When I was a kid, I was kind of a tabloid junkie. Thank my Auntie Stella, a sassy Polish lady with a stock of Fudgsicles in the freezer and a stack of National Enquirer on her end table. “Son-uv-a bitch,” I could hear her say to my mom in the kitchen while I sat on the couch, pouring over the Enquirer like it was The Giver and there was going to be reading quiz in language arts. I aced the color crossword, batted a judgmental eye at the horoscopes, and lingered over the flimsy pages, especially the ones devoted to fashion and movie stars.
I frowned at Juliette Lewis’s latest power suit debacle and studied a fate worse than shoulder pads, according to the magazine—it was the worst monstrosity that could befall a woman, mangling her hamstrings and decimating her butt cheeks: cellulite.
That was in the ’90s, and the headlines haven’t changed. The National Enquirer favors a punchy statement, a sort of, “Hey, look!” before whisking you away on the cellulite safari. “Stars with Cellulite!” “Cellulite of the Stars!” “Pages and pages of amazing photos!” Star, on the other hand, goes for battle narratives. Whether you see life’s glass as half full or half empty, there’s a story for you: Optimists can read “Celebs Who Beat Cellulite!” For the rest of us, who know even the beautiful suffer, there’s “Stars Lose Fight With Cellulite!”
The strangest thing about these headlines is how they make cellulite a rarity when 90% of women have it. In an O, the Oprah Magazine article, “The Cure for Cellulite? Seriously?” Valerie Monroe reports, “Cellulite products generated $11.8 million in U.S. department stores … and the number of liposuction procedures performed on women increased 168.5 percent between 1997 and 2007,” but the shelves of your local drugstore are stocked with cellulite combatants, too. In other words, this is a war most of us are waging.
So why, when the word “cellulite” has been in my vocabulary since I was six, am I proud to have never spent a dollar on any creams, freezes, cold-laser massages, or (shudder) cut-and-fill solutions? Why have I never uttered the words, “I can’t wear shorts”? Why am I proud to say that, yes, there’s cellulite on my hips and thighs—and, in the right light, on my upper arms and my calves? Why am I proud to not hate my fat cells? Why don’t I scowl at them in the mirror and go “son-uv-a bitch”?
Cellulite was an imperfection I could handle because I knew it was out of my hands. It didn’t discriminate. It appeared on Oscar winners and supermodels the same way it appeared on the bodies of moms at the pool. When I first saw it on my legs—I was 12—it was kind of a relief. Maybe Nicole Kidman and I had something in common.
I’ll start with a confession: I haven’t always been a beacon of body positivity. I’ve spent more of my life with an eating disorder than without. I’ve stressed about the shape of my legs, the diameter of my upper arms, the size of my nose, the freaking circumference of my neck. I’ve targeted those areas (okay, the neck’s tough), ignoring the refrain that every exerciser hates (spot-toning is a myth), believing I could change. I could change with enough lunges, enough tricep lifts, enough commitment to drinking lemon water before I touch the French press.
But cellulite was different, and here’s why: In those same tabloids I read as a teen, before a spread of bikinied actresses, body parts attacked by red arrows and targets on their variably lumpy skin, there was always a paragraph or two where doctors, dermatologists, and plastic surgeons explained cellulite the away an atheist parent might begin to tell their kid about death.
It’s inevitable. It’s a process. It’s a part of life.
Over the years, I’ve watched it with a cool bemusement. There it is on my quads, pale from a long winter. There it is in my calves, after a long day of walking. I go to the gym, practice Pilates, run for fun, hike with abandon, eat good fats and bad fats, eat vegetarian, switch to veganism, indulge in meat, have salads for breakfast, and it’s always there: cellulite. When I go to the doctor’s office, I learn my blood pressure is low. My weight is in the right range. I can hang in whichever class I walk into at the gym (just don’t ask me to be coordinated).
And guess who’s still there? Cellulite.
In other words, cellulite doesn’t alter my ability to function and it doesn’t keep me from being fit, and that’s why I don’t care if I have it. It’s like an appendix. Do I really need it? No. But I’m not trying to force it out.
And maybe that’s the best way to get over your cellulite anxiety. Think of everything your cellulite hasn’t stopped you from doing. Think of how ridiculous it is to assign a value judgment to a texture (seriously, we like dimples in babies and cheeks, why should butt dimples be any different?). Think of the gross misogyny in a phrase like “cottage cheese thighs,” with all its yeasty connotations, and think of an old Polish lady going “son-uv-a bitch.” Okay, I’m kidding. But my great-aunt had cellulite and varicose veins, and her ass was both bad and unstoppable.
Here at Byrdie, we know that beauty is way more than braid tutorials and mascara reviews. Beauty is identity. Our hair, our facial features, our bodies: They can reflect culture, sexuality, race, even politics. We needed somewhere on Byrdie to talk about this stuff, so… welcome to TheFlipside (as in the flip side of beauty, of course!), a dedicated place for unique, personal, and unexpected stories that challenge our society’s definition of “beauty.” Here, you’ll find cool interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities, vulnerable essays about beauty standards and cultural identity, feminist meditations on everything from thigh brows to eyebrows, and more. The ideas our writers are exploring here are new, so we’d love for you, our savvy readers, to participate in the conversation too. Be sure to comment your thoughts (and share them on social media with the hashtag #TheFlipsideOfBeauty). Because here on The Flipside, everybody gets to be heard.
Next up: Read why "self-love" doesn't have to mean loving everything about yourself.