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Understanding Cellulite and Defeating the Stigma

I have yet to see the Barbie movie, but I came across an article on Popsugar, where they discuss Barbie’s transition into becoming more human. In the transition process, Barbie is now walking on flat feet, instead of on the balls of her feet as if she were still wearing high heels, and imperfections like cellulite becoming more noticeable for the formerly “perfect” Barbie. Cellulite has long been the cause of making women feeling self-conscious about wearing shorts, which has led to several different topical creams, laser procedures, and injectable treatments, among others, to eliminate it, costing customers billions each year.

Today, we’re going to talk about the basics behind what is cellulite, what can be done about it, and battling with the social stigma attached to having cellulite.

What is Cellulite?

First off, it is estimated that 80-90% of women have cellulite, so if you’re among those that has cellulite, that pretty much means you’re a normal person. And if you’re in the 10-20% of women that lucked out of having cellulite, yourself, I’m pretty sure you’ve got a thing or two that has you feeling self-conscious.

What causes cellulite? While this is not yet completely known, contributors to its presence include genetics, estrogen levels, and body fat percentage, among other factors. Men are not widely affected by cellulite, but it is still possible because of low androgen levels, hypogonadism, and treatments for prostate cancer.

Cellulite is simply subcutaneous fat, which is the type of fat lying just under the skin. This type doesn’t really concern health professionals because it is far from the organs, unlike visceral fat, which has been directly linked to life-threatening, chronic health diseases. Going back to the 1978 study by Neurnberger and Muller, it was discovered that the second layer of skin, the dermis, is thinner for women than it is for men, which contributes to one of the reasons why cellulite is more visible in females.

Another reason why cellulite is more prevalent for women than it is for men has to do with the way that subcutaneous fat is compartmentalized. For women, the fibrous septae that separates fat below the skin is in a vertical pattern, whereas males have their fibrous septae in a more criss-cross pattern. The vertical pattern creates dips under the skin, thus making cellulite more visible.

As a person ages, collagen and elastin in the dermis (the second layer of skin) is reduced, hence the skin is no longer as tight when one is younger. Additionally, fat globules also grow in size. Together, this means that a person in her 40s is going to have more noticeable cellulite since deeper crevices in the subcutaneous fat exists and the looser skin can dip into those crevices with greater ease.

What Can Be Done About Cellulite?

What is the most effective way to reduce cellulite? Well, you’re not really reducing cellulite, itself, but you can reduce the visibility of cellulite, which can be done with fat loss through diet and exercise, as well as reducing alcohol intake and smoking. Cellulite is more visible when one is overweight or obese, and by losing weight, this can make it less obvious. Since the presence of cellulite for women is linked to their anatomy, eliminating cellulite, altogether, is not going to happen — they can only reduce the appearance.

Topical creams for reducing cellulite often contain caffeine as an active ingredient, namely because it has been found to be an effective agent in breaking down fat mass. Even then, research has shown that this fat reduction from the caffeine could produce uneven results, which may further the appearance of cellulite. Other ingredients showing positive results includes trichilia catigua and ptychopetalum extracts, which have demonstrated reduced visibility of cellulite by decreasing edema and increasing microcirculation in the area where applied.

Other popular ways to reduce cellulite that has been proven to work includes collagen supplements, endermologie (a mechanical massage technique using rollers and aspiration), subcision (when bands of subcutaneous fat are broken to even out distribution, thus reducing dips that cause cellulite visibility), shockwave and radio frequency therapy, laser therapy, and dermal fillers. So far, it is still unclear which modes of cellulite reduction are permanent — some of which must be repeated often to maintain results (mainly the creams and gels), while others can last from a couple months to years!

Battling the Stigma

Some of our most natural flaws have a social stigma that I think the world would be a much better place if we stopped letting them affect us. Cellulite is one of the most common causes for women to feel self-conscious, which I liken to men with male pattern baldness — both are totally normal, but we allow ourselves to be embarrassed about something that is pretty much written in our genetic make up and there’s nothing we can do about it. The fact that 80-90% of women have some level of visible cellulite simply means that they are absolutely normal!


We shouldn’t begrudge anyone who uses topical creams or goes in for procedures to reduce their cellulite, and we should also refrain from ridiculing others where their cellulite is unavoidable. Reducing the stigma of cellulite and simply being kinder with other people, whether it’s family members or random people on the street, we can go far in making the world a better place.


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