April 07, 1975 12:00 PM

There can hardly be an American woman who by now has not heard of “cellulite.” It is the voguish Continental word (pronounced cell-u-leet) for all varieties of unsightly dimpled flesh—”jodphur thighs,” “tapioca upper arms” and “saddlebag buttocks.”

The trouble is that, however comical (and passé) the terms may sound, the problem is real. And ironically the woman who has brought the whole subject into public discussion is a Parisian-born New Yorker, Nicole Ronsard, 36, who is herself of sylphlike proportions. Her hard-cover Cellulite: Those Lumps, Bumps and Bulges You Couldn’t Lose Before sold over 200,000 copies. Now in paperback, Cellulite—with massive TV promotion—has been No.1 on the trade paperback best-seller list for eight weeks.

Nicole, who emigrated to the U.S. 10 years ago with her engineer husband, had studied physical culture and diet in France. She also had worked in a Paris salon where “cellulite” was an everyday term for the gel-like substance trapped under the skin, causing bulges. “It’s not fat,” Nicole insists. “Most women, including models, athletes and even ballerinas, have cellulite. It cannot be helped by dieting alone, or even exercise.”

Opening her own Manhattan salon, where she first explained cellulite to her customers—then helped them get rid of it—she became so successful that her husband, Marcel, quit his job to help run the business. Encouraged by a deluge of letters asking for advice, she decided, when she became pregnant with Eric, now 2 years old, to close the salon and write the book.

Determined to have complete control over it, she and her husband formed their own publishing firm and did everything themselves, from layout to bookstore distribution. If she had not been pregnant at the time, Nicole says, she would have posed for the photographs of a cellulite-free body. Instead, she had to hire a model—difficult, she says, because “only one out of the 30 models we interviewed did not herself have cellulite.”

The theory of cellulite that Nicole expounds has drawn accusations of quackery from doctors and nutritionists both here and in France, but few consider her program harmful. To critics’ insistence that the bulges are caused by loss of skin elasticity that occurs with aging, Nicole replies that girls as young as 14 begin to develop them. Her theory is that certain foods leave behind “toxic wastes.” To eliminate them demands a total regime. She recommends a low-salt diet which includes raw vegetables, fruit, lean meats, poultry and fish, and plenty of water to flush out the system. In addition, she prescribes deep breathing, exercises like swimming, massage to loosen up cellulite deposits and relaxation to relieve tension. Smoking and alcohol are no-no’s.

Blithely unaffected by lack of approval from practically anybody but the women who buy her book, Nicole says, “Listen, doctors’ wives come to me in secret because their husbands say there’s no such problem as cellulite. Maybe the word cellulite is not such a good one—but I didn’t invent it.” Besides, she adds, “Sometimes I think these doctors have never really noticed a woman undressed. I don’t think they even know what women look like.”

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