measuring tape
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
August 16, 2023 ·  5 min read

‘Cruel bullies call me a penguin due to my legs – I have a condition but I love my body’

Anyone who uses the internet knows that there is always a risk that people might speak poorly of you online. No one knows this more than people who are even moderately famous. People who don’t know them say nasty things on social media, often hiding behind a fake account so that no one knows who they really are. One person who is all too familiar with this kind of online bullying is Brazilian model and social media personality Victoria Matosa. Bullied for since she was a child because of her thick thighs, she is now speaking out about why her legs are the way that they are. Matosa suffers from an incurable condition called Lipedema. (1)

Understanding Lipedema

Lipedema is a rare and chronic disorder that affects women primarily. The condition is often mistaken for obesity or lymphedema and can result in significant physical and emotional distress for those living with it. While it may look like someone is just simply overweight or has cellulite, this isn’t the case at all. (2)

What is Lipedema?

Lipedema occurs when fat is distributed abnormally under the skin, primarily in the legs, but can also affect the arms. The condition is most commonly seen in women, and it is estimated to affect between 11% to 15% of women globally. Lipedema can affect anyone at any age, but it usually affects women during hormonal changes periods such as puberty, pregnancy, peri-menopausal, and menopause.

Victoria’s Story

It took a very long time before Victoria Matosa, now in her late 20s, received her diagnosis. Ever since she was a child, she always had “thicker” thighs, but that got worse after puberty. People called her “penguin” because of the way that this condition forced her to walk. She used to spend hours in the gym and went on every diet possible trying to lose weight off her legs. Nothing she did, however, made any difference.

“I started to avoid going to the beach and only [wore] leggings and jeans, which made me very uncomfortable, [as well as] distancing myself from friends out of embarrassment. Due to bullying and pressure to always be doing a lot of exercise to lose weight, I tried many restrictive diets, which resulted in me binge eating. I [used to] spend three hours in the gym until I reached exhaustion, giving up and then eating compulsively.” she recalled.

Finally doctors were able to diagnose her condition, which has empowered her to be able to learn to love her body. Now, the 26-year-old is an advocate for body positivity and for spreading awareness of Lipedema. She is now able to live a healthier, happier, and more balanced life because she understands her condition.

“before, I blamed myself for not being able to lose weight in my legs, even working out intensely. Now, I go to the gym and have an anti-inflammatory diet, but I don’t feel ready to [have an] operation, as I’d have to do three liposuctions,” she explained. “I feel sad and discouraged with each passing day [but] I try to accept and love myself more. I’ve already suffered a lot of bullying on the internet, people didn’t like me because of my weight and my body. I got tired of receiving messages of curses that only had the objective of hurting me. This continues to be routine in my life, only different than before, because I don’t let these people make me feel like a monster but in my love life, I’ve been very lucky.”

Causes of Lipedema

Currently, the cause of Lipedema is unknown. However, it is believed to have genetic and hormonal components that lead to the disorder’s onset. Lipedema is often associated with hormonal changes such as puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, which would suggest hormonal influences. It is also believed that lipedema could be triggered by a traumatic event such as injury, surgery, or infection.

How Lipedema differs from Cellulite

Lipedema is often mistaken for being a particularly resistant form of cellulite, but this is misleading. Although both cellulite and lipedema affect fat cells, there are differences in their origins and methods of treatment. (3)
Cellulite may be caused by various factors, including hormones, genetics, and lifestyle. The “orange peel” appearance of cellulite is caused by fibrous septae bands that connect the skin to the underlying tissue. These bands can create a dimpled appearance if they tighten and pull the skin. In contrast, Lipodema occurs due to abnormal expansion of fat cells leading to the accumulation of fluid and deposition of fat in abnormal areas.

Symptoms of Lipedema

The first visible symptom of lipedema is a disproportionate growth of fat cells in specific areas of the body, such as the legs and arms, without affecting the hands and feet, creating a ‘bracelet’ appearance. The condition is usually painful, especially when pressed and can cause tenderness, itching, and bruising. Lipedema also can result in mobility problems and reduced functionality in daily activities, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

Treatment of Lipedema

The treatment of lipedema can depend on the severity of the disorder. The first step is getting a proper diagnosis as early as possible. The correct diagnosis will prevent further complications and help in the early stages of treatment. A multidisciplinary approach is required in treating lipedema, a physician, lymphatic therapist, dietician, and a mental health professional may all play a role:

  1. Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD): MLD is a specific massage technique carried out by a trained lymphatic therapist that improves lymphatic flow, reduces swelling, & pain.
  2. Compression garments: Compression wear such as stockings, leggings, sleeves can help reduce lipedema’s progression, manage pain, and prevent discomfort.
  3. Exercise Routine: Exercise that focuses on low -impact movements is essential in lipedema management, such as walking, swimming, and cycling.
  4. Diet: It is recommended to follow a healthy and balanced diet to help maintain a healthy weight and reduce inflammation.
  5. Surgery: In severe cases, surgical interventions may be needed to remove large lipedema fat deposits. Various surgical techniques, including liposuction, are used to remove the excess tissue.

The Bottom Line

Lipedema is a devastating disorder that affects many women, often without being properly diagnosed. If you have disproportionate and painful fat distribution in your legs, it is crucial to seek medical attention and find treatment options to prevent further complications and improve your quality of life. With early intervention and proper treatment, women living with lipedema can manage the disorder successfully.


  1. ‘Cruel bullies call me a penguin due to my legs – I have a condition but I love my body’.” Mirror. Niamh Kirk, Lifestyle Writer and Amy Walters. August 2023.
  2. Lipedema.” Cleveland Clinic
  3. Lipedema or Cellulite? How to Tell the Difference.” Healthline. Eleesha Lockett, MS. May 12, 2021.