NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 20: Bella Hadid out and about on November 20, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Gotham/GC Images)

Yesterday, as I scrolled my Insta feed a strange thing happened. Past all the lamenting TBTs and the Reels of people jumping up then landing in different clothes (why?) I saw a picture of Bella Hadid walking in the street. Nothing unusual about it except that I couldn’t actually see much of her at all. In the picture, the model was wearing an oversized bomber jacket, a large black face mask, a baseball cap and sunglasses. So how did I know it was definitely her? It could have been anyone. Except it wasn’t and I knew at an instant that it was her. I knew because I recognised her…stomach.

Disturbed by my own revelation, I kept scrolling. Soon, a picture of Emily Ratajkowski appeared. Hair draping over both sides of her face, sunglasses covering her eyes and a big mask over her nose and mouth but, yet, I was still certain it was her. Her baby bump splendidly popping over her jeans, side abs in view, belly button out and proud.

So, I tested my theory. I scrolled some latest pictures of Kendall Jenner. She was out to lunch dressed head to toe, no stomach to be seen. With the mask and the hair and sunglasses it looked a bit like her but I couldn’t be sure. If I’d seen her in the street I probably wouldn’t have recognised her. A few pictures later, Jenner was pictured visiting the gym. Face still hidden but abdominals in clear view. And, this time, I was absolutely certain it was her.

Facial recognition is one of the most deep-set pieces of human body language but thanks to COVID-19’s face mask fallout it’s all become strangely muted. Could it be we’re now turning to other methods of personal identification?

For A-listers, where there was once a signature lip colour, beaming smile or poignant pout to help flaunt their persona, now stands tone of abdominals, height of waistbands and shape of…navels? It’s yet another odd addition to the 2020 celebrity troubleshooting FAQ – “I can’t show my face, now what?”

Celebrities are being flustered by an existential shift in what actually makes them a celebrity in the first place. After all, if a celebrity can’t be recognised are they even a celebrity at all? They’d have to go back to just acting and singing and performing, their faces only being seen in official spheres. The modern art of leaving restaurants looking cute while holding out a hand to block blinding paparazzi flashes would be redundant if no one could even tell it was you.

Ever the re-inventors when it comes to keeping a brand fresh, however, the A-list are unsurprisingly in support of the return of the midriff. While the look was brewing well before the pandemic, its utility has only just become unexpectedly necessary. Whether they’re doing the hoicked-up trackie pant with a cropped tee thing, or the 2002 low rise jean and shrunken tank look or even the knitted bra-let and high rise jean ensemble, it seems incarnations for tummy-flashing fashion is endless. Identity crisis averted?

Perhaps. But, will this (literal) shift in focus pass down to us non-celebrity folk? Posing as a uniform of sorts that doubles as a way to maintain our sense of self. Will we all start baring our bellies regardless of weather or bloat just so our friends can find us in a crowd? Will we start framing family portraits, clearly displaying our middles while our faces are masked, so generations to come can shed a tear as they realise they’ve inherited Great Grandma Janet’s belly button? Will we start devising specialised stomach contouring makeup, injecting collagen and botox into them and, most disturbingly, could it spark the return of belly chains and…navel piercings?

And while we’re being fancifully dystopian, perhaps evolution will see us able to train our navels to wink or smile. Giving creepy reactions to conversation because long ago we stopped looking at anyone’s faces. If they do, celebrities will be the first to buy in and Pilates instructors will have their work cut out for them. Weird? Totally. But when fame is at stake never say never. And you you can’t catch a virus from a belly button!

Expect to see ab-core fashion continue to rise. It’s a cute look guys, don’t overthink it…like I have.

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Prism2 cropped stretch jersey top, $74, from Matches Fashion
Sir Yves low back top, $280
Peony ‘Wildflower vacation’ crop, $245
Zimmermann ‘Riders’ crop, $330
Bec + Bridge ‘Miami’ palm top, $160

thoughts?