Is Cellulite a Modern Epidemic or an Invented Disease?

While scanning the global cellulite chatter, I recently came across this article on Oprah.com.  It was published in April of last year at the height of cellulite season. The author caught my attention when she mentioned that cellulite was not a common problem for women when she was a girl several decades ago.

Here are a few lines from her opening paragraph. Doesn’t it sound like her experience supports the theory that cellulite is a modern disorder?

If your mind ever strays to the subject of your thighs, you probably don’t think of them without also thinking about cellulite, which, by many accounts, affects nearly 90 percent of women. Did you know that wasn’t always so? Once upon a time—back in the mid-1900s, when I was a girl—there was no such thing as cellulite. It hadn’t been invented yet. If our thighs were large, they were called heavy, but they weren’t unfortunately saddled with a full-blown medical disorder, which is what dermatologist Howard Murad, MD, calls the condition in his book The Cellulite Solution.

If we could find women from previous generations who remember a time when cellulite is not as common as it is today, then we could prove that cellulite is “a disease of civilization” as Weston Price would have put it or “the plague of modern woman” as Dr. Lionel Bissoon says. Was this Oprah article a piece of the evidence I was looking for?

Sadly, no. The next few lines took a disappointing turn.

Once, full hips suggested a woman’s strength, her powerful, awe-inspiring ability to procreate; the soft slice of thigh exposed between a panty girdle and the dark top of a stocking held fast by a garter was delectable, not diseased; the natural padding on a woman’s thighs was considered plush, luxurious, suggestive of a velvety capaciousness altogether female.

Somehow, in the past 40 years, we have learned to revile that padding; it has come to represent our body’s recalcitrance to submit to our will, a weighty reminder that we will never achieve physical perfection.

It’s not the padding that I’m trying to get rid of here –it’s the cellulite. There’s a clear difference, isn’t there?

I’ve heard this argument many times before. It’s an important point to settle because if cellulite is an invented disease, then there really is no use trying to treat it. But if the cellulite epidemic is unique to our modern era, it’s hard to argue that cellulite is a perfectly normal part of being a woman.

I would love to organize a campaign to investigate this question further. Any ideas?

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Comments

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Debbie says:
5/14/2010

Not only that point Melissa but these women where not stick poles either…the average size was a 12….very good post Melissa. Thanks for stopping by yesterday, I am a little slow as you know:)

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I've heard that, too. I wonder if "padding" was seen as voluptuous back then because it wasn't covered in cellulite. No matter how you look at it, cellulite just isn't pretty!

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Elizabeth Walling says:
5/14/2010

Yeah, "padding" looks a whole lot better when it's not covered in dimples. 😉

Are we sure about this size 12 thing? I've heard it many times, but sizes back then were very different. I once had a vintage dress that was a size 14 that barely even fit me when I was a modern size 4.

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Great question, Elizabeth. I've read that the sizes have gotten bigger over the years because women are happy when they can suddenly fit into a "smaller" size (even if they didn't get any smaller). It's a type of psychological warfare!

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Abbi says:
5/14/2010

After reading the above segment of your investigation I saw a different angle to the one that was discussed…

I think you misunderstood what the Orpah.com author meant by her article.

She was not denying the existence of the dreaded 'orange peel' effect in the early 1900's, she was merely referencing the fact that the so called 'condition' had not been classified.

I believe it is this classification and subsequent snowballing obsession that has led cellulite and the associated treatments to make it the modern-day epidemic of which you speak.

In the early 1900's women would not have been bearing as much thigh flesh and would probably only be exposing such parts to their husband.

Cellulite as it was back then would not be a regular topic of conversation and so it would probably not be discussed in as much length as it is in the twentieth century – On the front page of gossip magazines and in my email inbox ;-).

Therefore lack of interest and discussion on the topic would probably have led to it being much less of an issue or burden as we have made it for ourselves nowadays.

Ignorance most definitely is bliss! Haha.

Just thought I would offer another angle on this topic!

Abbi x

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Corrie Howe says:
5/14/2010

This is another interesting piece, Melissa. And I enjoyed the comments. I also heard that very pale women were idolized because that showed their affluence since they didn't have to work in the sunlight.

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Hi, Abbi! I totally agree with your interpretation of the Oprah article. When I first started reading it, I thought she was saying that cellulite wasn't as common when she was younger. Once I got further into the article, it was clear she was saying that cellulite just wasn't as recognized back then.

That's a common argument, but I don't necessarily agree with it. It is entirely possible that cellulite was not as common a few decades ago. You can find traces of cellulite in old photographs and artwork, but it's not nearly as prevalent as it is today. Women in non-industrialized societies still don't have any cellulite, as Dr. Bissoon documents in his book The Cellulite Cure when he photographed women from traditional cultures in Peru. You can read more about his experience with Amazonian women in the comments section of this post (really interesting stuff!).

I'm very curious to know what information older women would contribute to this discussion. I asked Connie Leas, author of Fat: It's Not What You Think (you can read her answer for yourself towards the end of this post). She grew up in the 1940's-50's and said she can't remember knowing anyone who had cellulite. I don't hear anyone saying that today. Now it's common for thin girls to develop cellulite in their teens. Something new is going on here!

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Corrie –That's true! That's why women used to wear a lot of powder to make their face whiter. So the beauty ideal was plump and pale. Oh, how times have changed!

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Rachel Cotterill says:
5/14/2010

This is my first visit to your blog – I've read your entertaining "about me" section, but is there a summary of your findings so far, somewhere…? Fun concept!

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Hi, Rachel. Thanks for your question! I was just thinking I need to make a quick guide along those lines… maybe in the form of a free download –all the cool bloggers are doing it 😉 Give me a few days and I'll try to come up with something for next week. Until then, here are the top points we've uncovered so far:

Cellulite is a symptom of lymphatic congestion. Treating it with dry brushing is a good place to start. Women in non-industrialized societies don't have cellulite and we've heard from several women who noticed their cellulite disappeared after switching to a traditional diet. We're still working on figuring this one out, but we've been concentrating on issues of digestion and nutrient-density. We've found probiotics are more effective than fiber when it comes to improving digestive health. And adding coconut oil to the diet is an easy way to get the fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids that are so important to cellulite recovery.

I hope this little summary gives you some good ideas for where to start. Now I'm excited about putting together a beginners guide to the Cellulite Investigation. Thanks for spurring me along with that idea!

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Crystal Escobar says:
5/17/2010

That's interesting. I wonder about that. Although, I do think that it's very possible that cellulite is a new thing in our generation. I think that our toxic environment has a lot to do with it.

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Anonymous says:
5/18/2010

How about some first-hand source material? Check out the vintage pictures of sunbathers, basketball players, and chorus girls at shorpy.com. I love the site and have to admit I've blown up the pics before looking for evidence of the Blight. I've not seen any, though I have seen plenty of "padding".
-Scooter

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I love this idea. Thanks for the suggestion, Scooter!

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