Skeptical is not strong enough a word to describe what I thought of this enterprise, but Karcher said, "At this time, this is the only technology with a laser that's specifically designed to melt fat." I began to fantasize about what it might be like to have a really smooth bottom and thighs (a far more appealing fantasy than what it might be like to lose what little money I have left in the stock market). The treatment is noninvasive and painless; what harm could it do?

I went for it. A few months after the presentation, I had "before" photos taken of my butt and thighs, and then found myself in a thong, lying facedown on a table in the doctor's office. Twice a week for four weeks I submitted to the labors of a slight young woman who rolled a handpiece connected by a hose to a machine that looks like R2-D2 over my bottom and upper legs, ten minutes on each side. The handpiece, which resembles a kind of iron with rollers on the bottom, emits the light and laser energy at the same time that a vacuum between the rollers grabs the skin and sucks it up; the skin, underlying fat, and collagen are heated and zapped and then released by the vacuum. The procedure can feel like a strong deep-tissue massage—or, when I was in a less imaginative or more sensitive mood, like someone Hoovering my ass, an experience I wasn't especially eager to repeat. Nevertheless, with visions of a tighter, smoother bottom dancing in my head, I kept up my appointments, till the day the technician congratulated me on completing the treatment. (Cost: $2,100, though I didn't pay.)

The honest truth is, I wanted to look down at my butt on graduation day and see something that approximated a young Jennifer Lopez bottom. What I actually saw was my plain old regular everyday butt, completely unchanged, to my naked eye, at least.

Karcher pointed out to me that when a patient sees a difference almost immediately, it's because fat cells have been destroyed, so there is a tighter look to the skin. The other effect of SmoothShapes, breaking up the collagen bonds, takes months to occur; consequently, those results are not immediately apparent. This was the case with me, said Karcher. She speculated that because I didn't have a lot of cellulite in the first place, it might be harder to see a difference.

About a month and a half after my last treatment, I had a set of "after" photos taken. Looking at my butt in the mirror, I could still see no difference in my cellulite. But when I saw the before-and-after photos side by side, I gasped: It was remarkable. The skin looked much smoother and tighter. (If you're thinking that the photos were doctored, they were not.)

"You got a pretty dramatic improvement," said Sadick, after examining the pictures, "about 50 percent in the topography and texture of your skin." It was obvious in the photos, but why couldn't I see it when I looked in the mirror? "Sometimes it's hard to assess improvement, especially to self-assess," Sadick told me. "We're developing other parameters like measuring body mass index and circumference of the areas treated to find more quantitative ways to determine results. You have to remember that technologies [like SmoothShapes] are evolving. The results are variable. But this is the best we have to offer."

So it all comes down, for me, to an existential question (especially fitting about a treatment for a condition that is neither an ailment nor even an abnormality): If the cellulite on my bottom and thighs is reduced but I can't see it in the mirror, is the treatment a success?

I wish I could tell you I thought it was.

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