A note from the author, before you read this article. While She Might Be is a body positive resource and you can always count on us to give you a safe space, unfortunately we cannot guarantee the same for every other website. There are sources used in this article which are not body positive. I felt that it was important to show that I was well-researched and show my sources, but unfortunately we are still living in a world in which ‘get rid of cellulite’ is going to sell a lot more books than ‘this is just something people have’. I implore you to check my sources if you feel that you are doubting anything I have said, yet similarly encourage you to ignore my sources if you visit She Might Be because you want a safe space that does not body shame.
We can’t control the rest of the internet, and we can only keep you safe here. – SG x
Apparently we’ve moved right back to the 1990s, because on a trip to a supermarket recently I actually saw a magazine with these three words emblazoned across the front of it: THE DREADED CELLULITE. I mean, realistically this is hilarious. We all know that cellulite isn’t “dreaded” – right? And then I got to thinking. Maybe some people do genuinely fear the appearance of cellulite. Maybe they go much deeper than just photoshopping it out of pictures a la Kim Kardashian, and have developed an actual phobia of the presence of cellulite and all that it entails. I decided to do a little bit of exploration, and see if we can bust some myths and get to the root of everybody’s problem with cellulite.
Now before I start, I’m not talking about cellulitis or any form of skin condition which causes you physical pain. I wouldn’t blame anybody for hating something which causes them pain! Interestingly, when I tried to do some research into the science behind cellulite I was bombarded with articles which asked ‘what is it – and how can I get rid of it?’. I think its really important to look at the cultural roots behind belief systems. I do this as a historian, and I do it as a body positive activist. Cellulite is something that people who are born biologically female are structurally designed to have – it is literally in our DNA. Fat cells respond different to estrogen than they do to testosterone, and cellulite is not caused by the presence of fat, but rather the structure of the fibres of our connective tissue. People who born biologically male have more testosterone, giving them tougher, inflexible connective tissue. Females have flexible connective tissue, allowing some of their adipose fat to be visible under the skin. And in case you’re wondering, this fat is essential in shielding your organs, encouraging hormone production and regulating insulin, inflammation and even cancer. It’s kind of a big deal.
So why do we hate cellulite? My first note to take from this research is that cellulite is a gender issue. It is impossible to deny this: cellulite has a 9:1 female to male ratio, and as we have just read this is because of basic structural differences in males and females caused by the presence or absence of estrogen. To have cellulite is to have estrogen, and that’s just the way it is. Yet media which represents itself as being exclusively for women is the leading source of all of the venom. Counter-intuitive, right? Perhaps not, when we look at the companies who are paying for adverts within said media. Essentially, female-specific media is aimed at telling women what to hate about themselves, selling them the remedies and then shaming them if the remedy doesn’t work. And at some point in the last forty years, ‘fat’ became the moral panic of women everywhere. This was an advertiser’s dream: fat is always going to be present on women, in flux at all times, so there is always going to be somebody who believes you when you tell them they’re defective and buys your new, expensive, exclusive remedy. And given that 90% of women have cellulite, it’s a pretty safe bet that if you throw out ‘cellulite looks bad, you must get rid of it’, you are going to make some money.
I took to my Twitter to ask my followers if they hated cellulite. Twitter is an echo chamber, and let’s be honest: if you’re the kind of person who is following my feed, you’re probably not going to be the kind of person who hates body fat. Not surprisingly, 87% of my followers had no problem whatsoever with cellulite. I asked if the 13% of ‘yes’ voters could share the reason for the cellulite-phobia, but unfortunately nobody was able to offer me an explanation. I think it is so deep-rooted in Western culture that a hatred of cellulite just ‘is’. But the tide is turning: we are seeing an increasing number of thin celebrities taking to their social media to announce that they have cellulite and they love it. While I’m not thrilled that these have qualifiers attached to them (“I just had a baby” “I can always lose it, but right now I have a busy lifestyle so I am happy” are some examples), I am thrilled that people in mainstream media are using their thin privilege and coming forward to normalise cellulite, to relate to other women and simply to speak out. As Hermione Granger would say, fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself. Which is why the body positive community is so vocal: we can only normalise that which is repeatedly present in mainstream media. While some of the qualifiers may be problematic, it is awesome for somebody with privilege to step up and say ‘actually, they are right’.
So now that we’ve had the science lesson and the gender studies lesson, I finished we would wrap up by showing you a whole load of beautiful women who have cellulite and are not afraid to share it – and maybe even love it. Enjoy this feast for your eyes!