The Cellulite Myth: How the ‘Invented Disease’ Took Hold and Shattered Women’s Confidence
Do you remember those unfiltered photos of Jennifer Lopez on holiday paddle boarding in the Turks and Caicos sea in a one-piece that showed off her — horror of all horrors — cellulite?
Social media called it her “cellulite vacation.” That is not a great description when you are famous for your flawless body and toned derriere.
In true JLo fashion, she responded by launching beauty products that promise to “tighten and tease” and “smooth and seduce.”
Yet, these products might make you feel better and alleviate some. However, they won’t do more than that because cellulite is neither real nor a condition.
Cellulite, every woman’s fear
“Cellulite” is not because you are a curvy Latina who likes tacos, arepas, and mofongo. It’s a fact of life that can’t be “cured.”
In short: cellulite is an “invented disease” born in France and brought to America by Vogue magazine.
For decades, cellulite has been a bad word for women. The fight to end it has been our ongoing Sisyphean drama, especially for Latinas.
According to a 2020 Harris Poll, 60% of women surveyed feel cellulite is their fault. 57% feel judged for having cellulite.
We have tried to massage it away, scrub it to oblivion, and slather expensive cream on dimply skin.
We have exercised our thighs, butts, and hips off until we end up slumped, sweating, and exhausted on the gym floor, but the “cellulite” is still there.
Why did we start fighting a condition that doesn’t exist?
Fifty-five years ago, in 1968, Vogue first printed the word “cellulite” and gave women another (and fashionable) reason to detest their bodies.
The magazine called it cellulite, “the new word for fat you couldn’t lose before.”
Now, there is such a thing as fat deposits or fibrous tissue beneath the skin. And most humans — male or female — have it.
It’s normal fat beneath your skin pushing up on the connective tissue, which happens where our bodies have more fatty tissue.
Latinas know where that is.
And these deposits indeed cause patches (or swaths) of our bodies to appear lumpy or bumpy, like a lunar landscape.
In “The Female Body between Science and Guilt: The Story of Cellulite,” Rossella Ghigi, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Bologna, known as the oracle on “cellulite,” writes that the term first surfaced its ugly head in 1873.
It was used by French doctors Émile Littré and Charles-Philippe Robin and included in the Dictionnaire de Médecine.
But the good doctors were referring to celulitis — a common and potentially serious bacterial infection. Not lumpy dimples or fat deposits.
An imported myth?
It was in the 1933 edition of the French Votre Beauté magazine (and later on in Marie- Claire) that the word “cellulite” was first published in a mainstream publication, according to Professor Ghigi.
In an article by Dr. Debec, cellulite was defined as an amalgam of “water, residues, toxins, fat, which form a mixture against which one is badly armed.”
Dr. Debec categorized it as fat, but not fat, a little monster living in our bodies near impossible to eliminate. And it was purely a feminine problem, also.
From being a French obsession, it crossed the Atlantic to the United States and the rest of the Americas with that Vogue article.
In it, a young woman who worried she was late in “diagnosing” it got rid of the dreaded “cellulite” by exercising, starving herself, and using a rolling pin on the offending area.
Since then, the search to end cellulite — or at least hold it at bay — has moved from kitchen utensils to expensive products and unguents that Latinas spend thousands of dollars buying.
It’s hope in a bottle, an expensive hope at that
You could even use the product that JLo swore by before she came up with her version — an Australian cellulite creammade from diamond powder and yours for a mere $250.
Or, you can be like Mexican-American singer Chiquis Rivera, who shared an Instagram photo of her “al natural,” enjoying herself on a beach in Tulum, Mexico, flaunting her dimpled thighs.
“This is me, cellulite and all. Take it or leave it! Either way, I love myself,” Chiquis wrote, embracing her cellulite, scars, and stretch marks and proudly wearing a white bathing suit.
“An empowered woman is one who loves herself as she is, with her virtues and defects.”