Cellulite: The Great Female Equalizer

27th May 2008

Cellulite: The Great Female Equalizer

The line at the grocery store is not the most body-affirming space. One is forced to stand between rows upon rows of delectable chocolate and racks upon racks of magazines sporting half-naked, unrealistically-thin women promoting every kind of weight-loss and diet imaginable on the same covers as recipes for gazillion-calorie desserts.

And then there are the tabloids.

The Enquirer - CelluliteAhh, the same tabloids which once brought us regular updates on Batboy and George Bush Sr.’s secret meeting with communist aliens has now engaged in a new sensationalist sport: Cellulite voyeurism. With summer upon us, be prepared to see more and more covers devoted to spotting the slightest dimple of cottage cheese lattice bemoaned by women everywhere across the thighs of your favorite celebrities.

Even teenagers aren’t immune from the tabloid’s game of sadistic schadenfreude. In The Enquirer edition pictured, England’s 19-year-old Princess Beatrice is critiqued, examined, and criticized for having a “bumpy bum.” Helpful circles and arrows point out the flaws of celebrities ranging from the young Mischa Barton (“She’s only 22!”) to middle-aged Ellen DeGeneres and model mom Cindy Crawford to near-geriatric celebs like 53-year-old Janice Dickinson. Entertainment Wise even has an online “Guess the Celebrity Cellulite!” game.

The tabloids purposefully put these otherwise accomplished and talented women under the spongy microscope to shame and humiliate them all the while appealing to hordes of readers who derive some sort of personal satisfaction from seeing the flaws of their favorite celebs exposed. But I can’t help but think the sleazoids’ efforts are self-defeating: Instead of humiliating these women, they only reinforce the fact that cellulite is the great equalizer amongst women of all shapes, sizes, ages and socio-economic backgrounds.

Rock-hard dancers get cellulite. Twenty-two year old celebrities get cellulite. Middle-aged moms get cellulite. Heck, even 14-year-old girls get cellulite. There are ways you can reduce your amount of dimpling, like avoiding diet pills and crash dieting. Smoking, excessive caffeine intake and some medications, like birth control, can also lead to the dreaded orange peel, as well as insufficient water intake and a poor diet. But as our dimpled celebrities show, cellulite just might be in your genetic cards. Genetics and heredity are the two main causes of cellulite and even the healthiest of diets and an ability to slide into a size-zero aren’t guarantees against spongy thighs or cratered abdomens. If you want to know how much cellulite you will have, take a look at your mother.

If you’re hoping for a miracle in a jar (hello Dove), think again. According to Alan Kling, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, such snake oils are just “pure hype.” The dermatolic surgeon, who specializes in liposuction surgery, cautions people to remember “that the beauty industry can make claims based on anecdotal evidence that have no scientific or medical backing whatsoever.” (WebMD story here)

So the next time you’re in line at the grocery and see a celebrity with her cottage cheese hanging out, relax and know that she – and you – are in good company.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 27th, 2008 at 8:00 am and is filed under Body Image, Body-Affirming, Diets, Pop Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 28 responses to “Cellulite: The Great Female Equalizer”

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  1. 1 On May 27th, 2008, deja pseu said:

    Did you know that “Cellulite” (the word) was invented by a French costmetics company in the 70′s to sell thigh cream?

    A few years back I was watching some Western from the 50′s and the blond bombshell star prancing around in a skimpy “saloon dance hall girl” outfit had, you guessed it, cellulite. It used to be considered normal female flesh. Look at paintings even by the Old Masters; even the goddesses have dimpled thighs and hips.

  2. 2 On May 27th, 2008, Beth said:

    Thank you for posting this. I was just at the gym bemoaning the fact that all the squats in the world can not rid me of some serious craters. But you’re right; every woman has cellulite, and yes, I did indeed inherit my mother’s legs.

  3. 3 On May 27th, 2008, KarenElhyam said:

    You’re right, it is the great equalizer…

    No matter what, if you’re a woman, your body is gross and to be feared.

    Gosh, tabloids are the most disgusting of publications only because they are unstintingly honest about the creators’ intentions. It’s way less sneaky than most of the MSM.

  4. 4 On May 27th, 2008, Misha said:

    My reaction to those magazines is usually “why is it only women’s bodies that are critiqued in this way?”. I mean, can you picture Prince William being subjected to the abuse that Princess Beatrice gets from the press, does anyone follow him around to check that he has “rock-hard abs” or the beginnings of a paunch in his twenties? I doubt it, they’re too busy critiquing his latest girlfriend for her body flaws

  5. 5 On May 27th, 2008, BigLiberty said:

    I’ve had extensive cellulite since I was *twelve*. You can’t imagine how horrible it was for a little girl to walking around the beach and comparing her legs with women four times her age.

    I come from a line of women with extensive cellulite, and my poor circulation and hypotension (which is not improved by diet or exercise, except that salting my food is recommended by my cardiologist) exacerbate that even further. I’ve felt like a freak show since I was a little girl, and part of my dive into an ED had to do with finally getting rid of the “cottage cheese monster.”

    Well, even when I was skin and bones from the waist up, I still had huge thighs and arse, riddled with extensive cellulite. The only way it was going to go was if I starved myself into the grave. Which was what I began to realize after a while—and I backed away from that precipice.

    Cellulite *is* the great equalizer, but even as some “Real Beauty” campaigns try to capture non-traditional forms of female beauty, they airbrush every dimple away. How real is that?

    Cellulite is vilified, seen as the ultimate ugliest form that fat can take, and hence the fatty with cellulite the most disgusting bad fatty alive. But cellulite isn’t a flaw, it’s a normal feature that some women have more of than others, and some have at younger ages than others. It is not contagious, and therefore I (and others) shouldn’t be treated like we’re diseased if we dare to expose a socially unacceptable patch of dimpled thigh.

  6. 6 On May 27th, 2008, Shira said:

    BigLiberty, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but what you’re describing sounds an awful lot like lipoedema, which I have (spelled without the O in the US, I believe). It is usually inherited and becomes apparent at puberty or pregnancy. Women with it often end up with eating disorders in an attempt to get rid of their disproportionately large lower halves. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to lose lipoedemic fat, so all that happens is that the upper half (sometimes excluding the arms which may be affected too) gets thinner while the lower half remains large. If this is completely off the mark for you, forgive me, but I just had to mention it in case it rings any bells for you.

  7. 7 On May 27th, 2008, Bree said:

    The tabloids at times do ridicule men for being fat (their main target of choice is always John Travolta) but not as much as the women, and not as brutal.

    And since these celebrities are prone to excessive dieting, taking diet pills, not to mention quite a few of them smoke, it’s only natural that they would develop celluite like the rest of us gals not in the spotlight.

    I’m not offended by the tabloids’ desire to do these annual “articles” anymore, I’m amused by them. Out of everything they can “report” on, they choose to show us who has cottage cheese thighs on the beach and in the streets of NYC or Rodeo Drive, etc. Their job is to know what’s going on in Hollywood—surely they know when these ladies appear in magazine photo shoots and ads they are airbrushed to the max. But then again, that’s probably why they do it in the first place.

  8. 8 On May 27th, 2008, withoutscene said:

    Rachel, I really like your interpretation. It really flips the power structure on it’s head.

    But I’m still left enraged at this crap. I’m angry that we have to see these oppressive images every day–images and stories that tell us, “They’re not even worthy as women…but still, that’s a woman’s worth.” Or maybe they are telling us, “Sometimes celebs have cellulite, but they take care of it and one day those women will be worthy of existence…so you should keep trying because you can too.” And despite the fact that it shows that everyone gets cellulite, those mags still make the female body public property and effortlessly shame-able. And on top of that, there is the profit from all of this oppression. Every day it makes me sick.

    However, I will keep your interpretation in mind because it’s the only sane one out there.

  9. 9 On May 27th, 2008, Rachel said:

    Oh, I might also add.. I think some of these “reputable” tabloids photoshop so to make celebrity cellulite appear much worse than it really is. Shocking, I know…

  10. 10 On May 27th, 2008, Lola said:

    I really think women shouldn’t worry about cellulite, a term invented in the 70s, exactly when another wave of feminism was starting to take off. As Naomi Wolf explains in her incredible The Beauty Myth, before then what is today seen as dreadful cellulite was just… skin.

  11. 11 On May 27th, 2008, jamboree said:

    Bree said: “The tabloids at times do ridicule men for being fat (their main target of choice is always John Travolta) but not as much as the women, and not as brutal.”

    I’ve noticed that tabloids and websites like Perez Hilton or what have you refer to fat men as “catching the bloat” or something. The men are never described as fat. That little word is reserved purely for us women — the worst insult ever! Heh.

    On the subject of cellulite — when I noticed cellulite on the thighs of my perfect, chubby, adorable little baby girl, I realised that cellulite is a normal occurrence on the human body.

  12. 12 On May 27th, 2008, Caitlin said:

    The idea that cellulite was once just considered skin is completely magical.

    Also, Genetics and heredity are the two main causes of cellulite

    Genetics and heredity are the same thing, just FYI.

  13. 13 On May 27th, 2008, Cindy said:

    Another thing that happens across the age/race/class divide: stretch marks.

    I have been shocked at just how often I’ve seen people use “stretch marks” as a euphemism for “old.” I had them at 15. My breasts grew bog and the flesh stretched. Which is what it’s designed to do and all.

  14. 14 On May 27th, 2008, Cindy said:

    Er, big. Not bog.

  15. 15 On May 27th, 2008, Godless Heathen said:

    Stretch marks started hitting me in my late teens, which at the time was appalling to me since I’d associated them only with pregnancy. There’s this hilarious scene in the movie Real Women Have Curves where the 17 year old protagonist and the women she’s working with all start comparing stretch marks. I wish I’d known that early that they were normal.

  16. 16 On May 27th, 2008, The Maven said:

    I always feel better about myself and my body when I read your blog. Most days I do feel wonderful as a plus-sized woman. But there are those days when I’m around my skinnier friends who bemoan every little flaw (I need to lose 10 pounds! Ugh, my thighs are like jelly!) that I want to curl up into a fat-laden ball and hide in a corner.

    Then I come here and I’m reminded that no body is perfect. Thank you :)

  17. 17 On May 27th, 2008, Kua said:

    I think my breasts did grow bog, not big… and yup, stretch marks from my knees to my elbows by the time I was twenty. Years of wasted shame-energy until I found myself in bed with someone who wanted to know why my skin “shimmered.” That’s me, shimmering and proud!

  18. 18 On May 27th, 2008, curvy angela said:

    I never had a problem with cellulite until I LOST weight. I am always amazed at the automatic association in the media with fat and cellulite.

  19. 19 On May 27th, 2008, BigLiberty said:


    My goodness, I’ve looked up lipoedema and it sounds *exactly* like what I have! The skin appearance, the stages, the prevalence, the fact that some part of my body are eerily skinny and others are big and seem much more fluid-filled than fat (though I’ve got plenty of regular fat, mind you). The pictures of the legs, arms, etc of lipeodemics look like — me! I’ve never seen anyone else who’s looked like that, except family.

    Do you mind if I ask you to email me more information, if you have it? Good links, etc? I don’t want to derail the thread. I’m big dot liberty at gmail dot com. I’m amazed at how closely this describes me. It’s like when I discovered I was an Aspie — the same kind of “Oh yeah, *now* it all makes sense!” feeling I’ve gotten very rarely my whole life.

    Thanks so much! :)

  20. 20 On May 27th, 2008, Lola said:

    You know, I don’t have a problem with cellulite because I don’t see it. It’s near my butt, and I rarely see my butt, so it’s like the cellulite didn’t exist. It would be wonderful if I could be as accepting of my whole body as I am of my cellulite (which, of course, is part of my body).

  21. 21 On May 27th, 2008, Tori said:

    Thanks to good genes, I’ve never had a problem with cellulite, but even still these tabloids make me feel WORSE about my flaws, not better. Instead of feeling better that, yes, celebrities are real people too, I just end up thinking…OMG do other people notice all my flaws as much as these magazine people?? It seems like the tabloids have focused so much on it nowadays that when I scan a magazine someone bought (I’m a cashier at a grocery store), I’m not even tempted to read the headlines. It’s going to do nothing but make me feel worse.

  22. 22 On May 28th, 2008, spacedcowgirl said:

    I agree that celebrities’ dieting their whole lives, often smoking, etc. (and the obvious irony is that they do these things to keep their bodies “acceptable”) probably predispose them to cellulite even if more or less everyone didn’t have it to some degree or another.

    I agree with withoutscene… I like your interpretation, and I’ll try to keep it in mind because this beauty “taboo” in particular is especially scary to me. When we’re ridiculed for being fat… well, for one thing I’m used to it, and for another, at least the jerk doing it usually believes that all you have to do to get thin is eat a little better and get some exercise. For most other criticisms of our bodies, the person doing the ridiculing also at least believes that there is a solution… “just” eat healthier, start lifting weights, get a boob or nose job, hair removal, a tan, etc. etc.

    This is utterly disgusting in any case, and I hope it goes without saying that any instance (like the above) where somebody thinks I “need to” alter or harm myself to make myself more visually acceptable infuriates me. But in the case of cellulite I think there is literally nothing you can do about it (I don’t know of any treatment, surgery, or “lifestyle change” that makes a difference), and this doesn’t stop the misogynists from just airily waving a hand and basically going “fix this. It does not please me.” They don’t care whether you “can” “fix” it, or what it will cost you to try; they simply feel justified in demanding that you find a way to look however they want you to look. And if you die trying, well, that’s one less “ugly” chick they have to look at. It’s like demanding you make yourself 5″ shorter or something.

    I know there is really “nothing to be done” about weight or any of the other examples for most women either, and that women harm themselves grievously trying to change themselves in any number of ways, but for some reason society’s obsession with cellulite really drives home (for me) the idea that we are just objects for sexual gratification. It’s terrible.

  23. 23 On May 28th, 2008, Rachel said:

    I never had stretch marks until I lost weight. I lost such a dramatic amount of weight in such a rapid amount of time that my skin couldn’t contract fast enough. So, in addition to stretch marks on my arms, chest and abdomen, I now also have loose skin that only surgery will get rid of. I dislike the loose skin because it makes buying pants difficult and can result in skin rashes, but the stretch marks don’t bother me. I see them now as battle scars (because I’ve successfully battled the eating disorder, not because I lost weight).

  24. 24 On May 28th, 2008, Cassandra said:

    What I find interesting about this is how even “skinny girls” have cellulite, even though they are HEALTHY. Cellulite isn’t just for *fat people* and isn’t always a sign of being out of shape or unhealthy.

  25. 25 On May 28th, 2008, Rachel said:

    Cassandra – Agreed. This is one of the reasons why I am not a big Dove fan. The only ad in which they featured so-called “normal” women is in ads promoting their anti-cellulite “firming” creme. Their justification was even printed on one of their ads, “Because firming the thighs of a size 2 supermodel is no challenge.” Dove, like so many others, associates cellulite with fatness, which is the only reason they featured “normal” women. Until they feature the same women in ads for products everyone uses, like shampoo and soap, I remain unconvinced of their motives.

  26. 26 On November 12th, 2008, dreianj said:

    Honestly, you guys need to relax. I for one and many of the guys I know love a little cellulite on their women. Some like a lot of cellulite. I find it very sexy for a little thigh cheese to show and it feels great. Being warm and soft is in my opinion part of being female, nice wide hips, maybe a little pear-shaped. Get over the tabloid garbage. I’ve been with women with rock-hard bodies and in the end I find them to be to masculine for me. I like a little tummy and the little jiggles and sways that go along with it. It is much more inviting. As far as I’m concerned, the guys that like the size nothing women shown in the enquirer are one small step away from being either…well I won’t say it. Give me a real woman, every time. My fondest memory of one of my ex’s was the stretch-marks she had on her hips. They were so inviting. 20 years later I have problems remembering much about her but I will never forget how they felt in my hands. Be real, don’t diet, just eat healthy, exercise moderately and be happy with who you are. What you may see as flaws, most men don’t. If you don’t jiggle a little bit you are probably a man. Usually, I want to throw those skinny waifs back in the water so they can mature. ;-) U are beautiful!

  27. 27 On March 27th, 2009, Now you see Kim Kardashian’s cellulite, now you don’t » said:

    [...] me remind readers that cellulite? Is not a sign that you’re fat. Kardashian’s response is admirably restrained in light of the criticism she’s getting, [...]

  28. 28 On October 21st, 2009, Otis Mitchell said:

    Hi! I think that woman that have cellulite are very sexy, and just like dreianj, what kind of man wounldn’t like ther lady to show him a little jiggle, i’m a thigh man, i like, love and adore womam leg’s, the tabloid’s suck, don’t believe them because they aren’t real people in my book, believe in yourself and you will go all the way, your beautiful from the inside out.

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