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Page last updated at 16:13 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

Who doesn't have a belly button?

The Magazine answers...

Karolina Kurkova's belly indentation

Underwear model Karolina Kurkova has no belly button. Is a barely-there navel for cosmetic or medical reasons?

The newspapers call it the "riddle of the 2.5m beauty". The beauty in question is Czech supermodel Karolina Kurkova. The riddle is her non-existent belly button.

Its absence was noticed this week when the 24-year-old graced a US catwalk for lingerie giant Victoria Secret. While most of us have an "outie" or an "innie", Ms Kurkova has a smooth indentation (although sometimes a tummy button is airbrushed onto her photos in post-production).

Otherwise known as a navel, the belly button is the rounded, knotty depression in the centre of the abdomen caused by the detachment of the umbilical cord that fed you while in the womb. We all have umbilical cords, so why don't we all have a belly button?

Ms Kurkova has not spoken publicly about how she came to have a smooth navel, and all her agent will say is "she's not an alien".

May be result of abdominal operation in infancy
Or umbilical cord left to detach naturally
Adults may have artificial navel after stomach surgery, or cosmetic reshaping
But Karolina Kurkova is not saying

Some have no belly button as a result of the surgery needed to correct abdominal problems at birth, often either an umbilical hernia, or a condition known as gastroschisis - born with the stomach and intestines poking through a hole in the abdominal wall.

This is what happened to Rob Swainson, 26, of Bournemouth, who spent his very first hours in surgery to rectify this unfortunate mistake of anatomy. As a result, he has a cross-shaped scar in the middle of his tummy instead of a belly button.

"I thought about having one constructed when I was getting interested in girls, but not for long," he says, adding that people are more surprised by his scar than his lack of a navel. "You only have to look at Michael Jackson to realise it's probably best to live with what you've got."

And while it is standard practice to clamp, cut, then seal a newborn's umbilical cord to prevent infection, in lotus births - or umbilical non-severance births - the cord and placenta are left to drop off naturally. "But that's not at all common in this country, and there's always still something there to show where the cord was attached," says a Royal College of Midwives spokesman.

Cosmetic surgery

Adults, too, may lose their navel after stomach surgery or having skin grafts taken from their tummy. Some may have an artificial belly button made.

A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

And thanks to the trend for midriff-baring tops, cosmetic surgeons have developed an operation called an umbilicoplasty for those who want a more aesthetically pleasing navel. Most procedures involve transforming an outie to an innie, or resizing a large or lop-sided innie to be less obvious.

Rajiv Grover, a consultant plastic surgeon and secretary of Baaps (British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Sugeons), says it is rare to do this for cosmetic reasons alone, as over time the scar pulls and tightens.

However, there are certain procedures during which a new navel may be fashioned. "The two main reasons are, one, they've developed a small hernia - a weakness in the abdominal wall - which needs removing; or two, as part of a tummy tuck. This involves pulling down the extra skin and fat, and to do this the surgeon must cut the belly button free from the muscles underneath, and make and reattach a new one once the loose skin is pulled taut."

Ms Kurkova's lack of navel doesn't seem to be hindering her career. Forbes magazine ranked her as the eighth highest paid model in the world last year, with estimated annual earnings of over 2m.

What she's got is far more eye-catching than what she hasn't.

Below is a selection of your comments.

I too was short-changed a navel at birth; although to this day I have no idea why. I suspect being born three months premature via caesarean section may have meant the tissue was pliable enough to gently set into a mild indentation. Any doctors out there who can confirm? I used to tell people I was grown in a vat... Still, no belly-button fluff.
Riv, High Wycombe

I lost my belly button after abdominal surgery five years ago. I've found it very useful on training session icebreakers when we are asked for an unusual fact about ourselves, although I often have to prove it.
Darren Jalland, Larbert, Scotland

I have exactly the same sort of smooth indentation. It's the result of a repair of an umbilical hernia when I was two years old, 65 years ago. For many years now this operation, if done in the UK, would be completed with a cosmetic belly button. Perhaps The Czech republic hadn't caught up with the modern technique 24 years ago. These days very few UK children would have this operation done at all as it is now realised that most childhood umbilical hernias correct themselves by the age of three or four.
Maureen, Birmingham

Sixty years ago I was house-surgeon to a London surgeon, a real Lancelot Spratt character. He thought the umbilicus was a nasty dirty place and when operating on anyone's abdomen he would, without permission or consultation, cut it out. My job was to invent some story to tell the patient why it had been necessary. How times have changed.
Bill Hunt

I too have no belly button, the result of an umbilical hernia operation at the age of two. I have a long scar across my stomach, which meant I felt self-conscious wearing a bikini in my teens. I believe this operation is now performed with keyhole surgery leaving minimal scarring.
Sarah W, Bournemouth, England

Kelly Sotherton, of Team GB
British heptathlete Kelly Sotherton

Kelly Sotherton, the heptathlete, has a "smoothie" too.
James, Leamington

How the umbilical cord is treated at birth always affects the cosmetic appearance of the umbilicus or tummy button. Long ago in a normal delivery it was the practise to allow the placenta to stay attached, unless the baby's blood group was different to the mother's. How it is treated after birth varies country to country and health service to health service over history. With the advent of sterile plastic clamps, the neat way they were tied before was not allowed as the clamp had to come from a sterilized delivery pack of necessities. This gave a different effect and one could not continue to treat it by retying. There is much more but suffice to say, it is not the person's make-up, or the midwife's fault, or the babies' (though parents can stop babies from crying and coughing or eating too much too soon, as excess protrudes the area).
Deena Mary Jones, Bromsgrove

My dogs have no belly buttons, because their mothers gently chewed the wound from the umbilical chord, and licked them while they were healing. She continued doing so until there was virtually no scar from birth
Conor, Dublin

I am currently working on masters degree in chiropractic. Anatomy is a major part of the course. In the early embryo, the gut actually goes straight through. Differential growth then causes all the folding and rearrangement of the abdominal organs. For quite a while, the umbilicus is relatively large and the gut actually folds into it. As the embryo/foetus grows the umbilicus gets relatively smaller and the gut is pushed into the abdomen. In some cases the gut can get trapped on the outside needing surgery after birth.
David Elliott, Derby and Pontypridd

A lot of premature babies have no or small belly buttons, we call my son's a belly-popper as it looks more like a press stud.
Jon, Oxford

My husband is 37 and he had an umbilical hernia for most of his life, which meant he had no naval because of it. But due to medical reasons he had the hernia removed and now has a belly button which was reconstructed from the tissue left behind.
Jo Thomas, Preston

My cousin has no belly button as his body was attached directly to the wall of his mum's womb during development. No umbilical cord developed but he is fine, he has a line where we have a belly button.
Sam, London, UK

My husband (who may wish to remain nameless) also has a smooth indentation instead of a typical belly button. This is because his mother was a midwife and her colleagues "did a good job on him" apparently.
Proud Wife, Leeds, UK

I put my lack of belly button down to a very precise knot, tied by a perfectionist midwife. Not the experience I had with aliens.
James, Glasgow

Karolina Kurkova does have a belly button. If you look on her own website, there is a picture of her wearing just a bra and pants and she has a very normal navel. Either it's been airbrushed in or airbrushed out in the other photo.
David, Reading, UK

My nephew was born with gastroghesis, a condition that meant all his internal organs are developed outside the body instead of inside. When he was born they operated, and now he is fine, although instead of a belly button, he has a large scar running from one side of him to the other. We call it his smiley belly.
Terence Turner, Chelmsford, Essex

I used to have a boyfriend with a dent of a bellybutton just like Karolina. He joked that it was because he had been made, not born, but I never found out the real reason.

A childhood friend of mine had no belly button as she was born as a conjoined twin, her brother had a belly button, but she did not.
Colin Leadbeatter, London, United Kingdom

Sorry Colin, but I think your friend was having you on - conjoined twins are always the same sex, so your friend must lack a belly button for some other reason.
Jan, Redditch, Worcs

My mother had no belly button after an operation in her 30s for umbilical hernia. She was left with a scar across her tummy with a small lump at either end and slight indentation in the middle. My father used to say it was her zip fastener for future operations. I reckon that would be a very good idea to save being cut open next time and merely need zipping up afterwards, it would also save the surgeons a lot of time and trouble.
Marilyn Minnikin, Keighley, Yorkshire, England

Adam and Eve didn't have belly buttons either.
Edward, London

I think people with scars or interesting bodies are far more beautiful than supposed perfect ones. There's something lovely about getting to know someone's body for the first time, and growing to love it, warts and all. Scars and oddities can be lovely in themselves, for the story they tell about the person bearing them.
Jen, York

I was impressed by the fact that this "navel-gazing" story appeared on World Philosophy Day!
Rebecca H, Sunny Eastbourne

So there's a global economic crisis, and you're trying to distract us about whether some poor girl has a navel or not. Look, she's drop dead gorgeous! Get over it. Concentrate on the important stuff.
Peter, Blackpool Lancashire

Peter, this article is a fun read. Not only that, it was informative, you learn something new everyday. "Stuff" like this is important, we don't all slouch around looking for doom and gloom - get out more.
Tina, Blackpool, Lancashire

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