Lately, I’ve felt surrounded by criticisms of women’s bodies. From the “thigh gap” trend to critiques of celebrities’ bikini bodies, popular media seems more obsessed than ever with the perfect (thin) body. And in the midst of all this, I’ve spent the summer pregnant. This was very much a happy event in my family, and my expanding waist line has only brought joy as I’ve gotten closer to welcoming my second daughter. It has also brought me some much needed perspective.
Would I like to have a perfect body after pregnancy? Sure. Who wouldn’t? But is that new ideal achievable, or even normal? If celebrities, who are paid to have perfect bodies, can’t reach that goal without surgery or spending hours every day with a professional trainer, do I really want that body? Would it be worth spending that much time away from my family?
One of the things that has bothered me the most this summer is the focus on cellulite. Yes, I’m referring to the cottage cheese thighs your dear Aunt Mildred once complained about, that are now your problem to bear. Even when I was a very skinny teenager, I had a little cellulite. Seeing extremely fit celebrities being called out for a single thigh dimple is pretty disheartening. It is part of being a woman, not the result of the implied unrestrained cupcake binging.
Regardless of the fact that a “perfect” body may never be ours, there are things we can do to tackle this one problem. There may still be a lot that is unknown about cellulite, but here’s what we do know about what causes those pesky dimples (and what you can do about it):
Truth #1: Cellulite is normal.
While women complain about it all the time, it is important to remember that cellulite is normal. In the medical community, cellulite isn’t considered pathological, it is actually a secondary sex characteristic like breasts or wider hips.
Truth #2: There’s a reason why women get it more than men.
“Women are genetically predisposed to develop cellulite more so than men because of how connective bands beneath skin are structured,” explains dermatologist Dr. David Bank. “Bands in women run horizontally versus men, which run crisscross to better bind fat beneath tissue for a smoother appearance. When excess fat between the horizontal bands develops, it’s pushed upwards, creating the dreaded cottage cheese look on thighs and buttocks.”
These connective tissue bands are different in areas of cellulite. They are thickened, irregular, and even shortened. Multiple studies have looked into why these changes have taken place, but currently not much information is available.
Truth #3: Having cellulite doesn’t make you fat.
“Cellulite is not a medical condition but rather normal fat beneath the surface of the skin. Having cellulite does not mean that a person is overweight as many thin individuals have it,” says dermatologist Dr. Fayne Frey. Cellulite is much more about the connective tissue bands in the skin than a person’s weight or need for a treatment to cure it.
Truth #4: Any woman can develop it.
Cellulite is nearly universal in women, regardless of ethnicity or weight. It is more common in caucasians and it tends to run in families. Cellulite is more pronounced in those who are overweight, simply because the fat protruding into the dermis is larger. You’ll also be more likely to notice cellulite if you are pregnant or have a sedentary lifestyle.
Truth #5: You can’t totally avoid it, but you can minimize the appearance.
Since it is considered normal and is so universal, you won’t really be able to avoid having cellulite. However, you can do a few things that will minimize the appearance of it. The most obvious change to minimize the appearance is to change your lifestyle to lose weight and be more active.
Truth #6: Creams only sort of work.
“There are many cellulite creams on the market but none have had consistent results with improving the appearance of cellulite,” says Dr. Bank. However, you can temporarily minimize the appearance of cellulite with topical treatments.
Most anti-cellulite creams and scrubs contain caffeine, which acts as a diuretic to decrease excess fluid and tighten the skin temporarily. This effect makes the cellulite less obvious, but it isn’t a long-term solution. Super hydrating the skin surface, which will “plump up” the surface of the skin will also make the cellulite less obvious. If it is an option, shapewear can help disguise cellulite. Evening out your skin tone can also help if shapewear isn’t an option, so you can try a sunless tanner or body makeup.
Truth #7: There are more drastic ways to get rid of it.
If you would like longer term effects, changes need to be made to the connective tissue bands in the skin. This isn’t something that can be done with a simple cream, instead you would need to seek the help of a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. However, there are treatments that can give you some long-term benefits.
“In-office treatments of cellulite range from laser, Thermage, and Endermologie,” advises Dr. Bank. “Treatments vary on number of sessions and slight details but they all essentially apply heat to cellulite areas to increase blood flow, boost collagen production and tighten skin.”
“My favorite and most effective in-office cellulite treatment is hands-down Cellulaze which uses laser heat to lyse or break the fibrous bands involved in making cellulite. The laser also can melt the excess fat, and stimulate new collagen to assist in improving the appearance of the treated area. I have seen significant improvement with just a single treatment,” adds dermatologist Dr. Karen Stolman.
However, according to Dr. Frey “the most effective treatment for cellulite is a combination of weight loss, eating a healthy diet, and regular exercise.”
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