Anti-Science

The Top 5 Things Wrong With SciAm’s Cellulite Article

The other day, reader Nicole sent in this link to a Scientific American article, part of a series discussing the “science of beauty.” There are so many things wrong with this article that I feel a listicle is in order. Shall we? Yes, let’s.

The Top 5 Things Wrong With SciAm’s Cellulite Article

5. The “expert” is a homeopath

I KNOW, right? A guy who admits that he gives “injections of homeopathic extracts, vitamins and/or medicine designed to reduce the appearance of cellulite” is the one they consulted? “And/or?” So the actual medicine is optional? And this is in SCIENTIFIC American? In case you missed the memo, homeopathy has been shown to be complete and worthless bunk, a fact that scientific Americans have known for about a century. Give me a frigging break.

4. The “science” is missing

The jury is still out on the best ways to treat cellulite, and this bozo’s method of using mesotherapy is about as sketchy as it comes. Where are the published studies on this? Where are the results? Where’s the science? Hint: not in the article, or anywhere else for that matter.

3. The “research” is idiotic

From the article, quoting Doctor MagicWater who backs up his theory that cellulite is a recent phenomenon:

The bulk of the articles on cellulite in the scientific literature started in about the late ’70s, but you [could] say women didn’t expose their legs [much before then]. What I try to do is find old picture books, women in the 1950s or 1960s…. When you find these pictures, women had perfect legs. And back in the ’40s and ’50s they didn’t have the computer programs to retouch those photos.

Of course they didn’t have computers. You know what else they didn’t have? “Us” magazine’s annual Best and Worst Beach Bodies issue. How many women back then (who may have lacked perfect bodies) were happy to hike up their skirts to photograph their cellulite?

And apparently this guy thinks that the word “airbrush” was invented for the little tool in Photoshop. Photos have been retouched since just after they were invented.

2. The insult to developing nations

In answer to the question “Why do some women have more cellulite than others?,” Dr. MagicWater says:

I’ve spent a lot of time traveling in developing countries and photographing local women. When I photograph these women [who don’t have much, or any, cellulite], you see the kind of work they’re doing and the kind of food they’re eating. They’re eating all organic foods, they’re constantly moving from the time they get up. These women are washing clothes in the river. Getting water [in an industrialized country] means getting up and going to the fridge or faucet. For women in developing countries, they’re walking to the river and coming back carrying a heavy container. So the physical activity levels in industrialized nations have also decreased.

Hmm. Cellulite does appear to be related to weight gain, but do women in developing countries have less cellulite because they’re exercising more and “eating all organic foods?” Maybe. Or maybe it’s because an estimated 947 million people in the developing world are undernourished, meaning they consume less than the minimum amount of calories essential for sound health and growth. 26 percent of children under 5 are moderately to severely underweight. Is the developing world really where we should be looking to find tips and tricks on combating our awful, unsightly skin lumpiness?

Oh, and yeah, getting water in an industrialized country means getting up and going to the fridge. Getting water in developing countries means DYSENTERY.

Screw you, Doctor MagicWater.

1. The sexism

The good doctor suggests that restrictive underwear cuts off circulation and increases your chances of getting cellulite, something that may (gasp!) be true! So, what does he suggest women do about it?

Wear a thong.

Have you ever worn a thong, Dr. MagicWater? I have. Thongs can be just as tight against your skin as briefs, plus they offer an added bonus of possibly leaving you at greater risk of vaginal infections, you ass.

While there may be little tidbits of factual content in that article, good luck figuring them out if you’re not already a cellulite expert. Considering the fact that Scientific American has long been a fantastic, trusted popularizer of science, this was so very disappointing. And considering the fact that long-time skeptic and all-around wonderful guy John Rennie has resigned as editor, I hope this isn’t indicative of the direction the magazine is heading.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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46 Comments

  1. Wow! I just took a look at the comments on the article. Here’s the breakdown that I see:

    Post #1: There is no science to back up these claims.

    Post#2: Previous poster, you hate women.

  2. Just out of curiosity, does anyone know if the comments on an article have any impact on future editorial decisions of a publication? (I’m talking about mass media, not news blogs.)

    I’ve always thought that the comments section was something that the news departments added to get people to come back to the article. It did not even occur to me that the editor or publisher would pay any attention to the comments. I’ve always directed feedback to the “contact us” links, but should I change? Should I post my displeasure in SciAm’s comments instead?

  3. Good job!

    I didn’t know SciAM was publishing advertorials on quackery.

    But it looks like the article did its job, some of the readers already called and got an appointment from DrMagicWater.

    It is sad, hope SciAm guys realise that too.

  4. Wouldn’t boxer shorts work better than a thong, if tightness of fit is an issue?

    God forbid suggesting women branch out from their socially mandated underwear designs, though!

  5. I was unaware thongs could cause so many problems. I really think women should be able to apply for a refund from our friendly neighborhood intelligent designer. Vaginas are just far too maintenance intensive.

  6. I fail to see how making a suggestion to remedy a *possible* circulation problem is sexist?

    Or is it just anything recommended in the proximity of a vagina is automatically sexist?

    Problems 1-infinity of the article should all be “homeopath”.

  7. Wow! Those lucky women in third world countries! Starving and working and endlessly childbearing… boy that is a recipe for beauty!!
    Me with my electicity and food and birth control… no wonder I have FAT (which is what he’s talking about). Yep we sad pathetic Americans, all fat (aka well fed) and ugly (aka living long enough to get wrinkles and actually age)….

  8. I show visitors to the museum photos from roughly 150 years ago almost daily, and I quite enjoy pointing out that one of them is edited. It has subtle brush strokes where they went back and cleaned up the guy’s hair a bit, to make him look more presentable and a little bit less shaggy. You may as well suggest that no one had obvious facial blemishes until photography came around, because no one had warts in their portraits.

    Now I have to find a counter example, I’m going to be stuck doing hours and hours of research in to Victorian porn… the things I do for science!

  9. Thanks for the great rundown, Rebecca! Yes, isn’t it amazing that tools like “airbrush” and “crop” in Photoshop may have come from real instruments before computers. Shock horror! Also, didn’t know about the thong dangers. I wear them all the time (cotton only) but will be more aware. (Yes I actually find them comfortable on my big cellulite butt!)

    Do we know who has replaced Rennie?

  10. @Nicole:
    As a student of history, I can assure you that airbrushes were used on photographs and negatives long before computers existed. The old USSR, Nazi Germany and the Allies in WWII did it all the time. Many propaganda photos had details or people airbrushed out for security or disinformation reasons. Cropping was done with razor blades and scissors, too.

    My wife does family history and has found many pictures that have been ‘cleaned up’ via airbrush (and sometimes paintbrush) to eliminate blemishes, scars, etc.

  11. You don’t even have to go so far as boxer shorts for better circulation. Boyshorts would work just as well, without the health risks of a thong. Of course, you could just get properly fitting briefs. Mine don’t cut off my circulation at all.

  12. I hope, as mentioned previously, that this was April fools.
    Cuz if it wasn’t then someone needs to ‘splain to SciAm’s new Ed. how easily scientific credibility can be irretrievably pissed away even after more than 150 yrs as a voice of reason.

    Build a thousand houses and they never call you Jack the housebuilder.
    But, you fuck one goat….

  13. ‘And apparently this guy thinks that the word “airbrush” was invented for the little tool in Photoshop. Photos have been retouched since just after they were invented.’

    Yeah, I’m old enough to remember when “photoshopping” was called “airbrushing“.

  14. @wfr:

    Don’t be so quick to dismiss homeopathy. It may not be quite as broad-spectrum as its advocates claim, but I hear it is an effective treatment for dehydration.

    Not if you take it in pill form.

  15. Yeah, I thought that was weird. I didn’t like the issues whole focus on “beauty science” considering “beauty” is not universal. I also didn’t like the implication that we as women should give a shit about whether these creams actually do anything to our skin. Maybe living in a world where I don’t have to spend half of my day putting shit on my face before I’m deemed presentable is what I really want.

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