Back Before We All Had Personal Trainers, Vinyl Kept Us Fit And Trim.
By Lynn Peril
BACK IN THE Golden Age before the so-called "CD revolution," there was an instructional record for just about everything. Ventriloquism lessons, anti-communist rants, sex education--it all found its way to a seven- or 12-inch platter at some point in time. Most of it will never be released on CD. I mean, I doubt there's a large demand for digital copies of the Church of Latter Day Saints' What Is A Mormon LP. Nonetheless, we are committed to saving these records from a certain future at the landfill. Join us, then, for an exploration of charm and beauty on vinyl.
Face it, no matter what our physical appearance is, we hate it. We're too fat/too skinny/too short/too tall/too hairy/not hairy enough or have a bland personality. But despair not, because the following records can help!
"Hello there...I'm Wendy Ward. Beauty is learned...and earned...you'll never find it sitting on a mushroom," reads the label on side two of The 20 Day Wendy Way to Charm, although there's no hint as to why we might be sitting on a mushroom to begin with.
"Wendy Ward" was Montgomery Wards Department Stores' teen girl mascot, and it's she herself who narrates this two-record set, along two other nameless voices, one female ("our personal charm director") and one male ("our ambassador at large"). The idea here is that you listen to the record every morning for 20 days, consulting the accompanying "Passport to Charm." This brochure was long gone from my record set, but it sounds like it was mostly meant for charting one's progress.
And what, pray tell, is charm? According to Wendy and crew, it's "a perfect blend of outer and inner graciousness." How are your manners? Are you well groomed? What about your figure? Your posture? Well then, how about your facial expressions, diction and grammar? Not perfect? Well, then you need this record! The advice here runs from a recommendation that fattening foods be thought of as "ugly pills," to the suggestion that "the next time you feel the urge to be rude, remember that rudeness is the devil's gift to a self-conscious girl, and you don't want people to think you're self-conscious."
Of course not, Wendy. The advice starts getting a little thin around Day Number Eight, when the daily assignment is to "try a new food." Although these records are from 1963, Wards apparently held an in-store version of the course for customers up into the '70s or early '80s.
While Wendy says a mere three minutes of exercise morning and night, every day, is the key to a beautiful figure, the folks at Harper's Bazaar magazine would beg to differ. Their record, Bazaar's Secret Formula For A Beautiful New You (undated, but probably from about 1963), features a photo of a babe in a gold lame swimsuit, and a gatefold construction that ensures the accompanying printed matter won't get lost.
And forget that "20-day business"--this record provides a nine-day diet along with nine "Wonder Exercises" and nine "Relaxing Exercises," all set to music. The exercises were designed for Bazaar by the "famous fitness authority" Nicholas Kounovsky, who narrates the records in his gentle Russian accent.
No high-impact aerobics set to blaring modern music here--you might just fall asleep while listening to this. The exercises themselves are decidedly non-strenuous; in fact, I'd consider them only stretches. The editors at Bazaar obviously held no illusions as to their effectiveness: One of the fashion tips included in the printed material suggests that you "make a friend of your corsetiere...let her suggest a wardrobe of girdles and bras that do the most for your figure."
Jack LaLanne, on the other hand, made a living as a TV fitness guru, and judging by the size of his biceps, he spent more than little time practicing what he preached. According to the back of his 1959 album, Glamour Stretcher Time, Jack opposed fad diets, preaching instead proper nutrition and regular exercise. The Glamour Stretcher looks like it was an early relative of the rubber bands used nowadays at gyms to increase resistance while exercising. And the music--"peppy" doesn't do it justice. In fact, if you can imagine working out in a roller rink in 1959, you may have some idea of what the cover calls the "delightful organ music" contained within.
Now, if you're disturbed by the previous paragraph's revelation that I have indeed recently seen the inside of a gym, you might want to track down a copy of Reduce Through Listening. Essentially, this is supposed to work by providing subconscious suggestion. Put the record on the turntable, and lean back as Edwin L. Baron, Ph.B. (that's a bachelor of philosophy) talks... really... slowly... about... how... you... should... relax... thoroughly... until you just want to rip the needle off the record and scream, "I'm frigging relaxed already, buddy!" About two hours later, he finally suggests that "you will be unable to eat sugar, starches, fats or oils," about eight or 10 times in a row. Then, no doubt sensing your rising blood pressure, he starts in with the relaxing business again, until you're ready to scream again. I guess I'm a bad candidate for hypnosis. Both sides are identical, "since this particular record is meant to be played daily over a long period of time, and may eventually lose some of its quality." My favorite part is when he says, "I want you to visualize the worst odor you ever smelled." Dude, I see the smells, I hear the flavors!
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