Can you buy Victoria’s Secret model-worthy flat, toned abs? (Not counting that gym membership...) We're taking navel-gazing to a whole new level. Alessandra Codinha reports:
I am something of a recent health convert. I used to think working out was for masochists, or for people who couldn’t think of any better way to entertain themselves. ‘You want to be skinny? Eat less.’ Well, I have seen the error of my ways, namely in that when I work out and eat well, I feel amaaaaaaaazing (which is both so utterly boring to read—apologies—and the utter trick of it all, because once you’ve gone all exercised and green and juice-y, it’s quite hard to return, guilt-free, to the love and loaf lifestyle). Which is to say nothing of the physical results: I feel like I have abs, for once. I’m very pleased about that. BUT! Feeling like you have abs is one thing; proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you have abs is another. And there are all these advertisements, you see, on television and in the back pages of magazines for gadgets and spa treatments that promise to “sculpt,” “tone,” or “trim,” whatever excess inventory you’ve got. We know, all of us, that there’s just no feasible way any of these things can really do anything. And yet, there’s this sort of nagging thought: what if they do?
In the interest of crop tops, bathing suits, science, etc., I decided to deliver myself unto the world of seemingly magical, non-surgical body-tightening to see if any of it worked. And? I have been run through with so much electronic current that I could probably charge your cell phone; I’ve encountered at least one instance of head-needling, and have paid to expose my denuded body to more women bearing measuring tapes than I had ever thought possible. Read it and weep. (Hopefully you won’t weep.) And stay tuned for Part 2, in which we will discuss the huge variety of bottled, over-the-counter options for your bod.
[Disclaimer: I am a huge fan of the human body. I think it's a goddamn miracle. But that's not what this story’s about. This is about the American dream of Maximum Results with Minimal Effort. Got it? OK. Let’s get physical.]
THE TREATMENT Bliss FatGirl Firm: Bliss is very “You go, girl” in their cartoon-y branding and user-friendly directions and packaging, and everyone who works at their spas, in my experience, is very friendly and supportive (“You’re so skinny! You don’t need this,” said one lovely aesthetician while wielding her measuring tape). This is sort of ironic, considering the amount of times within the spa/on their packaging that I read the patently unfriendly and playground-cruel word “FatGirl _____.” Checking in and explaining that you’re there for the “FatGirl Firm Treatment,” for example, or checking out with a can of “FatGirl SixPack,” or tub of “FatGirl Slim,” “-Scrub,” or “-Sleep” is not unlike how I imagine it would feel to wait at a pharmacy for your embarrassing prescription while living in fear that they will announce over the loudspeaker that they’ve run out of your anti-diarrheal/warts/etc. medication, and would Alessandra Codinha mind coming back later? And Oh by the way, you’re fat, or You think you’re fat, and either will have other patrons giving you serious side-eyes. I thought a lot about “fat” during the research for this article. I began to care more about whether other people thought I thought that I was fat, as if I should be an example to aestheticians and eavesdroppers, rather than asking for a magic six-pack. There was also a lot of nudity (on my part) in front of the clothed, and more measuring tapes around my person than I’ve ever employed personally. (I’m more of an “If the pants fit…” type.) If I didn’t have a body image issue before I started doing this, I definitely could now—or anyways, I am keenly aware of my exact measurements for the first time in my life, at least what they were when I went to these places. [Note: Bliss also provides brownies in their waiting room, which seems to be a sort of mean trick, but, then, not everyone waiting is thinking as much about their midsection as I was. (I think?)]
THE PROCESS The procedure itself consists of stripping down and slipping on those strange paper underpants they give you at the bad waxing places, complete with a bralet, which is sort of like a stretched out SARS mask that goes over your shoulders instead of your ears. You are measured (hips, waist, thighs), slathered with some “guarana ointment” (caffeine, featured in a lot of the Bliss FatGirl products, is a vasoconstrictor, which temporarily tightens the skin and also dehydrates fat cells, making the skin smoother), and an algae-colored thermal mask that is mixed in a gigantic bowl in front of you. Prone on a heated table, you’re draped in cool cloths while you await the strategic placement of small wire-connected pads (under your butt, all over your torso, on the tops of your thighs). The machine is flipped on, which provokes a relatively gentle (I had them turn it up all the way, in the name of science) stinging sensation for around four seconds, followed by a two-second release—any unpleasantness was helped along by a subsequent head/arm massage and paraffin foot treatment—as an electrical current stimulates your muscles, “tensing and toning them...encouraging the lymphatic drainage of toxins” according to my aesthetician. I felt a bit like I was undergoing electroshock therapy (being all wrapped up and periodically pulsed in an acquatically-colored room will do that to a girl, even if someone is kindly stroking her hair. Maybe especially if someone is kindly stroking her hair.) However: after it’s all over, there is some quick-fading redness and another measuring, and there are Results. I lost about 2 inches from all the measured areas combined. (This, they tell you up-front, is mostly water weight and will not last for more than a day or two, but it begins to make sense why some patrons— “while detoxing” —come every other day to encourage toxin-purging.)
FEELS LIKE A group of annoyed hornets, coming at you in waves.
THE RESULTS Temporary, but definite.
THE TREATMENT Tracie Martyn Ruby Ray Treatment and Ultimate Face and Body Resculpting Package: Tracie Martyn is nothing if not a wizard of chic, calming, and cleansing energy. Everything is very white in the spa, which I always like (Emily and I are alike in the summer whites category) and seemingly every surface is littered with thank you notes from A-list clientele. (Kate Winslet, rather charmingly, scribbled over a nude portrait of her from a Vanity Fair shoot: “Thank you Tracie...for my face AND my bottom! Love you all,” and her signature is over her bared left haunch.) Plus, Tracie’s husband, Marius, is a nutritionist, and they have the term “BodySculpting” trademarked, so I figured I was in the right hands.
THE PROCESS I was directed to what looked like a tanning bed but is actually lined with red LED lights, apparently a concept gleaned from astronaut space-care (I was sold at “astronaut”): red light has healing and rejuvenating properties on skin. After 15 minutes on the bed, I was soothed to the point of near-snoring, and so relaxed that when I entered Tracie’s office and my robe was whisked off and foreign hands began cupping and assessing my various body parts, I didn’t even flinch. At one point, there were three different people working on me at once with small electronic prods that Tracie designed. It was like being captured by very gentle and chic aliens. The electronic current didn’t hurt at all, and felt sort of like what I imagine it will be like to be pampered in the year 2225. Afterwards, my skin felt smoother and tight everywhere they’d worked on (admittedly, it wasn’t exceptionally loose before), though there was no before-and-after measuring. As for how I felt? I would marry that Ruby Ray light bed (if it asked me). Allegedly the DVF regularly (like, once a week) gets the treatment, to which I say, yeah, why not? I floated out on a tight-skinned cloud, prompting a friend to admire how “blissed out” I looked. Which is what we all want, right? Especially during bikini season.
FEELS LIKE Heavy pampering. Zero pain or discomfort, despite light probing. Lasting zen.
THE RESULTS To the naked eye, probably not? To me, sure.
THE TREATMENT Shellie Goldstein AcuBody Sculpting: This is very Fifth Element—another machine, more wire-connected pads, though no cloths or body masks—coupled with a soupçon of Eastern medicine (there is an introductory conversation about your bowel movements, for one, and a discussion of various balances of ‘humors’ in your body—do you ever have a bitter taste in your mouth? That’s your malfunctioning liver sending bile everywhere. Or something.). You also have the option of getting simultaneous acupuncture (which, being your devoted guinea pig, I obviously went for), which means ten or so needles in your ears (where they work to re-establish the body’s inner balance, improve muscle tone, and create physical and mental wellbeing) and scalp.
THE PROCESS This was my first experience with acupuncture, and I was assured it is generally more relaxing when the muscles in your torso aren’t also contracting every 20 to 30 seconds. At first I didn’t think much of anything was happening, because it just felt like a steady vibration on my stomach, and then I gestured with my left arm during a pulse and it snapped up to my shoulder, where it remained until the pulse released. “Every contraction of the abdominal muscles is essentially like doing a perfect sit up,” the aesthetician, Joey Siegel, explained. “You’re optimizing what you’ve already got.” I watched my muscles twitch for the full treatment, and left feeling like I’d magnified that morning’s workout. They recommend 10 sessions (at $160 a pop) to see serious and lasting results, though considering it was relatively quick (under 30 minutes), and there was no mask to wash off or noticeable red marks, you could go during a lunch and come back to the office with no one the wiser.
FEELS LIKE On the lower levels, a vibrating cell phone. On the higher levels, a light (though not painful) muscle spasm.
THE RESULTS Measurements are taken and charted for you, and I lost some inches, but it feels like a good work out, which is nice, considering you just lay there.
THE TREATMENT Body Healing's Lymphatic Drainage Massage: Freaked out by all the electricity involved thus far? Well, there comes a point when even the most adventurous among us craves something more…lo-fi. Welcome to the unplugged slimming method.
THE PROCESS Body Healing Massage’s offices are seriously no-frills (like “Am I in the right place...?” no-frills), but Stuart Bragdon, the one-time body-work pro for the NYC Ballet (so he’s some seen some shit in so far as professionally beaten-up and warped bodies) and so-gifted-it-literally-hurts resident therapist gently (and then not so gently) works out your kinks, with soft fluttering fingers over your lymph nodes to encourage toxin-draining and rougher kneading on the places you need it. You leave feeling not only slimmer (any puffy or bloated senses evaporate) but jolting with blissful energy; no electricity required. I am hooked.
FEELS LIKE An excellent, knowing rub-down. Like you’re a car, and someone’s getting all the gears back in order.
THE RESULTS Visible. And the whole shebang is posture improving, too. Posture helps everything.
Stay tuned for part 2 of our adventures in body slimming (the products!). Alessandra Codinha photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on June 19th, 2013.