Cellulite: The Women’s Disease That Doesn’t Exist

I, like almost every other red-blooded American woman, could easily list twenty things about my appearance that I’d like to change. My nose is too big, my skin is too yellow, my hips are too wide– and I suffer from the admittedly unrealistic delusion that I’m too fat and too skinny at the same time. And, like almost all other women, I spent years convinced that I had cellulite, a so-called skin condition that many people regard as disfiguring.

As I started looking for treatments for cellulite, I uncovered disturbing information about this “disease” and its impact on how we view ourselves as women. As it turns out, cellulite, as we think of it, does not exist.

Cellulite as a Secondary Sex Characteristic

According to a report in the Journal of Cosmetic and Laser therapy, as many as 98% of post-pubescent women have cellulite. This is roughly the same number of women who have developed breasts. The characteristic we know as “cellulite” actually arises as a normal reaction to estrogen and progesterone. Like menstruation and breast development, cellulite is one of the characteristics that differentiate male and female bodies. It is no more abnormal than pubic hair, hips, breasts, or any of the other physical traits characteristically associated with grown women.

The Invention of Cellulite as a Disease

Cellulite was, quite literally, invented by fashion magazines. On April 15, 1969, Vogue magazine published an article describing cellulite as an increasingly common skin disease, and advertising solutions to “cure” this imagined problem. The term “cellulite” existed within a medical context, to describe the secondary sex characteristic, beginning in the 1920s, but practitioners did not regard it as a disease or a problem. Today, many women believe that they have a skin condition because of visible cellulite. In fact, these people are simply displaying normal traits associated with womanhood.

Can Cellulite Be Treated?

Cellulite has no treatment, because it is not a disease. Not only would a “treatment” for this non-issue be completely unnecessary, but it would also be completely ineffective. Contrary to common misconceptions, there is no way to prevent or eliminate cellulite. The structure of fat on the female frame has nothing to do with a person’s weight or level of fitness– I myself am very thin and have cellulite. Exercise will not eliminate cellulite, since all women have some amount of body fat. Topical creams, massage, and liposuction do not work to treat cellulite.

I no longer feel upset about the way the way that my skin appears on my butt or thighs. I’ve ultimately come to recognize my faint traces of so-called cellulite not as something to be shunned or treated, but as one of the many physical traits that makes me look like a grown woman.

Sources Used:

Journal of Dermatology and Surgical Oncology.1978 Mar;4(3):221-9.
Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy. 2004 Dec;6(4):181-5.
Journal of Drugs and Dermatology. 2008 Apr;7(4):341-5.

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