Can you loaf your way to a better figure?
Six million people a year think they can—by suffering shock, rattle and ferocious jiggling from an array of machines that offer exercise by proxy. And their willowy girths seem to prove it. But, say the doetors, maybe the figures lie
Since machines have banished most of the physical work from daily life, it's scarcely surprising that a booming business has arisen around machines purporting to do to the body what physical work used to do.
Today, according to the ads of assorted companies:
• the housewife, pausing only to load the Bcndi\ and set the automatic oven-timer, can curl up on the chaise longue, plug herself into the nearest outlet, and treat her system to the electronic equivalent of four hours of setting-up exercises while she manicures her nails;
• the executive can flop on a rocking couch in his office and get the good of thirty-six holes of golf while he dictates the afternoon mail;
• the motorist can check into a motel, flip a switch, and put his muscles through the paces of a ten-mile walk even as he naps off the effects of a six-hundred-mile drive;
• the office-worker can take her usual coffee break and get a four-thousand-stroke massage from an iron handmaiden while smoking her customary cigarette and reading a magazine.
And all these people, the same ads seem to promise, can thereby achieve the slim, trim shape of their dreams.
Push-button contraptions to knead, jiggle,
rock. jerk, pleat, tweak and pat the human form have been around in one form or another for a quarter-century or more.
But in the last five or six years, frightened by insurance-company statistics linking obesity and shortened life, bullied by the raging North American cult of youth and beauty, lured by the silken promises embodied in new promotion campaigns. eternally, wistfully ready to believe in magic, suddenly everyone wants an engine-turned figure.
In 1958 five million customers in the U. S. lined up to use one or other of the devices in reducing salons and health parlors. Another million bought them for home use. In the same period five hundred thousand Canadians used reducing machines in salons and twenty-five thousand took them home. Though the boom spilled over the border from the U. S. less than four years ago. it's already a twenty-million-dollar-a-year industry here. When Silhouette, the latest of three big U. S. salon chains to enter Canada, opened its suburban Toronto studio last May it signed up two thousand clients before its telephone was even listed.
So many new outfits have moved into the field that it was possible, not long ago. for a broke, hut enterprising CBC employee in Toronto to embark on a mildly larcenous program. Having suddenly found herself ten days short of a big date and a full size beyond her best dress, she made a list of the reducing concerns that offered trial demonstrations and started telephoning.
Nine days later she had sampled the services of eight different salons, tried three kinds of reducing equipment in her own home and shucked, for free, three surplus inches from her waist and two from her hips.
Attenuated, grateful, and wholly awed, she looked back on the experience and remarked, “Now 1 know how' a figure feels when it’s fed through Univac!"
The machines are all. certainly, designed to process figures every bit as inert as mathematical data; they fall, however, into four different groups:
• devices that trundle. These are akin in principle to the simple rolling-pin. One example, called a roller-massager, is a low’ paddle-wheel against which the client leans his bulges. Another, called a ring-roller, is a corselet of heavy coiled springs that clasps the customer upright while it churns up and down from knee to waist. Such units are featured, along with more old-fashioned gym equipment, in health studios like those of the international Silhouette chain or the strictly Canadian Maxine chain.
• devices that shimmy. These range from vibrating cushions and hand-rollers, sold to consumers for a few dollars in department stores and discount houses, to vibrating couches, with complicated control panels, sold either as salon equipment or for home use. They also include the Niagara Cyclo-Massage line of home units, incorporated in cushions, upholstered chairs, footstools and chaises longues and described as having a “cycloid action." According to a distinction made by Niagara—but unheeded by medical experts or the U. S. Food and Drug Administration — a simple vibrator makes a penny (or a body) jounce up and down; cycloid action makes it jounce round in a circle.
• devices that waggle. The two arch rivals in the salon-treatment field. Stauffer and Slcnderella, both promote couches saddled with pads that rock like old-fashioned treadles. The client can lie with any part of his body on the treadle.
• a device that pulses. Relax-A-cizor. a home unit peddled by a U. S. firm that entered the Canadian market last May, allows you to tune in an electric current on your muscles till they start kicking and relaxing beneath the skin.
In Canadian homes and in chic salons, machining the fashionable figure lias become a 320-million business
Some salons employ Russian princesses and provide kennel space for poodles and Pekingese
The proprietors of all the devices add diets to the regime if they guarantee genuine weight loss. For, though the devices differ in detail, one feature is common to their promotion: girth reduction is distinguished from weight reduction. The first two groups, the fleshpaddlers and the vibrators, are compared with hand massage and are claimed to streamline the customers by shaking loose and redistributing fatty deposits on the body. The Slenderclla and Stauffer couches, and the Relax-A-cizor unit are claimed to exercise the customer’s muscles for him, thus snapping him back into shape.
And undoubtedly an essential factor in the phenomenal spread of the so-called passive reducing craze is that the devices seem to work.
The companies involved can all produce thick files of case histories and testimonials from customers to support their claims. A Fort William matron who has bought a Relax-A-cizor writes the Toronto head office after only six treatments to boast she’s already lost an inch and a half from her waist and two inches from her stomach. A Toronto office manager says she's dropped an inch from her hips in the three weeks she’s owned her Stauffer home unit. A Slenderclla audit of its hundred and seventy-odd salons records the disappearance of thirtysix million inches from various parts of its customers’ frames in a single year.
Beauty magazines like Vogue and Mademoiselle write uncritically of slenderizing machines in their editorial pages; influential clients use and endorse them, and the various proprietors thereupon bandy the names publicly. Relax-A-cizor claims Lome Greene, Jack Carson and Doris Day. Stauffer claims the current Miss Canada, Bob Simpson of the Ottawa Roughriders, singer Joan Fairfax, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Princess Grace of Monaco. Both Stauffer and Relax-A-cizor claim Gisele Mackenzie. Both Sienderella and Niagara Cyclo-Massage claim Arthur Godfrey.
So the boom keeps spreading. Sienderella, with headquarters in Stamford, Conn., now has salons in such exotic resorts as Honolulu, Caracas, the Riviera and Paris, as well as in sober centres like Zurich, Brussels, Amsterdam and Dusseldorf. It s also negotiating to go into Russia. “When the chips are down," explains Larry Mack, the thirty-nine-yearold owner of the Sienderella empire. “Russians will whistle at what we whistle at."
Mack has not yet broached Africa, a discovery that dismayed a Chicago matron two years ago. She was going on safari into Swahili country and wrote to ask Sienderella for the address of the handiest salon, so she could keep up her treatments.
But Stauffer is negotiating to enter both Africa and the U k and has tapped the Australian and Mexican markets as well. The third big U. S. salon chain, Silhouette Figure-Form International, is already in London as well as Mexico City.
All three—-and dozens of different manufacturers of dozens of other devices
—also peddle home units (Slenderella’s and Silhouette’s have not yet been launched in Canada). One order for a Stauffer home unit came a couple of years ago from Soraya Pahlevi, then Queen of Iran. Apparently she had succeeded in convincing her tradition-minded spouse that the machine was an aid to Yoga, so he allowed her to buy two and set them up in the women’s quarters. Not long ago a young jet pilot from Trenton. Ont., bought and smuggled a Stauffer unit into barracks: he thought his hips were spreading from the long hours spent in the cockpit.
And when Seawolf, the U. S. atomic submarine, set sail for sixty days under Arctic ice, twenty Relax-A-cizors were packed along for the crew. Gourmet meals were scheduled to offset boredom, so the Relax-A-cizors had been provided to offset the gourmet meals. Though the U. S. Navy Department has issued no official comment, Relax-A-cizor claims the submariners all reduced in size despite two months of stuffing themselves on rare goodies.
Yet some students of the body, its mechanism and functions, claim scientific proof is lacking that any one of these contraptions can actually lessen the girth of limbs or torso. “No recognized medical principle is involved in any of them,” says Dr. John Crawford, of the Department of Physical Medicine at Toronto’s Western Hospital. A spokesman for the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of Toronto reports, “We don’t acknowledge any such thing as passive exercise.” Lloyd Percival, director and head coach of Sports College for fifteen years, is even blunter: “We’ve had ’em in here and tested them," he says. “You
can get more good out of chewing a wad of gum.”
Yet most consumers never hear such outspoken comments; instead they encounter plausible explanations of the machines’ working principles, testimonials from successful reducers, written guarantees given in obvious good faith—and, often, apparently convincing clinical reports.
The Stauffer motorized couch, introduced into Canada in the fall of 1955, is a case in point. It is the invention of a California biochemist named Bernard Stauffer. Stauffer, now 55, is a big silvercrested man with just the air of handsome sincerity that admen like the family doctor to have in a TV commercial. He designed the couch as part of a study on blood circulation, claims he found the users were losing weight and inches, and made it the mainstay of a reducing salon he opened in Los Angeles in 1938.
For three hundred and thirty dollars the customer can buy a couch for home use or—if she’s female—can use a more elaborate version at one of ten Stauffer salons across Canada. The average cost of a salon treatment is two dollars but, after a trial demonstration, the customer is expected to sign a contract for a course, custom-tailored to her needs, which may cost her anywhere from fiftyfour to a thousand dollars.
The customer lies down on the couch with her hips on the motorized cushion. The technician throws a flat sandbag across her hipbones and turns on a switch. The Stauffer cushion rocks like an old-fashioned treadle, about a hundred and twenty times a minute, so the customer’s pelvis bounces rhythmically. One Toronto octogenarian finds this ac-
tion so like horseback riding that, ever since her stables were sold for subdivision a couple of years ago, she’s been turning up at the salon every morning sharp at eight for an hour’s canter. The machine will also rock the shoulders and other parts of the body both back and forth and sideways.
Gravity keeps the rest of the customer’s body on the couch and Stauffer claims the tension and relaxation of muscles connecting the moving and stationary parts constitute exercise. The exercise is supposed, in time, to strengthen back muscles, thus correcting all posture defects, thus improving circulation, thus carrying off fatty deposits more efficiently, thus streamlining the customer.
Since the muscles are indeed being stretched and slackened, this account seems reasonable. “Nonsense!” says Dr. Charles M. Godfrey of Toronto, an outstanding specialist in physical medicine. “Absolutely no exercise is taking place.” Godfrey’s explanation: the flexing of a muscle by an external force can only and merely keep the joint limber; for some reason, voluntary flexion, dictated by the motor centres in the brain, alone has any power to affect the body as an organism. According to medical theory, improvements in muscle performance result from a sophistication of the brain; they neither begin nor end in any change in the inert red meat, called muscle, that the brain governs.
Lloyd Percival, of Sports College, agrees cheerfully. "It’s the squeezing you do yourself that makes the difference,” he says.
These strictures apply equally to Slenderella’s rocking table. The Sienderella salon system, which was only eight years old last May, followed hard on Stauffer’s heels into Canada, and now has three Toronto salons and one in Montreal.
Slenderclla’s founder and owner is an ex-naval paymaster from Missouri, Larry Mack. A bustling, hard-headed young businessman, Mack decided early to get into some line that filled a universal need, researched the reducing industry (including a Stauffer branch, where he worked a short stint) and opened five salons in the New York area in 1950. He’s now opening them at the rate of ten a month.
If he was a relatively late starter. Mack nevertheless made two vital contributions that helped trigger the reducing boom: he introduced it to chic, and he introduced it to advertising. Not long ago Mack recalled. “Sure, several reducing concerns were in the field. But no one had ever civilized them.”
Civilization, in Mack’s terms, required a designer for his salon interiors, with instructions to provide kennel space for poodles and Pekingese where necessary; it required two Russian princesses and a Greek-born marquise on the payroll and it required a budget as high as five million dollars a year for glamour advertising.
The application of advanced packaging methods to the human form was probably inevitable, but Mack, almost overnight. made it stylish and—since others in the industry soon followed suit— helped start the boom.
Relax-A-cizor. a form of figure-packaging so advanced as to verge on science fiction, followed the boom into Canada last May and established sales offices in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Toronto. A unit solely for home use, it consists of a control panel in a small carrying-case, with electrodes to be applied to the skin directly over various key sets of muscles. When the machine is switched on, the closed .¿electrical circuit produces regular contractions of the muscles at the rate of forty a minute. This is claimed to constitute exercise.
Like Stauffer's and Slenderella's, RelaxA-cizor's basic premise seems plausible. It is a principle that was recently introduced to the University of Western Ontario by two doctors who wanted to enable patients to “walk” while lying under anesthetic, in order to lessen the danger of blood clots forming during an operation.
But Dr. Godfrey, the Toronto specialist in physical medicine, claims this isn't exercise either: the brain isn’t involved. “Under complete inactivity, as in paralysis,” he adds, “muscle will atrophy, shorten. Electric impulse can arrest the process for about forty days. But normal muscle will never shorten and electric impulse therefore can do nothing at all for it.”
.The Food and Drug Directorate of the Department of Health in Ottawa, however, was sufficiently impressed with the firm’s proffered clinical evidence of girths reduction to okay its advertising. The directorate did no tests of its own. Since submission of advertising to the directorate is not compulsory, this is the only device whose claims the Department of Health has examined.
The machine itself was invented by a U. S. electronics engineer, William Browner, and first put on the market after the war. The standard nine-pound pack costs aboq£ two hundred and thirty dol-
lars in Canada; a deluxe version, costing three hundred and seventy-five dollars, adds togetherness to the other listed benefits: it has dual controls, and the manufacturers suggest that husband and wife put it between them in bed and twitch simultaneously. Some tw'o hundred thousand single or tandem customers own Relax-A-cizor units.
Relax-A-cizor is building its business on a single reducing device; American Health Studios has built a twenty-milliondollar-a-year empire, with three hundred branches in four countries, by assembling many reducing gadgets in its Silhouette Studios and turning the customers loose among them.
In seven Canadian cities, on a special membership plan, a customer can have the run of the place for two years for sixty dollars.
The parent company itself makes about fifteen devices, but it buys many more from other manufacturers. They include mechanical massagers and vibrating devices, but they also include such aids to active exercise as stationary bicycles and bar bells. “We work on the principle of take ’em all, plus our own,” said a spokesman in Toronto not long ago. “That way the odds are in our favor that we can do more for people than any other outfit.” Two million women are currently giving them every chance.
At least one Canadian firm, Canadian Slenderizing and Gym Equipment, with its own chain of Maxine studios from coast to coast, operates on the same inclusive principle.
And scores of independent salons in cities across Canada buy or rent equipment from these and other manufacturers, and set up in the reducing business for themselves. Insofar as they feature
either mechanical massagers or vibrators as the mainstay of a slimming program they run contrary to medical opinion. A U. S. physician. Dr. S. W. Kalb, testified before a congressional subcommittee in 1957 that six weeks of twice-weekly massage of an arm and a leg left it the same as the unmassaged arm and leg in the same patients. In cases where the patient dieted simultaneously, both massaged and unmassaged limbs showed the same girth loss.
There is also some suggestion that if mechanical massage is severe enough it can actually bruise the skin and damage the underlying tissue.
On the beneficial effects of jouncing cushions, chairs, beds and other mechanical vibrators, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is quite explicit: it flatly labels “false" the claims on their behalf for reducing w'eight, eliminating worry and alleviating disease conditions.
Power of positive shrinking
At least one question suggests itself in all this.
If the independent experts are right in deprecating the devices, and the proprietors are wrong, how did the CBC employee who had eleven treatments in nine days lose five inches? How come Mrs. John Crawford—wife of the same Dr. Crawford at Toronto's Western Hospital who says, “You can only lose weight by cutting down food"—lost w-eight and felt better through a slenderizing course? How are nearly six million customers a year being hoodwinked?
The experts say they have an answer. They continue stoutly to deny that testi monials and commercial case histories no matter how high they're piled—constitute clinical proof. They continue stoutly to maintain that the devices arc
based on no known biological fact and no accepted medical theory. They say the customers are being fooled, all right —but only on a technicality. They may indeed lose weight and inches—but they do it in the tedious, troublesome, oldfashioned way, by diet and exercise. The CBC employee and Mrs. Crawford and many of the other six million probably get the total psychological and physical benefit of a simple, initial decision to do something about their figures. “It’s the power of positive thinking,” says Lloyd Percival.
The customer who buys a machine or enrols in a salon may automatically get body conscious; he or she is more apt to cut food intake, to walk instead of drive, to help the program along. He will remind himself more frequently to stand up straight: and if he does, he will automatically reduce the measurement of his waist. He hopes the machine will work, so he helps without noticing it, and it becomes a routine.
Doctors, who agree that most serious obesity stems from emotional problems, say the customer's really buying sugarcoated self-help. One of them added recently, “It's our fault if people go to these places: we haven't time: we don’t pay any attention; we don’t tell people what we know.”
Dry assent comes from an unexpected quarter. Consumer Reports, a publication devoted to evaluating retail merchandise, appraised some of the slenderizing devices on the market last year. It found the claimed slimming effects “conjectural "
But it added, “If the . . . program has special value, it is as a form of psychotherapy—and. at two dollars a visit, may deserve consideration as a good buy in that area." ★