Saturday, January 20, 2007

Those lumps, those bumps...those chumps.

If the weight-loss industry were to award lifetime-achievement honors in the category of Perverse Genius in Combined Health Gimmickry and Deceptive Use of Language for the Purpose of Hoodwinking Gullible Consumers, the "war on cellulite" would win hands-down. What better exemplifies the diet movement's stranglehold on the American consciousness than a woman's willingness to spend real money on fake cures for a problem that does not, technically, exist? Stripped to its essence, one might say, this is a multi-billion-dollar industry dedicated to making women feel awful about the way they look in a bathing suit.

According to Prevention, the worldwide market for anti-cellulite products has grown by 113 percent since 2000, and it shows no signs of slowing down despite recent, (relatively) aggressive enforcement action by the FDA and FTC. And that's fascinating, because cellulite is a made-up, non-medical term—a marketing coinage dating to 1960s European health spas that sought a more sophisticated, serious-sounding way of describing the unwelcome dimples of fat on the thighs and buttocks of their well-heeled clientele.

Groups of fat cells, you see, normally live out their lives encased in fibrous compartments. When the cells swell, they distend that fibrous tissue and puff out over it; think of muffins rising in a tin. It's a disagreeable phenomenon that afflicts most adult women—90 percent being the oft-reported figure. But fat is fat is fat. This fundamental truism has been confirmed in controlled studies using advanced scientific and medical diagnostics. Further, while the amount of body fat can be adjusted through dieting and exercise, increasing evidences suggests that the distribution of fat is basically locked in by heredity. Which means the only reliable way to reduce the size of a particular area of the body is to achieve a generalized reduction in weight—and even then, the proportions will remain much as they were. A cellulite-laden pear will not magically morph into a svelte hourglass.

Nonetheless, the cellulite myth emigrated to the U.S. in a big way with the 1973 publication of Cellulite: Those Lumps, Bumps and Bulges You Couldn't Lose Before*, by (French-born) Manhattan salon owner Nicole Ronsard. Since then, purported anti-cellulite products sold through various channels have included abrasive sponges and mitts (even though cellulite isn't a surface phenomenon and can't be "scraped away"), creams and gels to dissolve cellulite (even though there's no reason to suppose that any topically applied ointment can shrink fat or restore tone to the stretched-out fibrous material), supplements containing vitamins, minerals and/or exotic herbs (even though no evidence exists that you can beat cellulite by ingesting anything—and many of the herbs are untested for safety), bath liquids, rubberized pants, body wraps, pressurized heating pads, motorized exercise machines, vibrating hip-high massage boots, and finally, "hormone" or "enzyme" injections, some types of which were ruled dangerous by the FDA after causing strokes, liver failure and several deaths. A series of any one of these questionable regimens can cost thousands of dollars.

Of late consumers have been turning to anti-cellulite compounds that are essentially diuretics. As noted previously, not only are diuretics ineffective for selective weight reduction, but they can be dangerous when used without close medical supervision. Moreover, the weight returns as soon as users replenish the liquid in their bodies—which they must, and fairly soon, if they hope to avoid dehydration and its own roster of grave health risks. This in turn sets many users on a dangerous "yo-yo" course of self-dosing wherein they begin gobbling larger amounts of diuretics in order to deal with the sudden return of (water) weight they thought they'd "lost." Bottom line, this is no more a legitimate approach to weight loss than slitting one's wrists would be a legitimate approach to fighting high blood pressure.

One of the real tragedies here is that over the years, the sheer profitability of the disreputable approaches has forced generally more reputable companies, like Revlon, to try to elbow their way into the ever-burgeoning anti-cellulite market.

A final caveat: This is an investigational area, and in today's world of daily high-tech advances, you'll hear all sorts of claims for products that "have shown promise in small studies." One such approach is laser therapy (which seems to be emerging as an overall latter-day panacea, given its proven utility in dental work and vision correction). Bear in mind that all of these areas remain under study, and no such methodology has yet been shown conclusively to "work." If you can't stand your thighs, the best option for now, according to a segment aired on 20/20, may simply be to make the cellulite less conspicuous by using tanning cream. As the TV newsmagazine concluded, if it's "good enough for Pamela Anderson [shown, above], then it's got to be good enough for the rest of us."

* And still can’t, though Ronsard elected to leave that out of her title.

DietLand: A brief history of federal oversight(s).
Only the data are slim. Part 2.
Only the data are slim. Part 1.
Hoodia wanna believe?
Waste size.


Anonymous said...

I laughed aloud when I read this, I can't tell you how much money I have wasted through the years on cellulite! And I was about to again!

Thank you for posting this, and please keep it up!

Rodger said...

Good comments and insight! How we are gullible enough to take cellulite at face value is fascinating.

When we frame fatty tissue around the hips as something other than what it really is -- we glamourize it. And if that new term is attached to some value -- say, women valuing a sexie sex appeal -- it's no wonder the term caught on and created a multi-million dollar industry.

Th end is vanity and the feeding of envy.

lerryfly said...

Who are chumps?

Not only have the companies made revenues--a serious amount of money--So has the media. Over decades, women, if only, have been well educated to stay skinny, otherwise the chance of receiving attention from others (one of the basic needs of all human beings on this planet, isn't it) would become too meager to stand ANY EXTRA FAT on the body.

Pathetic? Yes and Yes! while being instilled by this popular theory, women have felt more guilty than more than yesterday, not only if they find half pound off.

But should they be blameworthy? Yes and No! They almost always are viewed and reviewed in man-gaze. Nothing to do but getting used to it (not everyone, but the majority). The cameras are highly likely to look to them from a male's eyes.
See the ads...they are too anxious, too nervous, too desperate to afford a lose in this champaign, which has been trumpeted by the mass media.

Who are lecturing women this logic: "Utmost,You should be pretty","If you fail beauty, then you have to try hard to be slim","Neither are You pretty nor curvy, sorry, honey, your life's just screwed up!"

Anonymous said...

I am an author in the weight loss field, which is why I do not identify myself. I want to compliment you, however, on the wealth of material that you provide in your blog. Though I may differ with you on some finer points, I can't deny the overall truth of what you say about our industry. We have failed. And too many of us have done it knowingly and shamelessly while watching our bank accounts swell to obscene proportions, even larger than the "collective American waist line," as you put it in one of your posts. It shames me to admit that the shoe fits a little too well here.

a/good/lysstener said...

For what it's worth, I add my own two cents on this, from the perspective of a college woman surrounded by other college women who are forever dieting, on my own blog,