Living Off the Fat of the Land

Reducing establishments can make you look better, but their fine print may make you feel worse.

DIET AND EXERCISE HAVE BECOME big business in America, and most major cities, including those in Texas, have at least one “fat” doctor who dispenses shots and pills for weight reduction. The desperately overweight resort to obesity clinics and major surgery. Appetite suppressants and bulk-producing “filler uppers,” with such enticing names as Hungerex and Ordinex, are available in most department and drug stores, although many appetite depressants, such as Eskatrol, Dexamyl, and Dexadrine still require a physician’s written prescription. And if you enjoy bemoaning your fate with company, a local Weight Watchers group will encourage you to shed your pounds and tell all about it.

Fat is right up there with sex on the best-seller lists. Dr. Robert C. Atkins’ The High Calorie Way to Stay Thin Forever and Dr. Irwin Stillman’s Quick Weight Loss Diet have stirred up controversy among nutritionists and physicians, while soaring on the sales charts. And other controversial diets encourage you to eat away your fat, drink away your fat, pray away your fat, or hypnotize yourself to thinness.

Even the sociologists have gotten on the ball to tell us that success and slimness go hand-in-hand. No fatties climb the success ladder, according to Dr. Maurice Yaffe of London’s Institute of Psychiatry. In an article in New Society, Dr. Yaffe points out that women in higher income groups tend to be thinner. If success is your goal, you shed your pounds as you rise.

If you’re fat but with a possibility of a picture spread in Women’s Wear Daily, you might want to check into Arlington’s prestigious Greenhouse with the likes of Joan Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson. Although The Greenhouse, a joint venture of Neiman-Marcus, Charles of the Ritz, and the Great Southwest Corporation, does not advertise as a reducing spa, most women attend with the idea of losing pounds in the most lavishly opulent decor in the Southwest.

The Greenhouse advertises “a gently disciplined health and beauty program that rejuvenates both mind and body,” and with Helen Corbett’s 850-calorie meals and Toni Beck’s “swing-and-sway-your-pounds-away” exercises, it’s the pampered way to take it off. However, for the ordinary girl who cannot afford the $825 plus 15 per cent gratuity per week for chic slimness, it’s join the throngs out at the old health spa. And mark the words of the grande doyenne of the “Beautiful People,” the Duchess of Windsor, who once stated, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” Flip through the pages of Harper’s Bazaar or Vogue, and you know that Wallis has got to be right!

I began my tour of health spas with telephone inquiries. (Two telephone numbers listed under REDUCING SALONS in Austin had been changed and one failed to answer.) The managers I spoke to were vague about fees, but they eagerly invited me to come in for a trial session and figure analysis.

Pat Walker’s Figure Perfection International has the smoothest telephone sell. I talked to the state sales representative, who explained the Pat Walker program to me in detail. Each customer is given a complimentary figure analysis, and the sales manager asked me to reserve a one-and-one-half hour block of time for my first session. She carefully explained that Pat Walker sells hours, not courses. There was no disrobing and results were guaranteed. In addition, when I lost weight, I would keep it off forever. When I explained that the time I had to devote to the program was limited, she offered me a gift certificate for 50 hours at $100. If I paid in cash or put the charge for the program on my credit card, I could have a $20 discount.

After fighting fat for years, I thought Pat Walker sounded too good to be true. I checked in with my jolly gynecologist about the possibility of a machine removing the fat for life. “No way,” he said. “There’s no way to lose weight except by cutting down on food and stepping up exercise.” Most physicians look askance at fad dieting and quick-weight loss. Short cuts invariably lead to my inevitable downfall—putting it back on as fast as I take it off. The old gynecologist—a fat boy himself—gave me the ominous word—”Stop eating; start running.”

However, with hopes high I arrived for my appointment with Pat Walker on the top level of Highland Mall. I expected the usual YWCA ambience, but I was surprised to find that there is a “new look” in health spas—the plusher the spa, the better. And Pat Walker rates an A + in sumptuousness. The decor is sheer baroque, reminiscent of the Petit Trianon in an off year: swagged blue velvet drapes, French provincial furniture, and an etagere filled with Pat Walker products designed to help you along the road to beauty and slimness.

When you have paid your enrollment fee, you can also purchase such necessities as “Charisma Wrinkle Creme” and “Pink Treasure Moisture Lotion.” In case you’re having trouble with your individually created diet prepared by the Pat Walker staff, there are wafers and tablets to appease your hunger.

There’s not an ounce of fat in sight on the attendants at Pat Walker’s. The blondest and blankest of the crew hustled me off to my private, blue-velvet draped cubicle. Jill introduced me to the secret of the Pat Walker method: a blue, padded machine that looked like something out of Flash Gordon. It is aptly titled the “Perfecteron.” Jill provided me with a paper shower cap to keep my hair out of the machine and placed tissues on the footrest. She carefully explained the five basic positions that the “Perfecteron” would put me through and showed me how to place my hands on the overhead bar for the first two positions.

The machine rotates and moves various parts of the body: the first position for the upper shoulders and back; the second for the midriff; the third for the waist; the fourth for thighs and hips; and the fifth for the entire body. The entire body position was the kicker. The other four

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