The secret of no cellulite
Helena Frith Powell persuades French women to reveal the key to dimple-free skin
I am on a beach in Corsica looking at a French woman’s bottom. It is pert, round and deliciously tanned. At the risk of being arrested, I move a little closer. This is an important investigation. What I’m trying to discover is whether or not French women have cellulite.
Cellulite. Just the word makes me shudder – and in fact it makes lots of people extremely nervous, including multimillionaire Scott Alexander, who was recently dubbed Britain’s vainest man. In what surely must be a contender for the quote of the year, Scott maintains that 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 with the rest of the nation the fact that his body is completely hairless. Frankly, if cellulite can keep this freak away from me, I might even welcome it.
What I want to know is this: if he’s on a date, trying to impress some unfortunate creature with his over-sized mahogany pecs, how can he tell whether or not she is cellulite-free? Does he follow her into the loo to check out her thighs? If, when he gets her home and on to his black satin 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. 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 most of my adult life I have dreaded the onset of cellulite almost as much as a mother of five hyperactive children under the age of seven dreads the start 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 being 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; it can even make 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. My university friend was actually as thin as a beanpole, which confirms that excess weight is not necessarily to blame.
So here we are in high summer, everyone in Europe has migrated to the beach, and bikinis seem smaller than ever. I, and every English woman I know, is in a tizzy about her thighs. Do the new findings mean that there is nothing we can do, short of cosmetic surgery? There must be an alternative.
Indeed, I am convinced of it and, since I moved to live in France, I’ve concluded that French women are in on the secret. For all their caffeine-drinking, cheese-eating and excessive smoking, they are amazingly cellulite-free. The French woman at whose bottom I’ve been gazing turns round and, understandably, looks a little irritated. I explain that I’m not a lesbian on the pull but that I’m conducting important research into the prevalence of cellulite.
“I’ve noticed that French women just don’t seem to have it,” I tell her. “What do you do to avoid it?” “I don’t know about all French women,” says Chantal, flicking some sand off her perfect 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. Pharmacy windows and magazines are full of advertisements for them.
Chantal, who comes from Paris, tells me she has been using anti-cellulite lotions and potions since puberty.
“My mother used them, so I just got into the habit as well,” she says.
British women, I think, are more cynical. We simply don’t believe the hype and, to us, an anti-cellulite diet seems to make more sense. “That’s such an Anglo-Saxon attitude,” Brigitte Papin, health and beauty editor of Madame Figaro magazine, tells me. “Of course the creams work. Why would French women use them if they didn’t?” Wandering up and down the beach in Corsica (it’s such a tough job) in search of cellulite, I start to wonder if there’s even a French word for it. 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 what do you do about it?” I ask her.
“There are creams,” she says, “and a machine called a Cellule M6.”
“Does it work?” “Yes, but you have to do it all regularly,” says Alexandra. “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, potions and machines. This is a very French attitude. They’re not in favour of diets to combat cellulite – they favour diet supplements designed to make you eat less instead. “For, me a diet is a negation of life,” says Isabelle, another French friend, “so I eat things that make me eat less. It’s logical.” Isabelle is not alone. Brigitte Papin tells me that one in three supplements sold in French chemists is a slimming aid. The other two are probably anti-cellulite supplements.
And the result of my research? I can now be found rubbing some cream or other around my thighs and buttocks every night and every morning. If the creams don’t work, I’m sure all that rubbing must be doing some good. So far, I’m keeping the cellulite at bay. Just don’t tell Britain’s vainest man.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019