Why Women Get Cellulite And Men Don’t

Check your calendars, bikini season is nearly here. This means that many women will start to inevitably feel extra anxious about body image, including things that we might not really be able to control, like cellulite.

By Andrea Mew4 min read
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Not-so-lovingly called cottage cheese thighs or orange peel skin, cellulite draws a surprising amount of public discourse. If a shot of a celeb’s or influencer’s thighs is posted online or caught by the paparazzi, internet warriors immediately pull out their magnifying glasses and scrutinize every last inch of their skin for cellulite.

It leads your everyday woman to feel self-conscious about wearing anything that might show a few bumps and imperfections. Shorts, mini skirts, and swimsuits are all out of the question if you’re trying to hide cellulite. After all, you’ve probably noticed that men don’t seem to struggle with “orange peel” thighs and bums.

Look, We’re Just Built Differently

It’s not always easy to accept, but women’s bodies are actually built to thrive on a balanced, healthy amount of body fat. The optimal range looks different for every woman since body mass index (BMI) is based on your weight and height, but women tend to have a 10% higher body fat percentage for the exact same BMI as a man, with the best range for female fertility being between 22-28%. If you’re underweight or overweight, then your ovulation, menstrual cycle, or estrogen levels could be disrupted and your fertility might be impacted.

Knowing that women carry more fat on our bodies to maintain feminine health to begin with, it’s important to also note how men and women have differences in our body compositions.

Starting from the outermost layer and going in, our skin layers are the epidermis, the dermis, and then two layers of subcutaneous fat. What we know as cellulite is actually the appearance of the first layer of subcutaneous fat protruding into the connective tissues of the dermis. Basically, cellulite is not necessarily extra fat – just a different manifestation of fat.

Those connective tissues of the dermis also explain why cellulite is more apparent in women than men. According to a paper put out by the University of New Mexico, men biologically have “different connective tissue organizational structure at the first layer of subcutaneous fat,” which causes fewer protrusions of fat into the dermis layer. What’s more, men quite literally have thicker skin than women do on their butts and legs!

Men’s collagen is 65% stronger, so their skin is tighter and their fat cells are more compressed.

Another interesting reason why men don’t display cellulite quite like a woman is that they have more collagen anchored around their subcutaneous fat – and stronger collagen too. As a result of men’s collagen being 65% stronger, their skin is tighter and those pesky fat cells are more compressed.

Researchers have found that 80-90% of women have cellulite. On the flip side, less than 10% of men have visible cellulite.

So not only is your body at its healthiest when you carry a subtle amount of fat, but your body is biologically structured to express fat differently from a man. 

What Makes Cellulite Worse?

As you gain weight, the visible pockets of fat in your skin layers (a.k.a. cellulite) get larger in appearance. It’s a misconception that obesity causes cellulite. That being said, it is much more common and visible on your body if you are obese.

Clearly, there are slender women out there who have extra cellulite and larger women who have very little cellulite, but as a general rule of thumb, if you want to have less cellulite on your body you should probably keep off the extra pounds. 

It could also just be a sign that you’re aging. As you grow older, cellulite will become more visible on your body because of the dermis layer of your skin thinning. This doesn’t mean that young women won’t have cellulite, on the contrary, it’s entirely normal for them to have it, but it definitely becomes more visible as your skin loses elasticity and as you have a more gradual accumulation of fat throughout the years.

No Need To Feel Self-Conscious, You’re Not Alone

As society dives deeper into body positivity movements, ladies on Tumblr, TikTok, Instagram, and almost every other media platform have been pushing for cellulite acceptance on obese bodies. 

To challenge the norm that women should be shamed into photoshopping out something that is entirely normal about our bodies, some women post affirmation upon affirmation and close-up photos of their cellulite. Once upon a time, it was even called Cellulite Saturday, and for better or for worse, ladies would strip down to their undergarments and bear all.

Considering the fact that celebs and influencers will photoshop every pore off their faces, it’s unsurprising that women feel pressured to either hide their cellulite or edit their photos. But I promise you, most of the world’s top models, actresses, professional athletes, and influencers have some amount of this dimpled look on their skin.

Most of the world’s top models, actresses, and professional athletes have some cellulite.

Olivia Munn was put through the wringer on social media when she wore a darling little mini skirt that showed off her upper thighs, and as a result, her cellulite.

At one point, Hilary Duff took to Instagram to disprove the myth that celebs lack “flaws” by posting a sweet photo of herself at the beach holding her son. Her messaging was perfect: her body looks the way it does because of being healthy, and fertile, and she refuses to let it ruin her psyche.

Last year, Camila Cabello did a full TikTok video lifting the veil on her curves, stretch marks, fat, and, you guessed it, cellulite. She reported feeling liberated about sharing the truth that she, like most other women, has cellulite.

Even if the ladies you look up to in the media and pop-culture aren’t purposefully putting out photos that reveal their cellulite, paparazzi and candid shots show it all. Whether it’s Kate Moss, Katy Perry, JLo, Maria Menounos, Halle Berry, Scarlett Johansson, or Victoria’s Secret Angels like Angela Elsa Hosk and Vita Sidorkina, most ladies have cellulite.

The difference between you and many celebs is that they either have the time to smooth their skin in Photoshop (or have a team of professionals ready to do it) before posting their pics online, or they can afford pricier, but temporary, fixes.

What Can You Do To Reduce Your Cellulite?

First things first: under no circumstances will following any five-minute YouTube “Cellulite Buster” or “Leg Toning Workout for Cellulite” videos actually yield any noticeable results for the subcutaneous fat showing through your skin layers. There are a few treatments that could reduce cellulite, which I’ll address, but living room workouts are certainly not one of them.

Another mistaken approach is relying on topical treatments. At one point, Kim K touted a skincare concoction of body oil and body lotion to prevent cellulite. While that can temporarily and very subtly increase skin hydration and plumpness, there is very little evidence that topical products could prevent cellulite when you consider how and why it exists. Creams can target the fat cells themselves, but they don’t do much for the connective tissue.

Creams can target the fat cells themselves, but they don’t do much for the connective tissue.

Okay, so topical treatments might be out. Would you rather try injectable procedures to reduce the appearance of this very normal physical phenomenon? There’s an FDA-approved injection called Qwo that has been gaining steam. Some women have found this procedure to be a positive confidence booster for them. The caveat for injectables is that you have to receive multiple months' worth of treatment, and since it’s so new, it’s unclear how long the results last.

Some women find success with deep tissue radiofrequency treatments to reduce the appearance of their cellulite, even though it actually helps more with the collagen and circulation instead of just targeting the fat cells – and it’s still just a temporary fix. As with all cosmetic procedures that don’t have permanent results, your visits back into the office for monthly or annual treatments will add up and become costly after a while.

Knowing all of this and that the results for almost all methods range in efficacy and permanence, you might want to ask yourself if it’s even worth your time and trouble.

Closing Thoughts

Cellulite is such a common condition for skin, and while it’s understandable to not like how it looks on your body, it’s not going away for all of us any time soon. There’s no cure for cellulite, and both you, your friends, and your favorite celebrities probably have some amount of it on your body. 

You don’t have to follow a body positivity movement to understand that your worth is not dependent on how smooth the appearance of your skin is. Beauty is not found in “perfection”; beauty is found in an abundance of confidence despite any “imperfections.” And let’s be honest with ourselves, when something like cellulite is a normal biological occurrence that we can’t help but show off more than our male counterparts, it’s simply unfair to hold ourselves to unrealistic body standards.

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