Belly dancing is seen by many as a sexy, provocative activity. But a new study suggests that women who participate in belly dancing do not necessarily do it because it makes them look or feel sexier, but because they find it interesting and fun. As a result, women who belly dance embrace a more positive body image of themselves.

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Belly dancers are more likely to have a positive body image because they are focused on the activity rather than how they look, according to researchers.

The research team, led by Marika Tiggemann of Flinders University in Australia, recently published their findings in the journal Sex Roles.

Belly dancing is believed to be one of the oldest forms of dance, characterized by rhythmic movements of the abdomen and hips. Although it is unclear exactly where belly dancing originated, it is most commonly associated with the Middle East.

According to the researchers, past studies have found that compared with exotic dancers, street and modern dancers tend to be more comfortable with their body. They note, however, that there is very limited research looking at how belly dancers perceive self-body image and how the activity makes them feel.

With this in mind, Tiggemann and her team enrolled 112 belly dancers from Adelaide, Australia, to their study, alongside 101 college women who had never taken part in the activity.

All participants were required to complete a questionnaire in which they disclosed how they feel about their bodies, how they think others view their bodies, and the attention they get from men.

Results of the questionnaires revealed that belly dancers were more likely to have a positive body image and less likely to be unhappy with their overall appearance than college students. Belly dancers also scored lower on self-objectification, meaning they were less likely to be influenced by what others think about their bodies.

When it came to attention from men, belly dancers enjoyed such attention no more than the college students. The team says this indicates that women do not necessarily take part in the activity to make themselves feel more attractive or appear more attractive to others.

Instead, the researchers say women participate in belly dance because they find it fun and like performing interesting body movements.

The team believes these findings show that belly dance is an “embodying activity” that promotes an array of feel-good benefits for women. Tiggemann adds:

Belly dancing is an activity associated with positive body image, because participants tend to focus less on their external appearance, and more on the experience and what they are able to do with their bodies. It allows women a rare, safe and creative opportunity for exploring and expressing their sensual and sexual selves.”

In March this year, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the American Journal of Human Biology claiming men watch the dance moves of other men in order to determine if they have competition when it comes to attracting a partner.