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Cellulite Used to Be a Beauty Ideal




  • Cellulite has a long history of being a villain in every woman’s fantasy of the image of beauty
  • However, contrary to popular belief, there is nothing wrong with this “adult female flesh” – the subcutaneous fat that makes the same adorable dimples everybody love
  • If anything, history points to cellulite as a beauty ideal of old, when the perceived notion of gender imagery embraces every nuance of the female body, and before any article vilifying cellulite were published

The institution of gender has long ensconced in it the imagery of gender and the roles that go along with them. From time immemorial, society has lived with the socially-constructed notions of ideals, from gender roles to the prominence of feminine beauty ideals, all of which have been deemed oppressive by various groups.

Every year, as summer nears, particular attention is given to feminine beauty. So does the particular scourge of what has come to be known as a flaw in the perceived perfection of beauty – cellulite. But, did you know the ugly cellulite used to be a non-issue among women? Quite the contrary, it was an epitome of beauty, in particular, of grace, and elegance, and everything else women want and crave.

Oil on oak panel. The Three Graces by Peter Paul Rubens.

If you would visit the Prado in Madrid, you will find how Peter Paul Rubens aestheticized orange peel skin in his oil on oak panel painting called, “The Three Graces.” This 17th-century masterpiece, including every nuance and ounce of fat, was once a piece that showcased a beauty ideal. Featuring Aglaia, Euphrosine, and Thalia, Ruben’s “The Three Graces” had fostered the radiance, joy, and flowering of idealized virgins who lived with and served the gods.

Before the current hostility to subcutaneous fat that no amount of ‘treatment’ can cure, the war against cellulite is nonexistent. This hatred towards cellulite has started fairly recently, originating from France and radiating outwards to different parts of the world. Apparently, modern society deems dimples cute until it shows up anywhere else other than the face.

The word cellulite itself traces its history to France, at the end of the 19th century. It first appeared in the French medical dictionary, Littré & Robin, in 1873, and was used to describe an inflammation to the cell tissue. University of Bologna Associate Professor Rossella Ghigi, in her thesis on cellulite, had said that the doctors of this era had “used this term to denote something different.”

According to Ghigi, the war against cellulite has become a frenzy made worse by doctors’ statements and the people who read the magazines where these doctors were quoted. She said, “Before the first articles about cellulite were published, nobody was writing to ask how to get rid of it.”

One such example was when the monthly Votre Beauté, launched in 1933 by L’Oréal Group founder Eugène Schueller, published an article describing cellulite as an infection formed from a blend of “water, residues, toxins, fats, which form a mix against which we are rather poorly equipped.” The article had caused such panic among readers that worried letters poured in. One such letter had someone asking about the nature of the “sickness” to which the magazine replied by calling cellulite “degenerated flesh.” The article also mentioned that cellulite can result from restricted blood circulation resulting from wearing clothes or belts that are too tight.

Decades later, on April 15, 1968, the US edition of Vogue featured cellulite on its front page, labeling it as “the new word for fat you couldn’t lose before.”

Feminist journalist Naomi Wolf, in her book The Beauty Myth(1990), had said that this type of pop culture re-interpret healthy “adult female flesh” as a “condition.”

Biologist Max Lafontan expressed his disgust to the capitalistic truth behind this fight against cellulite fat, claiming that the frenzy was nothing more but “discourse fabricated by merchants who want to get rich.”

Lafontan had clarified that cellulite treatment has little effect, even after he tested the Cellu M6 machine for rolling massage employed by physiotherapists. According to the biologist, adipose tissue, even if you disturb it a little, will resettle down as soon as you stop the treatment.”

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