The first time I discovered cellulite on the back of my legs, I was 15 years old. Standing in line at the school canteen, the sun hit my legs in a certain way, making my bubbling skin apparent for the first time.
Instead of being horrified, my immediate reaction was that it was cool. I tapped my friend on the shoulder and demanded that she looked at my “cool” new discovery, which I quickly learnt could be made more apparent by squeezing my skin together.
I didn’t know what I was looking at, nor did I realise that my dimples were not unique. I was ignorantly happy with my new condition – until one of my other friends burst my bubble, less than an hour later: “Dude, that’s cellulite. It’s not a good thing.”
Something I had thought was cool and interesting was suddenly shameful and ugly. Only minutes earlier I had been calling my friends over for a closer look, but I now wanted to cover my legs up.
That night, I learned that cellulite was something unsightly and something that – according to women’s magazines, at least – a woman should spend her whole life trying to get rid of. I was 15, 52kg (114lbs) at 5’8″ and couldn’t understand why I was afflicted with this condition – not understanding that 90 per cent of women develop cellulite.
I was 15 years old, 52kg (114lbs) at 172cm (5’7″), and I couldn’t understand why my skinny self was afflicted with this condition – not knowing at the time that 90 per cent of women develop cellulite.
In a single moment, I had shifted from loving my body to hating it – and that wasn’t the only moment in my life where something like that had happened.
Evolution of body image
Most teenagers – both boys and girls – suddenly go through a period where they becoming increasingly aware of their bodies. This usually includes feeling awkward about their changing shapes and spotting flaws seemingly out of nowhere.
When I was a teenager, I danced five days a week and became extremely body conscious overnight. One day I was comfortable in my own skin and the next, for no apparent reason, I couldn’t stop comparing myself to the other girls – who all seemed to be skinnier, prettier and more “toned” than me. Consequently, I spent most of my time from the age of 15 to about 21 hating my body and starving and exercising myself into the ground.
When I was a little older, I taught dance to girls aged three to 18, and it was always obvious when they entered their body conscious stage. Girls would come to class in crop tops, having no problems stripping down to their underwear for costume rehearsals. They often compared their body shapes or even little tummy rolls to each other, but in a totally innocent and non-judgmental way.
But, as soon as the following week, they would come to class in baggy clothes, insist on getting changed in the toilets, and fall silent if any discussion of their bodies came up. These lively, spirited girls would shrink into wallflowers, suddenly unaware of how to move their bodies or even stand tall.
It became extremely apparent that they did not want to draw any attention to themselves which was, of course, difficult in a performance-based activity. A room full of confident young women suddenly became a room full of shy girls trying to hide in the corner, occasionally even making digs at other girls’ bodies.
It was incredibly sad to watch this transition and there was no amount of body positivity speeches that I could have delivered to get them out of this phase – or perhaps I was too young to articulate my thoughts properly, or even dedicate the time I should have towards the cause (most of my fellow teachers did not bother).
Who is to blame?
During the four years that I taught dance, I noticed that this shift from body confidence to awkwardness was happening earlier and earlier. While it had once been reserved to the realm of teenagers 14 and up, I started overhearing comments from girls as young as seven about how fat they were and how they needed to go on diets.
It was heart-breaking. I am not sure who or what can be blamed for this shift in the way we view our bodies. Is it the fault of the parents who complain about their own weight or inflict their strict dietary beliefs on their children? Is it the media promoting the same, thin body ideal? Is it schools not doing enough to offset the negative influence of the media?
Or is this simply a phase that everyone must go through? Is it an inescapable part of life to, at one stage or another, hate your body?
I sincerely hope not. Although I do not have kids, I hope that I inspire children to be positive about their bodies. I never speak negatively about my body in public, regardless of whether there are children around or not.
I view my body as an amazing machine that gets me through life, allows me to recover from injuries, and enables me to do incredible things like in compete in strongwoman competitions and dance for 22 years straight without any problems. I do not exercise as a form of punishment or focus on my flaws. I remind myself that the very job of the media is to make you hate your body so that you spend money on products you don’t really need.
I can only hope that more people take a similar approach to myself, and spend more time loving their bodies instead of hating them. As for my cellulite, I still have it, but I have accepted that no amount of expensive creams, body brushing or time spent on a vibration plate will get rid of it. If anyone tries to bring you down for loving your body, remember that their negativity comes from a place of insecurity and control, and don’t let it affect you.
Do you remember how old you were when you had your first negative body experience?