An entire industry has been built around persuading us that cellulite is a problem. But why is the state of our bums still of national importance, asks Daisy Buchanan.
I have cellulite. My buttocks and the backs of my thighs have a bumpy, uneven quality, even though I spend nearly 10 minutes a day – over an hour a week, or almost two whole days a year – trying to make my skin smooth by using a special brush on my body. Three or four times a week, I rub a special exfoliator into my cellulite. It costs almost £30. I know I could be doing much more. I should give up coffee in the morning, and red wine at night. I could stop eating occasional cheeseburgers. I could have said, “No, thank you”, when my husband produced a homemade birthday cake to mark the fact that I turned 33 last week.
The health and fitness journalist, Yinka Thomas, has published her own anti-cellulite diet. Thomas says, “We're constantly told by GPs that cellulite is a genetic problem, but this isn't true. It's a problem of lifestyle.” She claims that cellulite can be banished by following her programme and “cutting out processed food, eggs, dairy and wheat-based food” for 12 weeks. I suspect that’s the length of the programme because “12 weeks” sounds slightly less miserable and more achievable than three months.
Like all of us, Thomas has grown up in a culture in which female bodies are appropriated, politicised, sexualised and held to an unreachable standard. I don’t blame her for hatching this mad plan. After all, millions of us have been brought up to believe that the fight against cellulite is our Star Wars and trying to banish it from our bodies is as important to our existence as defeating Darth Vader. But ,like Darth Vader, our cellulite might just be part of our DNA as well as our origin story.
The battle with our own bodies begins with cellulite. From an early age, we’re told it’s a scourge. If we turn our back for half a second, cellulite will ravage our bodies like a labrador that has accidentally been left alone with a pork pie. We must be constantly vigilant. If we dare to relax, or have fun, or eat something that doesn’t have an entirely organic ingredients list, the cellulite will come for us and we shall have to leave the beach and submerge ourselves in the sea. “EVEN THIN WOMEN CAN HAVE CELLULITE!” shriek the blogs and magazines, the tone falling somewhere between “nits actually love clean hair” and “sound the four-minute warning”. Over and over again, we’re told that it’s a problem that our bodies produce it, it’s “unsightly” and if we fail to deal with it as adult women, it’s because our lifestyles are “wrong”, and we’re wrong, too, because we’re not making it a priority.
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Firstly, why is the state of our bums an issue of international importance? How can it be reasonable to purport the idea that women need to be smooth at all times? Why, when I’m looking at magazines at the WHSmith in Victoria station, do I occasionally feel fearful that riot police will jump out of the shadows, yank down my 70-denier opaques and yell “WE’VE GOT ONE! Clear evidence of dimpling, bring her in for questioning!”? Why are we expected to constantly worry about what people will think when we’re walking up and down on a beach, an activity that most of us will do for less than a fortnight a year?
When I think of smooth, cellulite-free female bottoms, I think of music videos. In 2018, people are still making music videos in which a cast of beautiful, young, smooth women dance in their underwear, usually for the pleasure of a fully-clothed male artist. It would seem as though the entire point of giving up coffee, eggs and life as we know it is to gain the approval of a pervy man who probably won’t even bother to take his sunglasses off to stare at your buttocks.
It’s 2018. I feel as though the world is shifting on its axis, and something seismic is changing for women. We’re gaining power and ground, and this is largely happening because of the work we’re creating. We’re making films, writing books, leading campaigns, inventing apps and forcing people to pay attention to what we do, not what we look like. In three months, you can write a novel. You can organise a march. You can put on a play. But I don’t think most of us can make time to do those things if we’re busy brushing our bums. There is no way we can do any of those things without any coffee.
I want women to feel good, from their bums to their bones. I understand that it’s important for us to like the way we look, and I respect that we can choose to do whatever it takes to make us feel our happiest, most confident and secure. However, I think we need to ask some questions about where our beauty standards come from, and who is setting the parameters. All we need to know about cellulite is that it isn’t harmful, but an entire industry has been built around the importance of persuading us that it’s a problem. For too long, we’ve been told to battle our bodies. It’s time to start working with them to win the war against women instead.