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A 47-year-old lie: How cellulite was invented to make women feel bad and take our money.

Imagine if cellulite didn’t exist. Not that skin lumps and bumps didn’t exist, but that you thought of them as normal. They couldn’t be “fixed”, so you didn’t try.

Well, it wasn’t that long ago that cellulite didn’t exist. Just half a century ago, women in the US and Australia had never heard of the word. That all changed when Nicole Ronsard came along.

Body positive author Megan Jayne Crabbe has exposed the secret history of cellulite in a podcast with Russell Brand.

#donthatetheshake is the social media, body positive movement we can’t get enough of:

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She tells Brand that those lumps and bumps, which nearly every woman has, used to be just seen as “a variation of flesh”.

“And then in 1972, a woman, Nicole Ronsard – she owned a beauty salon in New York. And she started selling procedures to get rid of cellulite. She wrote a book about getting rid of cellulite,”  Crabbe explains.

Before long, cellulite was seen as a “hideous, disfiguring” flaw.

“And this woman, Nicole she became a millionaire,” Crabbe adds.

Ronsard didn’t invent cellulite. In Europe, beauty businesses had been using the word to sell their services to women since the 1920s. Ronsard, who’d moved from France to the US, clearly saw the potential to sell a few services herself.

 

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In a 1973 edition of the The New York Times, Ronsard described cellulite – pronounced “sel-lu-leet” – as “fat gone wrong”.

She explained that American women weren’t aware that it was different from “ordinary fat” and required a combination of diet and massage. She offered a course of 20 treatments at her salon for $275. Women who didn’t have $275 to spare could buy her book, Cellulite: Those Lumps, Bumps And Bulges You Couldn’t Lose Before, for $12.95. They did. Within two years, the book had sold more than 200,000 copies in hardcover and 400,000 in paperback.

In 1975, People magazine ran an article headlined “Nicole Ronsard made ‘cellulite’ a U.S. household word – and problem”.  In it, Ronsard defended herself against “accusations of quackery” from doctors and nutritionists.

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“Listen, doctors’ wives come to me in secret because their husbands say there’s no such problem as cellulite,” Ronsard said. “Sometimes I think these doctors have never really noticed a woman undressed. I don’t think they even know what women look like.”

It wasn’t long before Australians fell under her spell. A 1975 Women’s Weekly article, headlined “Cellulite: the new battle of the bulge”, featured an interview with the “reed-slim” 36-year-old mum of one, along with photos of her showing off her long, slim, non-lumpy and bumpy legs.

“It’s easy to tell cellulite from ordinary fat,” the article read. “Just squeeze your suspect flesh between thumb and index finger. If the fold of flesh is smooth in texture, it’s just plain fat. If it puckers and dimples like orange peel, you’ve got a problem. In more advanced stages you don’t have to squeeze at all. Flab like tapioca pudding or cottage cheese curd is easy to identify. Stop reading right now and check.”

Or… DON’T.

what is cellulite history
Cellulite. It's completely normal and NOT something to be ashamed of. Image: Getty.

In 1978, a US study found that cellulite was a typical feature of women’s skin.

Researchers declared there was no difference between a fat cell and a so-called cellulite cell – that cellulite was, in fact, just plain fat.

But women couldn’t unsee their cellulite. By 1990, US women were still paying $75 for a seaweed wrap or buying shower heads with rotating brushes, in the hope of minimising lumps and bumps.

Today, Ronsard is forgotten, but cellulite lives on as one of those many things that women hate about themselves. Just last month, Avon ran an ad showing a woman in shorts, captioned, “dimples are cute on your face (not on your thighs).”

It’s quite likely that if Ronsard hadn’t made a fortune selling American and Australian women on the idea that cellulite was a problem and she had the solution, someone else would have. But still... damn you, woman.

Did you know about the problematic history of cellulite? Tell us what you think in a comment below.

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