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 had been mild jiggling and wiggling. The fifth brought all the action into play. It was like being harnessed to two bucking horses, each going in a different direction. However, piped-in music soothed me over the course.
When the timer jangled that my 30-minute “treatment” was complete, Jill helped me down from the machine and onto the scale. The pounds were appallingly clear, although I weighed in at six pounds more than I had on my good doctor’s scale. However, my height was a source of some confusion. I measured 66 inches on the rod, and Jill had some difficulty translating the sum into feet. After some figuring, she announced proudly that I was seven feet tall.
Jill led me to one of the small chic offices where one of the Pat Walker managers would diagnose my figure problems. The exceedingly soignee Ms. Morgan introduced herself and began studying my card. She explained that each woman had individual problems concerning her weight and her figure. An individualized computer card would be prepared just for me. I would be I weighed and measured every two weeks, and the results entered on my card.
Ms. Morgan explained the purpose of the “Perfecteron.” It had been especially designed to increase my circulation and to stimulate my body to shed unwanted pounds and inches. Each 30-minute treatment would be equal to 18 holes of golf or a 10-mile horseback ride. During the treatment at Pat Walker’s, I would be firmed, toned, and my posture corrected.
To determine the cost of my individualized, computerized program, Ms. Morgan began measuring my body and entering the measurements on my card. The grim news was that I measured 1612 inches from neck to navel. However. Ms. Morgan failed to despair. She explained that this measurement was the only one that would increase—I would be stretched and heightened, eliminating my poor posture.
After she entered all my measurements on my chart, Ms. Morgan and I discussed my figure problem areas. She used a “magic formula” to determine exactly how many 30-minute segments I would need to reach “bone structure” (my ideal measurements). Her figuring paid off, and Ms. Morgan stated that Pat Walker guaranteed that I would reach “bone structure” in 294 30-minute segments. By multiplying this number by $2 for each treatment, my program would cost a grand total of $588.
I was astounded at the cost, and Ms. Morgan stated that there were two payment plans that Pat Walker offers the customer. Through the Savings Plan, the customer can take advantage of no interest and no carrying charge. I would be given a discount for cash plus a $20 discount for having seen the coupon in the newspaper (which I had not). The sum total of my program would then be $509. Under the Budget Program, I would pay one-fourth of my program cost as a down payment, or $147. Then I could payout my treatment in installments every six days. However, the salon does require that each customer take at least three treatments each week, so that the minimum weekly payment is $6.
When I explained that the time I had to put into the program was limited, Ms. Morgan offered me the Gift Certificate. I had discussed this program with the state sales representative, who had told me the program would cost $80 if I paid cash. Ms. Morgan offered it to me for $90.
Pat Walker’s uses the hard sell. Ms. Morgan stated that if I did not decide at that moment, then my measurement card would be destroyed and we would have to begin all over again. I explained that I had to go to Dallas for the weekend and that my finances were limited as I was enrolling in the university. Quite all right! Ms. Morgan said. If I signed my agreement rig!lt then and there, I could use the Pat Walker facilities in Dallas.
The agreement was never shown to me, and Ms. Morgan was careful to explain that it was not a contract. She did point out, however, that Pat Walker guaranteed I would maintain bone structure for life if I followed their program for the prescribed time. Also, with their maintenance eating program, weight control would never be a problem for me again.
What Ms. Morgan failed to explain was the small print at the bottom of the “agreement.” I managed to get a peek, while she was busy measuring my ankles and knees. The “agreement” states that the only recourse the customer has if she fails to reach the desired proportions at the end of the specified time is more of the same—more treatments on the “Perfecteron” free of charge. When I questioned her about the contract, she carefully explained again that it was merely an “agreement” and not a contract at all. I could sign it with my first initial and my last name, and that it would then not be legally binding.
“Not so,” said my attorney, when I asked him about the legality of signing a contract in this manner. “Your name in any form is your name, and you can be held legally accountable for any such ‘agreement’ that you sign.” I decided I had better check more carefully into the legal ins and outs of health spa membership.
Caveat emptor should be the watch-word of anyone who is shopping for effective results at a health spa for the least amount of money. Contracts are not in sight when the customer first enters a spa, and it is difficult for a person sitting in a spa manager’s office ready to sign on the dotted line to read and comprehend all the small print, where (naturally) the catch usually is.
As a consumer, you have little recourse to the law if you fail to live up to the terms of a contract signed with a health spa. However, should you default on your payments, the spa has plenty of recourse. Once you have signed a contract, you are responsible for the payments—whether to the spa itself or to another agency holding your contract. In many cases of long-term contracts, the spa sells the contract to a finance company or to a bank at a discount. Should you decide that you no longer wish to continue working out at the spa, you are still responsible for the full amount of the payment.
If you are signing a contract with a health spa, you may find a notice to this effect in the fine print. Others will call your attention to it. The contract for the prestigious Presidents-First Lady has the clause in a red box with the caption—READ CAREFULLY AND SIGN ONLY WHEN COMPETELY UNDERSTOOD. The clause reads, “I understand that I have signed an installment promissory note which may be financed by a bank or finance company at the option of ‘PRESIDENTS-FIRST LADY CLUBS, INC.’
“All payments must be paid in full direct to the bank or finance company, and may not be suspended for any reason whatsoever, and no monies will be refunded. My failure to regularly attend the ‘Club’ and utilize its programs and facilities does not relieve me of my obligation, regardless of the circumstances, to pay the promissory installment note in full as outlined below. My membership is absolutely non-cancellable by me, not transferable and not refundable.
“No representations or statements except as herein written shall be binding upon Club.”
Once you have joined, you receive a copy of the contract, and your signature is witnessed. You can be liable for all unpaid installments at an interest rate of 10 per cent per annum and for a delinquent charge of 5 per cent on each installment in default for a period of more than ten days.
Some spas have sued customers who defaulted on contracts, and until recently could sue them at the home base of the company. For instance, Trim & Swim has sued customers in its home territory of San Antonio, although the customer may have resided in and signed the contract in Austin. Recent legislation provides that henceforth, if a health spa and a customer come before the law, it will have to be in the city where the contract was signed.
WITH MY EYE ON MY pocketbook as well as my waistline, I again embarked on my search for a spa. The sign glares down at you from Burnet Road in Austin, and its message is appallingly clear—”Are You Sure You’re Just PleasantIy Plump?” Our Fair Lady is conveniently located next to Lady Yaring’s Fashions for the Full Figure. Inside Our Fair Lady, a sign reads: “What Lady Yaring’s Can’t Cover Up, Our Fair Lady Can Take Off.”
“Pow” colors of lollipop lime and fuchsia provide decor theme at Our Fair Lady, and the reducing machines are plentiful. It’s the same old washboard rollers and the dumbbells, but the names are changed to disguise the torture. My program at Our Fair Lady involved working out with dumbbells called “beauty bells,” leg-ups on fuchsia plastic slantboards called “Bahama boards,” a workout on a machine called “Hips Away,” and a barrage of huff-and-puff exercises called “Tummy Toners.”
My measurements were taken and my program supervised by Rhonda who, with her cohorts Janet and Terry, smiles cheerfully as she puts the ladies through the battery of machines and floor exercises. The girls stroll the floor in their black and fuchsia leotards and even have a kind word for the ladies’ children, penned in the “Kiddie Korral.” Rhonda told me my frame was “medium,” although I was beginning to think that it was “huge.”
Rhonda supervised my exercising and explained which exercises would whittle away which part of my body. We set up a series of goals for me, according to my measurements. Rhonda figured that I should lose 36 pounds and 3814 inches, which I could easily do if I attended Our Fair Lady at least three times a week for a year. She also explained that I would not. need to diet, but that Our Fair Lady would help me plan a series of meals to lose weight and a series to maintain my weight. She suggested that perhaps merely eliminating one or two items from my daily diet would help me keep my weight down.
After my exercise session, I was more than ready for the “wet area”—the whirlpool and steam room. Soapy showers are in order before entering the “wet area,” and the whirlpool is hot and bubbly after the exercises. I checked my egg timer carefully to be sure that I stayed no longer than the specified three minutes in either steam or whirlpool. While resting my weary body in the whirlpool, I chatted with the one older woman who was in the “wet area.” She told me that she had been coming to the spa regularly since she had an operation for a slipped disc. I asked if it had helped her and she said, “Oh, yes.” She had lost several pounds and a few inches. Her doctor had told her, “Keep up the good work!” We floated awhile and she confided, “You know, I have a woman at my home doing my housework for me while I come exercise at the spa.”
After my “soak-along,” Rhonda and I got down to money matters. Rhonda explained that women spent so much money on clothes and hair that surely a few dollars could be well spent on anew figure. I agreed, and she told me that Our Fair Lady could help me both lose weight and save money. The Executive Plan, in Rhonda’s words, was like buying a house; the Regular Plan was like renting one. The analogy escaped me.
Our Fair Lady’s Executive Plan cost a grand total of $450 for a period of 24 months. Fortunately for me, there were a few of their advertising specials remaining—but only a very few! I would have to act instantly to get in under the special, and I could save $IOO—making my Executive Plan cost $350. If I chose the Executive Plan, I could pay $175 down and pay out the total cost for 24 months at $18.08.
Under the “Rent-a-Body” Regular Plan, the total cost would be $250. The advertising special allowed a discount of $50, making the complete cost of the 12-month course $200. Also, under the advertising special, Our Fair Lady would allow me four extra months, bringing the total to 16 months at $18.66 a month.
I thanked Rhonda and said I would let her know when I had made my decision. Rhonda was reluctant to let me leave without having signed me up and stressed that the advertising special would soon be ineffective. She said that it was imperative that I sign up immediately, although she failed to show me a contract. When I asked to see the contract, she said that would be taken care of later. That evening Rhonda called me at home to let me once again take advantage of the advertising special. It seemed only one membership was left. When I called Our Fair Lady a week later, I talked to another girl who told me that indeed the salon was running an advertising special. “Would I like an appointment for a trial treatment and a figure analysis?” she inquired.
I later talked to the manager of Our Fair Lady, who explained that the spa has only a regular course which lasts one year. The salon usually runs a two-week special during the summer months. Summer is a slack time in spa circles, and most people come back from vacation ready to begin reducing and firming up again. The manager explained that I had just missed the two-week special, and he had no authority to extend it. Too bad! But summer comes around once a year!
“TRIM & SWIM! DO YOU LIKE the shape you’re in?” was the cheery telephone greeting at Central Texas’ oldest reducing salon. Established in Austin in 1964, Trim & Swim prides itself on having popularized health club services throughout Central Texas. When I called to inquire about the hours and days that women could visit the club (Trim & Swim alternates days for women and men), one of the women instructors turned me over to Bob to set up a trial appointment.
Trim & Swim restricts its sales department to men, and the women instructors are allowed only to show the women through the salon and to conduct the women’s exercise classes. Bob promptly turned me over to Terri, who was handling about 50 women in an exercise class, a combination of yoga technique and calisthenics. Several of these classes are held throughout the day, and most of the ladies in the gym were participating.
Trim & Swim attracts a large clientele, and on the morning that I attended, the gym was crowded and there were only three empty spaces in the parking lot. Every type of motor vehicle from an Eldorado to a pickup truck had brought the ladies for their morning of thumping and bumping around on the floor. Nothing is new and interesting in the exercise line at Trim & Swim—it’s the same old dumbbells, back reducing machine, leg lifts on the slant board, and a workout on the “Thighs Away,” a torture instrument billed as “Hips Away” by other salons.
The decor at Trim & Swim is not so exotic as at the newer health spas. The decorative motif is patriotic red, white, and blue; and the wet area (swimming pool, wet steam room, authentic Finnish sauna, and showers) is obviously much in need of paint. The entire place is run down. The Grecian statutes in the niches around the swimming pool were chipped, and the windows in the solarium where the customers sun were dirty and streaked.
You check your belongings in lockers and change in curtained areas. The changing rooms were dirty and badly in need of paint. Warning signs state that no one is to stay in the steam room or the mineral spa for longer than three minutes. (Terri had warned me not to stay over five.) Another sign stated that no one should enter the swimming pool unaccompanied.
The warnings should be taken seriously, as no attendant was in evidence during the time that I was in the wet area. The authentic Finnish sauna is a dry sauna that is quite hot, but not uncomfortable. The steam room was another matter. The tile benches were far too hot to sit on, and the temperature gauge was placed where it could not be checked. The two women with me in the steam room were standing in the middle of the room, and both left after one minute. One quipped, as she left, “1 can’t stand it. My eyeballs feel boiled.”
The mineral spa is located at one end of the swimming pool and is a jazzed-up whirlpool. Several older women in gaily flowered shower caps lounged in the area. While some women bobbed about and dog paddled in the swimming pool, no one swam. The swim part of Trim & Swim is the least used—by the women anyway.
Terri collected me after my stay in the wet area and offered me a peek into the eucalyptus inhalation room, a pleasant respite for sinus and allergy sufferers. She brightly asked me how I felt, and when I responded “Dead!” she informed me that the exercise and the steam were supposed to invigorate me and that I should be ready to tackle a day’s work.
I could barely limp into the office, where Bob and I tackled money matters. He explained the two types of programs that Trim & Swim offers to men or women—the Regular and the Executive plans. The Regular membership calls for an initial down payment of $25, which covers the first 50 days. Then the member pays a monthly membership fee of $16 for 24 months. For the Executive membership the down payment is $25 for the first 50 days, and then a monthly membership payment of $25 for 24 months. Then the Executive member is given six months free and may use all the club’s facilities thereafter for a payment of $50 a year.
Bob checked my health record in detail, asking such questions as “Do you have high blood pressure?” “Is your circulation poor?” (I was beginning to think that I might never circulate again.) The health record is quite detailed and designed to find out what exercises the customer should not perform. When we had finished the health record and Bob had checked my measurements, we got down to the nitty gritty of contracts.
Bob explained that Trim & Swim did not use a contract, but that the customer was asked to sign a Standard Retail Agreement. I asked to see the “agreement,” and he produced one for me to look over. It looked for all the world like a contract to me, and I asked if I might take it home for my “husband” (a non-existent being) to check over. He stated that he had only a few left, but that my husband might come to the club to look at the “agreement” if he liked. He also suggested that I check the Better Business Bureau for Trim & Swim’s record.
I checked with the BBB and found that Trim & Swim was the only reducing salon listed. The BBB informed me that Trim & Swim met its standards—they have to answer all customers’ complaints promptly and to the customer’s satisfaction.
Whatever the money matters indicate, Trim & Swim could do with expending some funds on a little paint and cleanup.
IF YOU’RE YEARNING FOR SYMPATHETIC company while you reduce, Elaine Powers Figure Salon should be just your cup of tea. Caution! Remove your shoes before you step onto Elaine Powers’ plush orange and fuchsia carpeting. And be prepared to be cossetted and babied through your exercise routine. It’s one big happy playtime, a jolly preschool for the fat ladies at the Elaine Powers salon in west Austin’s Balcones Square. Trisha, my guide through the machines, told me that Elaine Powers was the nation’s largest system of figure salons, with over 300 locations.
Trisha was in love with the whole Elaine Powers concept. “Isn’t it amazing?” she asked. “Doesn’t that feel good?” “Don’t you just love that?” I was supposed to love and be amazed at everything from the bright decor to the machines, which resembled the equipment in all the other salons I had visited. However, Trisha explained that the equipment had been especially designed by the Elaine Powers president, Dr. Richard Proctor.
Dr. Proctor had also designed the regimen for the fat ladies, but the exercises involved the same old weights and pulleys to coax the fat and the inches off. Trisha cautioned me not to work too hard or I would be sore. And she was amazed that I was so limber as I did my back and side kicks at the ballet barre. (After a week of exercising in the health spas, my legs felt like jelly.)
Over one of the limbering up bicycles hung the certificates of the various members who had shed from six to eight inches in seven lessons. Trisha was enthusiastic about the possibilities of my soon having my very own certificate posted there too, if I were a good girl and would come to the spa at least three times a week.
Even my measurements failed to dampen Trisha’s enthusiasm. She explained that I was not to worry about the appalling statistics, for Elaine Powers would have me whipped into shape in no time. Money would be no problem either, as Elaine Powers was running their special and I could sign up that very day.
The special, special feature of Elaine Powers is the Lifetime Maintenance Privilege, which I would have to sign up for when I enrolled initially. Under the Lifetime Maintenance Plan—costing $9 in excess of the enrollment fee—the customer could use the salon facilities for $5 a month for life after completing the course.
You have to be an expert in high finance to juggle all the programs and costs at Elaine Powers. The regular price of a four-month program is $36 plus the Lifetime Maintenance fee of $9—a grand total of $45. The regular price of a six-months program is $48 plus the $9 maintenance fee—at total of $57. The twelve-month program costs $84 and the customer gets the Lifetime Maintenance free.
Fortunately for fat me, I could for a very limited time have the four-month program plus LMF for $43; the six-months program for $51; and the twelve-month program for $66. Trisha pointed out to me that by taking advantage of the specials I could have eight months more of “fun exercise” for just $21.
I thought the costs were a little high, since you were paying only to exercise. (There are no whirlpools, swimming pools, or saunas at Elaine Powers.) When I asked if there was a contract to sign, Trisha said it would be better if we looked it over when I had decided which program I would like to take. Money was not important, said Trisha, as I would love “Team Time,” the very special feature of Elaine Powers. All the girls loved it, and I would too.
Several times each day all the girls at the salon lie about on the floor and sing songs while kicking, rolling, and tumbling about. Fat and inches simply flew away! According to Trisha, “Team Time” is the gay and fun way to lose weight together.
I mentioned the old bugaboo of all fat girls—dieting. Trisha said that indeed meal planning was important, and the staff at Elaine Powers stood ready to help me construct a meal plan to help me lose weight. She gave me a meal-planning sheet on which I was to write down every morsel I ate for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in-between meal snacks. To help make meal planning “fun,” apples with happy faces headed each column. A place to check “yes” or “no” for HAPPY DAY? ended my daily meal-planning adventure. Happy face apples were awarded to those lucky girls who had taken off the necessary pounds each week.
Trisha was careful to point out that there were a limited number of specials available and that I should climb aboard the Elaine Powers bandwagon of happy, fun losers. I literally fled from the salon, but, sure enough, there was Trisha on the telephone that evening at the dinner hour inquiring if I were ready to sign on the dotted line. Two weeks later the local newspaper was still advertising specials.
SAN ANTONIO OFFERS A PLETHORA of health and beauty spas. The Venus & Apollo Health Spas, located on Southwest Military Drive, offer a unique service in that a customer may simply pay $3 for each visit to use the equipment. No long-term membership programs are required.
Figure-Slim Reducing Studios are located at 4515 Fredericksburg Road, and at Basse Road and Blanco. The first, across from Wonderland Shopping City, advertises “Slender is Beautiful.” Mickey introduced me to the Figure-Slim program, which features the same old machines done up in a psychedelic red and purple decor. She explained that there were no contracts, no high pressure salesmanship, and no advertising. The salon’s business came mainly through referrals of slim, satisfied customers.
If you’re a devoted exerciser, you might rate being posted as the Member of the Month at Figure-Slim. The lucky member posted for the time I was there had lost six pounds and six inches in two weeks. Exercise classes were scheduled at regular times, and Mickey explained that if one used only the machines to lose weight, it would take a longer time. The maximum loss would be obtained only through exercise plus the machines.
Although there were no contracts to sign, Figure-Slim was running the omnipresent special for that week only. The two-month plan costing $29.50 would be extended for four months during “special” week. Figure-Slim also offered a revolving year plan, by which the customer paid $39.50 initiation fee for the first two months and then $10 a month thereafter. The yearly fee was $122 with a $44 discount for cash—a total of $78. During “special week” the yearly rate was extended to cover a two-year period.
Although the attorney general’s inquiry conducted in Dallas in June, 1973, found the process known as “Body Wrapping” to be highly questionable, with one physician testifying that the process was “pure quackery,” Figure-Slim still utilizes body wrapping. The wrapping process is conducted at the studion on Basse Road; naturally there was a special on. Body wraps were usually $12, but during “special week” a regular customer could purchase one for $10; three for $28; five for $45; and a series of ten for $85.
Mickey explained that the process was entirely harmless and the results were “spectacular.” She reported that some customers lost up to eight inches. Most salons have discontinued body wrapping in the wake of the inquiry which revealed that some spas claimed a weight loss of up to eight inches in the waistline alone. Mickey explained that the customer is smeared with an organic cream that constricts the muscles. Then the body is wrapped in Ace bandages, and, when unwrapped an hour later—presto, instant slimness!
As long as I was up for quick fat reduction, I felt game for anything. A sign posted over the mirror explained the “wrapping process.” Muscles are criss-crossed with fatty globs in between. “E”-llusion Contour Cream is used to compress the fatty globs; then the muscles when wrapped fuse together and supposedly firm the muscle tissue.
I was stripped of everything but my bra, smeared with “E”-llusion Contour Cream, wrapped in Saran wrap, and trussed up in a series of Ace bandages. The attendant had to help me onto my cot, as, in my mummy-Iike state, I could barely step forward. I lay there praying for the hour to pass, spread-eagled like a sacrificial victim waiting for the axe to fall. Movement was almost impossible, so turning the pages of the Reader’s Digest was a major effort.
I began to tingle, then to glow, and finally to itch. Scratching was impossible, and I prayed that “E”-llusion was truly organic. I could picture my skin coming off in strips with the Ace bandage. When my timer “dingged” I thanked God and vowea never to wrap so much as a radish in Saran wrap again. Round and round the attendant unwound the bandages—and behold the lovely vision! Nothing had changed but my skin—beet red! However, the tape measure told a different story. Indeed I had lost a sum total of 434 inches—but not where I needed it most. I lost 14 inch in my left arm, but my stubborn right arm remained filled with uncompressed fatty globs; my ribcage measured one inch less, as did my waist, abdomen, and hips; and my stubborn thighs had given up 14 glorious inch on each.
The attendant cautioned me not to bathe, not to exercise for two days, and not to eat a heavy meal. A sign posted in the studio, perhaps in the wake of the inquiry, states that heart patients may not have body wrapping. However, no one asked me if I were a heart patient or not. Two days later, when I measured myself, sure enough, there were the old fatty globs right back where they started.
Rayburn N. Meador, vice president of Texas Slenderbolic Health Studios and president of the Houston company which manufactures Slenderwrap, testified before the attorney general’s court of inquiry that the product he uses in his wrapping materials “works, is safe, and its effect is lasting.” He further stated that he had checked his materials and the process with a Houston doctor, who had told him that wrapping increases the cardiovascular load on the subject, but that even a “bedridden heart patient” could be wrapped without suffering any ill-effects.
Meador explained the process in court, stating that his chemically-treated wrap triggers the body’s temperature-control mechanism and leads to calorie and inch loss. When questioned about the specific formula for Slenderwrap, Meador replied that he did not know what was in the product. He further stated that, “as long as the public receives a benefit from it and they’re willing to buy it, I’m willing to sell it.” Slenderbolic’s advertisements had claimed that a person could “lose five to 15 inches in just one magic hour” with his bodywrapping process. When questioned, Meador testified that the total number of inches mentioned in the ads were based on measurements of five body areas and not the amount lost in a single place.
I checked out body wrapping with one studio in Austin that had discontinued it. The owner stated that they had used the process, advertising it as a temporary measurement for weight and inch loss, and had had some success with customers who had used it, along with diet and exercise at the salon. She explained that it became too difficult to get the supplies, too complicated to train the girls to do the wrapping, and that the customers began to look on it as the “nirvana” in weight loss.
MANY HEALTH SPAS HAVE CLEANED up their act and their advertising is not so flagrant, but the “hard sell” is still on in many. When I dialed Houston’s Slenderbolic studio on Post Oak, it was gentlemen’s day. However, the male manager I talked to couldn’t have been more pleased to hear from me. “I’d like to do business with you if I could,” he responded. “Come on over today. I’d like to sign you up!” I thanked him kindly and came the next day when it was ladies’ day. Slenderbolic is converting its Post Oak studio to all males and transferring its women clients to one of their satellite clubs.
The Post Oak studio is heavy on the mirrors and the red-flocked wallpaper, and light on cleanliness. The clash of steel and the clank of barbells testifies to enough machinery to make a Grand Inquisitor chortle with glee. Elaine showed me through the exercises. Slenderbolic has a mound of equipment and I worked out on the “swivolator” for my waist, the “hipolator,” and the “mini-track” for jogging. In addition, there was a passive room, where two machines alternately swing and sway first the upper part of the body and then the lower. A third machine jiggled my double chin and relaxed me, so that I would be ready for the “wet area.”
Hydrotherapy is definitely in order at Slenderbolic. I showered before the dry sauna, then again before the wet, and again when I emerged dripping from the swimming pool. I spent a few quick minutes in the “sun solarium,” a tiny room with a sun lamp.
The spa has plans for renovation when the clientele switches to all males, but for that moment it was decidedly second rate. The carpets were frayed and dirt was embedded around the walls. Three showers were out of order and the “wet area” had a number of broken tiles. I found a decided difference in the spas that catered to both men and women. The heavy rush of clientele obviously led to more machine breakdown and out-of-order appliances. As health spas are selling equipment and not services, it would be well for them to keep their houses in order.
But the “hard sell” was intact just the same. Karen guided me through the maze of contract talk, after showing me just what my measurements should be. More than ever, I was convinced that I was doomed to remain cased in fat. Karen explained that Slenderbolic had only one-year memberships, but that they are sold in individual units. The units were three—the exercise room, the wet area, and the passive room. One look and Karen decided that I did not need the passive room—it was sweat and strain for me. Each unit was normally price at $118 for the year, but I could have both units for $198 or all three—if I really insisted on being passive—for $264 a year. I could pay one-half of the fee now and one-half in 30 days. It looked like I was never going to get a 24-inch waistline without a short stay in the poor house. I considered running to Dallas, where Slenderbolic advertises “No Binding Contracts to Sign” and “Short Term Programs.”
THE WORDS OF JOHN KEATS—”A thing of beauty is a joy forever”—are emblazoned on Houston’s super spa—Presidents-First Lady. P-FL is decidedly the dernier cri of all Texas’s health clubs. The ambience is sheer Grecian decadence with the omnipresent array of Greek statues, plus murals for good measure. One mural, in Bathsheba’s Tepidarium (spa talk for swimming pool), featured a Greek goddess with breasts like Wonder Woman in an antique frieze of supergals.
I was strictly outré in my red spa suit, as Presidents-First Lady has a dress code. All fat ladies must exercise in black or purple leotards, to blend with the purple and silver opulent decor created around the lifesize portrait of Mrs. Richard Minns, the founder’s wife, that graces the entrance foyer. I entered the exercise area with hushed reverence, knowing that Houston’s richest and most beautiful come to shed their fat here.
The array of steel machinery was mind-boggling; the whole shebang of spadom was right there in one room. Clad in my too-large purple leotard and my too-short purple tights, I was soon whirling away like a champion—from stationary bicycle to mini-track; from rollers for my “underbust” to “twistaway” to whittle away my waistline. Even as the experienced spa-goer I had become, I was wilted at the end of the session.
Now the fun began! I was hustled off into the eucalyptus inhalation room, coyly decorated with one of those artificial-looking Greek beauties who looked as if she had never had a sinus problem in her life. Breathing deeply, I relaxed into quasi-somnolence, when Odelia, the spa’s attendant and an employee of the “system” for some 12 years, coaxed me into the dry sauna—desert heat and a piercing 140° to 160°. After my body became adjusted to the temperature, it was quite enjoyable. Some ladies even sipped Diet Shasta from the health bar while they roasted.
But the Desert Dry Sauna was just a warm up for the real thing—the wet sauna, registering 190°. A few minutes in the mineral steam not only opened my pores, I felt they were gone for life. One hardy soul, who looked like her lifestyle alternated between the tennis court and the mineral sauna, perched on the upper deck beating the dead cells from her arms and legs with a loofah. She remained there for at least ten minutes, but two were enough for me. I fled back into Odelia’s care, gasping for breath.
Then it was whoosh into the bubbling hot whirlpool bath. No relaxing and enjoying the swirling water though. Odelia coached me on how to use the water jets that exerted 40 pounds of pressure on various parts of my body—first the stomach, then hips, then the buttocks, even the inner thighs. Then swoosh from a rope into the icy Danish plunge, where the chilly water “closed up my pores and invigorated my entire body.”
Next, Odelia swathed me in towels and deposited me, feet over my head, on an S-shaped chair to “relax and let the blood rush to my brain.” After my brain had been fed to capacity, it was water-play time in Bathsheba’s Tepidarium. No dog paddling here! Clasp a plastic beach ball between your thighs and you can tighten up those so-important vaginal walls. Swim with it stretched out in front of you, kicking like fury, and you can tighten your upper arms.
I bypassed a pleasant respite in Cleopatra’s Beauty Bath, as I felt I had plunged, swished, and floated in enough water for life. For an extra charge, the P-FL customer can soak in luxurious naked splendor, just like Cleopatra, in a choice of milk, perfume, or bath oil. She can also apply her makeup, dry her hair under the dryer, or relax on a purple chaise in the makeup room.
Invigorated and relaxed to the point of exhaustion, I went through the maze of money with Sylvia. Presidents-First Lady offers two programs, and was offering specials I could take advantage of. The one-year program was $340 cash, with a $40 discount if you paid in full on the first visit. Sylvia explained that they would extend the membership for another full year if I joined at that time. The regular two-year program was $20 a month for 24 months or a sum total of $480 (again with a $40 discount offered). However, small print at the bottom of the flyer Sylvia showed me stated that the cash price was $480 (with a down payment of $50) and a finance charge of $50 (an annual percentage rate of 1034)—a total price of $530. Sylvia explained that if I wanted the two-year plan Presidents-First Lady would let me have it for only $10 down and would extend it for an additional two years.
The genial director of Post Oak Presidents-First Lady, Pat Hall, filled me in on the owner of the chain, Richard Minns, who was once quoted as saying, “Practically everything in excess is bad for you—with the exception of sex and exercise.” Minns also has a lifestyle that is mind-boggling: he was the first person to water-ski the perimeter of Lake Tahoe, the first American to dive from Acapulco’s seaside cliffs, and is an adventurer-sportsman of the first degree.
Minns has built his Presidents-First Lady chain into one with healthy assets, with nine clubs in Houston, ten in Dallas, and others in Fort Worth, St. Louis, and Rockford, Illinois. Minns also plans expansion into the New York City area. Minns’ spas, with their accent on the sensuous and their flamboyant decor, are obviously an extension of Minns’ own extroverted personality.
However, if you’re willing to pay the steep fee, Presidents-First Lady can be an experience in luxurious reduction and rates a supersmooth in getting it all together—every reducing machine known plus a multitude of hydrotherapeutic and sensuous indulgences.
IF YOU’RE SIGNING UP WITH any spa, beware of the fine print in the contract. Presidents-First Lady puts the “sign on the dotted line” part in a box and calls the customer’s attention to it. However, many spas are not so cautious—you can end up paying a hunk of money as interest charge. Barron’s reported in February, 1972 that health spa “membership sales usually are financed via promissory notes, the majority of which are sold to banks and other financing institutions. The latter, in turn, charge uncollectible notes against collateral reserves, which are accumulated by withholding agreed percentages from payments to the company for notes purchased.”
Beware also of clauses in contracts that allow you to discontinue time purchased if you are ill. Be sure that you notify the spa that you are ill and that you wish to discontinue the time. Notify them in writing and keep a carbon copy. One customer at Houston’s Presidents-First Lady had to write to the Better Business Bureau to get the spa to continue her contract. Another customer bought a Lifetime Executive Membership in Slenderbolic in Houston, and then found that the spa had lost all her papers. Fortunately, she had saved hers and the spa had to honor their contract.
Specials are good ways to try out spas to find out if they are suited to your needs. However, make sure you check on the original price for the program you are buying, and that what you are getting is really a “special.” One customer of Presidents-First Lady in the Dallas area reported to the attorney general’s court of inquiry that she paid $25 a month for two years for a double membership which allowed her husband to use the spa free of charge. She later learned that other members who had not signed up for the “double bonus” were paying only $15 a month.
Another dissatisfied customer testified that she signed a contract as part of a contest prize she had won. The spa represented to her that her membership would be extended for each week she did not attend the spa. She also testified that it took a doctor’s letter for her finally to get the extension.
AFTER TWO WEEKS OF STEADY spa-going, I was even more determined to get thin and to do it by Christmas. I was also determined that there had to be a spa that was suited to me—peculiar hours and no contract. Sure enough—there it was, inconveniently located on Ben White Boulevard in Austin, but open until nine at night and with flexible programs to suit the fat, not-so-wealthy girl.
I checked up on prices with the spa’s owner, Pat Rademacher, the thinnest, most chic grandmother I’d ever seen. When I asked about contracts, Pat said, “You don’t want a contract and neither do I.” La Belle Femme offers a goodly array of machines and an individualized program at a sensible price. Pat quoted me a one-month membership fee of $35. Or I could join for three months, coming six days, for $71. If I wanted only to use the front area—skipping the whirlpool, sauna, eucalyptus inhalation room, and sun lamp—I could pay $46 for three months. The one-year program cost $75, and I could pay half of the money when I joined and half in 30 days. There was also a two-month extension for illness or travel.
I opted for a three-day-a-week plan for three months for $48. I was weighed and measured by Camille, who was in the final stages of pregnancy and still doing leg lifts like an Olympic champion. Pat explained the diet program to me and gave me a diet sheet. She said that I was to keep a written record of what I ate and drank for one month. “Then it’s show and tell time. If you’re not losing weight, you show us your meals, and we tell you how to cut down.” The diet sheet contained a high protein plan with an inordinate amount of celery, cucumbers, and lettuce.
My program began under the watchful supervision of Dagmar, who resembled a games mistress with just a whiff of the Third Reich. If I faltered, there was Dagmar—”Let’s get those legs going one more time.” “Keep your arms close to your side and lift, Ann.” One-two-three and we were off. There’s no faltering and no nonsense at La Belle Femme. The program is strenuous and complete. The floor exercises are done on bright red carpeting—no clashing with my bright red spa suit—and the wall-to-wall mirrors let you see every bulge and every pucker.
Three times a week I diligently pursued my course. At the end of one month’s agony, I had shed 212 inches from my shoulders; my bustline remained an immovable mass—but then it hadn’t moved since my high school days; I had lost one inch in my waistline and a glorious four inches in the abdominal area. One thigh had shed 12 inch while the left one had led the race by shedding 34 inch. I had peeled off one inch in the hips and 112 inches in each of my arms.
For many ladies, the daily visit to the health spa is the high point on their social calendar. The spa becomes a place to meet old friends and discuss not only your body, but your husband—or someone else’s—and your children. While you sweat away in the sauna, you can exchange recipes and all the news from last night’s PTA meeting. There are no women’s-libbers in the spa world.
ONE EVENING THE WOMEN AT the spa found one lone lady lolling in the whirlpool, all the lights out with only one candle flickering while she floated. When they inquired about the dimness of the scene, she answered, “But it’s so sensuous to take a whirlpool bath by candlelight.” And sensuousness is a decided part of spa going. With all the accent on metabolism building and body slimming, working out three times a week focuses your attention on your body and your looks. And after the body-building exercises and the floating about in whirlpool and sauna, there are only three things you really want—food, drink, and sex. But not necessarily in that order!
THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE
THE CAPER HAS ALL THE elements of a Grand Guignol international intrigue—two aggressive owners of Houston health spas, two of the city’s most flamboyant attorneys, a former Houston policeman suspended from the force, a private detective, a cleaning woman, a black alligator briefcase, and a “croaker” sack tied with a blue string.
The action began when Robert Schwartz, a former employee of Richard Minns, owner of Presidents-First Lady, set up his own spa, Slenderbolic. First, Minns’ President’s Health Club and Ace Rican Silhouette Health Clubs filed a $2.2 million suit against Schwartz and his club alleging that Schwartz was “motivated by actual malice” in inducing customers away from Ace Rican. Schwartz was accused of taking for his own use the “secrets” concerning the operation and designs of Minns’ hydro-whirlpool baths, and of inducing both employees and customers from Ace Rican.
A district judge refused to enjoin Slenderbolic from operating its baths or from selling memberships to the club. However, he enjoined both owners from copying each other’s advertisements. Injunctions continued to be filed over the next year, and then Schwartz filed a $3 million damage suit against Minns accusing the spa owner of unfair competition and slander. The petition stated that the spa owner had since 1962 pursued “an unrelenting and vicious course of conduct in an attempt to drive Slenderbolic out of business.”
Then, in 1969, Schwartz and a former Houston police officer were indicted on charges of felony theft concerning records and plans of Presidents Health Club. The first count of the indictment alleged that former police officer Neal B. Todd stole a black alligator briefcase and a set of architectural plans and blueprints from Presidents Health Club. The second count alleged that Schwartz aided and advised Todd in the theft and the third count charged the duo with conspiracy.
Todd was arrested in the rear of the Presidents Health Club carrying a burlap sack filled with papers. Mrs. Gladys Dillon testified that Todd had approached her and represented himself as an FBI agent. He requested that Mrs. Dillon, a cleaning woman for Presidents Health Club, place papers from the executive office of Presidents Health Club in a “croaker” sack, tie it with blue string, and that she would be well paid. Todd was apprehended by private detective Clyde A. Wilson, but was acquitted of charges. His attorney, Richard (Racehorse) Haynes, stated that “Gladys Dillon got things confused.”
Minns’ attorney, former Houston district attorney Frank Briscoe, continued charges against Schwartz until Minns wired from St. Louis that a slipped disc prevented his returning to Houston to testify. The judge dismissed the charges, but Schwartz filed a $10 million damage suit against the Minns’ group. Then a former Southside police chief, William J. Holton, filed a $1.5 million suit against Schwartz, accusing him of malicious acts of intimidation and harassment after he testified against Schwartz. After that David R. Roller, vice president of the Presidents Health Club, got into action by filing a suit for $5 million against Schwartz, alleging that the spa owner had told members of the news media that Roller and others had sworn false and malicious testimony against him in the robbery suit.
Then Schwartz struck again! He filed a $6 million suit against Minns and First Lady again charging a “course of unfair and illegal business competition” designed to drive Schwartz and Slenderbolic out of business. Minns countered with an offer to buy Slenderbolic for $3 million. Peace finally reigned—after a total of $27.7 million in lawsuits and countersuits, two indictments for felony theft, and Minns’ slipped disc. However, Presidents-First Lady and Slenderbolic continue to compete for the fat ladies of Houston.