The cure for ‘cellulite’ – delete it from the lexicon

’Cellulite’ is a made-up word that has caused more misery to more women than all of the so-called body phenomena put together. In plain language, it’s called fat, a natural, undislodgeable,
biological fact, writes Clodagh Finn

Despite the millions women spend on anti-cellulite cream, it's almost impossible to dislodge.

THE backlash against ‘mom hair’, the “latest insipid non-trend” to prey on women’s post-partum insecurities, has been encouragingly widespread. Why, then, have we not tackled another spurious term that is arguably responsible for more female body-hatred than any other — ‘cellulite’?

When the New York Times ran an article last month suggesting that “mom hair” — bad hair among new mums — really exists, it was refreshing to see sensible people of both genders rush to dismiss it. Thankfully, we’ve had enough ridiculous body phenomenon — thigh gap, bikini bridge — to spot nonsense when we see it.

The protests were swift and vociferous. Here’s one great example from tweeter Darby Brady: “I’ve reprioritised my to-do list. 1. Get rid of mom hair. 2. Love, feed, bathe my children.”

There have also been many loud protests against the persistent tendency to use ‘mom’ as a synonym for ‘frumpy’, ‘outdated’, and ‘past it’.

Come on, dads. It’s time you, too, united against those cruel, reductive nomenclatures. ‘Dad bod’ and ‘dad jeans’? Seriously? Don’t stand for it.

Given the no-nonsense approach to the ‘mom hair’ foolishness, it’s baffling that there is still no real campaign to out “cellulite” as a construct designed to make women shell out millions on creams and treatments in an often vain attempt to make it go away.

That single weasel word has caused more misery to more women than all of the so-called body phenomenon put together. And yes, unlike ‘mom hair’, cellulite does actually exist, but only in the way that fat cells exist. Cellulite is simply adipose tissue or, in plain language, fat.

To quote one expert, Professor Max Lafontan, a senior research fellow at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research, cellulite is nothing more than a useful stock of energy to be used if the female body needs it for pregnancy or breast-feeding.

And it’s inevitable; at least eight in 10 women have it. Yet, depending on what you read, it’s seen as some sort of medical disorder, or an ugly scourge afflicting bikini-wearers. It’s still summer so look out for those articles telling you how to get rid of “orange-peel skin” or how to smooth the unsightly “cottage cheese” clinging unmercifully to your stomach and thighs.

Before you get sucked in, think about this. Despite the millions women spend (£30m in the UK last year) on anti-cellulite cream, it’s almost impossible to dislodge. So-called cellulite nearly always bounces back because that’s what it is designed to do; it is a biological fact.

The structure of women’s skin is different from that of men’s, yet intelligent, clear-thinking women spend a fortune trying to work against something that is completely natural.

It’s a little easier to see why the cellulite myth grinds on when you see it was worth more than €22m (net profit) in France last year alone. In fact, that’s where the word originated.

It first appeared in a French medical dictionary, Littré et Robin, according to Rossella Ghigi, an Italian associate professor who has written an excellent and revealing thesis on cellulite. In 1873, though, the word ‘cellulite’ was understood as ‘cellulitis’, a painful bacterial infection of the skin that is characterised by inflammation.

It wouldn’t become a beauty ‘problem’ until the 1920s and 1930s when French magazines Marie Claire and Votre Beauté started to write about it as they reworked the idea of the perfect woman in the inter-war years.

It’s fascinating to find that perfection then is a lot like perfection now. There is nothing as malleable as the female body and it can be stretched into a strong, slim form to suit the beauty ideal of the day, went the logic.

Not surprisingly, the letters pages started to fill with queries from women asking how they could eradicate their cellulite. Then as now, the magazines stepped up to the mark with a plethora of ‘cures’, ranging from gymnastics, iodine soap. and a massage device called a “point roller”.

By the time the Second World War had broken out in 1939, the cellulite problem had shifted away from the thighs to, strangely, the neck. The wartime bob exposed more female neck than ever before so the new focus was on how to make that part of the body look perfect.

There were more letters from readers, this time wondering how to get rid of their ‘neck cellulite’. There were more articles, too, along with an entire new range of therapies and products to address the neck ‘problem’. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. That damn cellulite moved right back to a woman’s thighs again in the late 1960s and when English Vogue wrote about it in 1968, the dimple obsession spread like, well, cellulite.

As before, the cycle began all over again: Body angst among readers, article after article on ‘cures’ and a growing range of ever-more expensive creams and therapies.

That about brings us up to the present day. Though, there has been some movement. In the intervening years, we moved all around the female body — from neck to arms and hair and stomachs, only to arrive back at thighs. It’s not exactly progress, is it?

There must be many people out there who think, rightly, that ‘cellulite’ is a made-up word that has spawned a surfeit of made-up ‘solutions’. Yet there must be many, many more who are still buying into the “problem” and forking out to have it solved.

But here’s the real cure for ‘cellulite’: If we can make up a word, we can un-make it up.

As recently as 1986, there was no such thing as ‘cellulite’ in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Rossella Ghigi noted. It featured only the word ‘cellulitis’, defined as the inflammatory state. Twelve years later, the encyclopedia featured only the word ‘cellulite’, defined as the fat deposit.

Can’t we just turn back the clock and extract that awful word — and the despondency it inflicts — from our encyclopedias, our dictionaries but, most importantly, our collective consciousness?

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