Contrary to popular opinion, including that vehemently held by my mother, there are exceptional times when the C-word can be used in polite society. The last time I uttered it was during a chance encounter in a coffee shop. It was an average Saturday morning and I spotted an old friend sitting at a table reading a magazine, one masterfully toned leg crossed over the other, her lean thighs gloriously on display in a pair of tight running shorts. She looked happy and content, oblivious to both me and the taboo-breaking exchange that was about to begin.
I walked straight up to her and after hastily skipping through the pleasantries, found myself blurting out – in full earshot of mothers with their innocents, weekend dads placating tweens with hot chocolates and two old ladies sipping tea – “I don’t understand,” my voice rising as I pointed at the tops of her legs, “where is your CELLULITE?” I had just come from a one-hour spin class and was still in my Hey Jo leggings. Despite my best efforts (and those of my bank account), my light orange-peel dimples were stubbornly still evident beneath the lycra. I begged her to share her secret. She shushed me, indicated to the seat opposite and with a furtive glance handed me a business card bearing the name Julio Herrera. I studied it for a second before glancing up. “Remember,” she said in mysterious tones, “there is no beauty without pain.” And with a slug of her green tea and a light peck on the cheek, she was gone. Session one: Two days after that chance encounter, I am at home in London, lying flat on a massage bed staring at the earnest eyes and shiny bald head of “Cellulite Slayer” Mr Julio Herrera. He has come to my house only after I persuaded my friend to call and beg him to give me an appointment in his busy schedule. In a thick Venezuelan accent, he explains that his technique involves manual massage that has similar effects to liposuction. The process, he says, will involve a delicately orchestrated repertoire: an initial course of 10 treatments every other day involving pounding, kneading, cupping and pinching – yes, pinching – at the end of which he promises to eradicate the fatty build-up on my thighs. I am raring to go. I give Julio a quick history of my previous attempts at expurgating my cellulite and ask him what makes his technique different. “My massage treatments involve manual kneading of the problem areas combined with lymphatic drainage, which helps smooth the soft tissue and eliminate cellulite. The deep-tissue pressure works to flatten, even out and break up cellulite deposits.” Julio whips out the dreaded measuring tape and reads out the centimetres: waist 64cm, legs 55cm, hips 78cm. He smothers his hands with Baby Lotion. Without warning my right buttock is smartly slapped 12 times. This feels more Fifty Shades of Grey than Mayr Clinic. The pain is excruciating and I let out little squeals with each blow. Julio then produces a blue plastic cup; a suction device roughly the size of my (now clenched) fist. Once it is fixed firmly to my skin, he moves it from my calf to my upper thigh, running it back and forth, up and down my legs with speed. It’s uncomfortable – I feel like the life is being sucked out of me. Next comes the pinching. With tiny kneading motions Julio works on my skin, lifting it up as if he is pulling it off my muscle. It’s painful, and only just bearable. The whole agonising process lasts 45 minutes. It concludes with a brisk “drainage” massage of the stomach. This consists of vigorous movements in a figure of eight.
I feel exhausted – and slightly traumatised. Julio may be a sweetheart but there is a cruel edge to this treatment. I hope, as I lie there smarting, there is a method to his madness.
I wake up the next day sore and bruised. On close examination I spot a few blue bumps coming up. I will definitely not be wearing anything above the knee tonight. But, on the upside, I feel like some water retention has been alleviated, as my legs seem slightly less spongy, even if they feel numb.
Session two: Julio begins by retaking my measurements. Despite my body feeling raw and pulverised, they have barely changed. I am concerned about the bruising and although he reassures me that this is normal, he does opt for a more gentle lymphatic drainage today. Relief washes over me. The rest follows as it was for session one.
Two thwacks down… an unholy eight to go. Can the painful ignominy ever be worth it? Check back on Saturday January 19.