionnet when she offered an evening gown with strategically cut openings at the waist. The women's swimwear of 1930s and 1940s incorporated increasing degrees of midriff exposure. Teen magazines of late 1940s and 1950s featured similar designs of midriff-baring suits and tops. However, midriff fashion was stated as only for beaches and informal events and considered indecent to be worn in public, by which the government banned it. However, exposure of the female midriff and navel was widely brought into everyday Western women's fashion in the 1960s' sexual revolution and later with the popularity of halters, tube tops and crop tops in the 1970s. The cheerleading style fashions developing largely from the styles originating with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders in the early 1970s also played a crucial role for the popularity of midriff fashion at middle and high schools.
During the 1980s, pop star Madonna appeared in bare midriff looks in her performances and music videos, which helped in spreading this fashion widely. The popularity of the bare midriff continued well due to low-rise fashion which started in the early 1990s when the British magazine The Face in its March 1993 issue cover featured Kate Moss in low-rise jeans. At the same time, the wide acceptance of navel display in Western societies, navel piercing and navel tattoos have become more common among young women. This raised the popularity of crop tops that expose the midriff and navel. During the 1990s, many designers adapted to the trend. One way of showing the midriff that has proved popular with designers is simply fastening a jacket or vest at the neckline and letting it fall freely. When the wearer moves there is a flash of skin, but nothing startling. Fashion designer Carolina Herrera told, "the midriff doesn't have to be completely bare; a veil of chiffon over the midriff can look intriguing.".
Currently in Hollywood, the bare midriff is becoming the trend. This midriff look flaunts one of the most desired symbols of beauty and health today: flat, toned abs. Jane magazine fashion editor Elizabeth Kiester once commented, "A woman's stomach and waist is the most feminine part of her body. It's sexy, but not overtly sexy like cleavage," Many celebrities have started to flaunt their midriffs at the red carpet, on stage, and in photo shoots. Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester flashed her abs in a body-hugging, long-sleeved shirt and skirt, while Nicole Richie showed a little ribcage in a floor-length, deconstructed dress cleverly missing its middle, as shown on Celebuzz. Dolce & Gabbana 2012 resort presented this fruit-laden plethora of prints cut into belly-flattering fiesta-chic ensembles, which deomonstrated that Midriff fashion is getting more prominence in mainstream fashion design, advised by Style Swift. In 2013, UCLA Football player Myles Jack revolutionized the midriff and brought it back to prominence in college football by rolling up his jersey and making the midriff visible.
On the other hand, baring the midriff has always been a fashion in Indian women attire. Indian women have traditionally worn saris that bares the midriff, especially South Indian women. The gap on the midriff between sari and the choli presented the elegance of a woman’s graceful sway of her gait. A possible cultural justification is that in ancient Indian tradition, the navel of the God Vishnu the Protector is considered to be the center of the universe and the source of life. From his navel a new world of the future emerges. This has been depicted in many ancient Indian sculptures as a lotus emerging from the navel on which God Brahma the Creator is seated. Due to this the midriff is set to be left bare in a sari. Another reason could be due to the hot tropical climate of India.Since the sari is entirely wrapped around the body, the midriff is bared in order to cope up with the heat.Rathi Vinay Jha, director general of the Fashion Design Council of India told, "The bare midriff keeps you cool". In modern fashion trends too,the sari is considered to be the classiest midriff revealer. Men are intrigued by the demure floor-length attire and tantalising display of a bare midriff in the back. But,it is the discretion of the wearer to decide how much of midriff she wants to bare and position the petticoat and pallu accordingly.
By the Indian Physiognomy of a women's body, when the waist of a lady is fat, it indicates her loose character. A waist that is narrow, well formed, not too small nor very large or fleshy, smooth, is the sign of good luck. If the waist is bent, big, flabby, hairy, rough and crooked, then the lady will be wicked, shrewd and unfortunate. Short, soft belly with veins visible is a sign that woman is sweet and passionate. Hair on the waist indicates an unfortunate woman with a loose character. The sari adapts to a woman's body, rather than defining it, allowing for pregnancy and otherwise expanding girth. And in a culture where having enough to eat is not a given, rolls of fat around the midriff are a sign of prestige, rather than indulgence. Dr.Torsekar, a paediatrician from India who works in Toledo, Ohio, once told, "It maybe hard for American women to imagine going to work with an exposed midriff, but for Indian women, the midriff is considered no more suggestive than the forearm."
Other Indian communities that take midriff in their stride include the women from Rajasthan who leave the midriff exposed while wearing Ghagra Cholis. However, these women often cover their heads with a Dupatta and even cover their faces in front of strangers, which enforces 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. In spite of it, some Indian philosophers gave opposition to exposing midriff in saris. They considered it to be a symbol of adultery. The only ornament accepted by the Hindu culture that can be worn in the midriff region are the waist chains. They are considered to be a part of bridal jewellery.
Due to modern fashion trends, along with saris, the midriff-revealing ghaghra cholis are also popular. Designer Manish Malhotra's Fashion Week collections regularly highlight low waisted ghaghras accompanied by short cholis. Such ghagra cholis are more commonly worn by the Bollywood celebrities in films as well as in real life. For example, actress Malaika Arora Khan featured in midriff revealing ghagra choli without dupatta for the hit songs "Chaiyya Chaiyya" in Dil Se.. (1998) and "Munni Badnam" in Dabangg (2010). Actress Priyanka Chopra featured in a low rise ghagra choli designed by designer Ritu Kumar on the opening show of the HDIL India Couture Week 2008 held in Mumbai. At the Blenders Pride Fashion Tour 2011, she featured in a low rise ghagra choli designed by Neeta Lulla. Recently, actress Amisha Patel walked the ramp in a low rise green Ghagra Choli designed by Rocky S at Aamby Valley City India Bridal Week 2011.
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.
As a marketing demographic
According to the PBS Frontline documentary, "The Merchants of Cool", "midriff" is a marketing classification for an American teenage female who is characterized as prematurely adult and consumed by appearances.
During the late 1940s, schools with dress codes added the bare midriff look to the forbidden list. Even today, many American secondary schools have dress codes dating back to the 1970s against attire that leaves the midriff exposed. An example of a test that some schools apply is to have the student raise her arms if it is suspected that her shirt will expose her midriff. Although more tolerated with younger girls, older female students, especially those over 18 years of age, can be disciplined for exposing their navels on school campuses. 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."
In 2002, East Valley High School in Spokane Valley, Washington specified guidelines about inappropriate clothing in the school's student planner and handbook which includes "clothing that reveals the midriff". In 2004, the Board of Education of Meriden, Connecticut, brought a dress code that banned shirts, blouses that expose the top of the shoulders, haltertops, spaghetti tops, and any clothing that exposed the waist, midriff or hips.
The enforcement of such rules depends on the school itself, and varies widely. At schools with more relaxed or unenforced dress codes it is not uncommon to see girls with some midriff showing or exposed lower back midriff while sitting in class.
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