I am on a beach in Corsica looking at a French woman’s bottom. It is pert, round and rather tanned. At the risk of being arrested I go a little closer. What I’m trying to discover is whether or not French women have cellulite.
Cellulite – just the word makes me shudder. In fact it makes lots of people extremely nervous, including Scott Alexander, recently dubbed Britain’s vainest man. Scott maintains he has “never knowingly slept with anyone with cellulite – not even on a one-night stand”.
This is a man who spends more than £500,000 a year on his appearance, wears a £250,000 diamond-encrusted crucifix and proudly shares the fact that his body is completely hairless with the rest of the nation. Frankly if cellulite can keep this freak away from me I might even break the habit of a lifetime and give in to it.
What I want to know is this. How can he tell if he’s on a date whether or not the unfortunate creature he is trying to impress with his over-sized mahogany pecks is cellulite free? Does he follow her into the loo to check out her thighs while she has a pee? If, when he gets her home and onto his satin black sheets, he finds a spot of cellulite lurking on her buttock does he run screaming from the room, diamond-encrusted crucifix dangling?
I am not quite as bad as Mr Vain, but I have to admit to a serious cellulite aversion. At university I was very nervous about hanging out with one particular girl I knew. She had what can only be described as a rather nasty cellulite problem and I thought it might be catching. To me it looked like a disgusting disease to be avoided at all costs.
For the whole of my adolescent and adult life I have dreaded the onset of cellulite almost as much as a mother of five hyper-active children under the age of seven dreads the onset of the summer holidays. The thought of orange-peel thighs and buttocks is the one thing that keeps me away from the fridge and in the gym.
But now we’re told that once afflicted with this curse losing weight might not even help. New research shows that getting thinner does nothing to help dimply thighs; in fact it even makes them look worse. Unless you’re obese (in which case cellulite really shouldn’t be your main concern) shedding a few pounds is not the answer. In fact my university friend was as thin as a beanpole, which confirms the latest research that excess weight is not necessarily to blame.
So here we are in the middle of the beach season, bikinis are smaller than ever this season and we’re all in a tizzy about our thighs. Are they telling us there’s nothing we can do short of cosmetic surgery? There must be an alternative.
The French woman whose bottom I am gazing at looks a little annoyed when she turns round to find me peering at her. I explain that I’m not some lesbian lunatic on the pull, shoving my children in front of her to prove the point, but that I’m researching a story about cellulite.
“What do French women do to avoid it?” I ask.
“I don’t know about all French women,” says Chantal, flicking some sand off her thighs, “But I use creams.” Ah yes, those magical creams that promise blemish-free buttocks and a perfect life. As soon as spring arrives in France, so do they, in droves. The chemist’s windows are full of advertisements for them.
Chantal, who is on holiday but comes from Paris, tells me she has been using anti-cellulite since she was eighteen.
“My mother used them so I just got into the habit as well,” she says.
I didn’t believe in creams when I first moved to France. Then I spoke to Brigitte Papin who is the Health and Beauty Editor of Madame Figaro Magazine.
“That’s such an Anglo-Saxon attitude,” she told me. “Of course they work, why would we all use them if they didn’t?”
And for all their caffeine drinking, cheese eating and smoking, French women are amazingly cellulite free. Wandering up and down the beach in Corsica (it’s such a tough job) I start to wonder if there’s even a French word for cellulite. I call my best French friend Alexandra who tells me there is; it’s the same as in English, although of course it sounds much sexier in French.
“So do you do anything about it?” I ask her.
“Of course I do, there are creams,” she says, “and a machine called a Cellule M 6.”
“Do they work?”
“You have to do it all regularly,” says Alexandra. “Although my father, who is a doctor, says there is no way they can work because cellulite is below the layer of the skin they affect.”
“But you still use them?”
“Oh yes, as often as possible. I think it makes a difference, I certainly notice it when I stop.”
So there we have it. French women don’t fight cellulite with diets; they fight it with lotions and potions. This is a very French attitude. Chemists are full of diet supplements that are designed to make you eat less. “For me a diet is a negation of life,” says Isabelle, a French friend of mine. “So I eat things that make me eat less. It’s kind of logical.” Isabelle is not alone. Brigitte Papin tells me one in three supplements sold in French chemists is a slimming aid. The other two are probably anti-cellulite supplements.
I have to admit that I too have secretly been dousing my body with anti-cellulite creams since I moved to France six years ago. Every morning and every night I can be found rubbing them around my thighs and buttocks. If the creams don’t work, I’m sure all that rubbing must be doing some good. So far, I’m cellulite-free. Just don’t tell Mr Vain.