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Rolling for Dollars

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Christopher Gardner

When fat cells meet a rolling pin, dreams fall flat

By Cecily Barnes

The pitch sounds too good to be true--an effortless weight-loss method. No late nights at the gym or cottage cheese breakfasts; no plastic surgery or diet pills that get you wired--just 15 to 20 painless trips to the beauty salon and my fat cells would become flat as pancakes, their plumping oils squeezed right out. This is the plan related to me by massage therapist Mimi Pressler, who calls Metro before the holidays, boasting about a steel-and-rubber rolling pin that could smash fat right off the body.

I agree to give it a go; just the prospect that the darn thing might work makes me giddy. I immediately email my editor, singing the tool's praises and informing her that next time she sees me, I'll look like Barbie. Next, I call my boyfriend and tell him to pull out the lingerie--I'd soon be a new woman.

Pressler meets me at Lily's Salon in San Jose, where nearly a dozen women fiddle with formulas and treatments that promise thin thighs, vanishing cellulite and a perfect perm.

While undressing for the treatment, I feel the same as the day I tore the plastic off Richard Simmons' Deal-A-Meal cards or received Weight Watchers' "Week One" menu. Every time, I suspected the miraculous transformation promised could not be possible, that body shapes were hereditary and quick fixes doomed to failure. But a little part of me held out hope.

When Pressler returns, she pulls three steel rolling pins from her bag, each covered with blue-and-white rubber bumps. She rolls the pin across my stomach like a lop of dough, at first slowly, then much more vigorously. She rubs and rubs for about 20 minutes, until she is somewhat winded, and then tells me to sit up and look for any change. I reach down and grasp the small roll of fat that has been on my stomach since age 15--and am shocked to discover it is still there. Besides a little redness, my stomach is exactly the same as it was before.

Pressler frantically explains that because I have very little fat on my stomach, the treatment couldn't work.

"It's called liposculpture, and if you have no lipo, what is there to sculpt?" she says. "It's like testing shampoo on a bald man."

I'm not sure whether this makes me feel better or not. Why didn't she knead my rear end? Apparently, only the stomach shows immediate results, while other parts of the body require multiple sessions before the fat sloughs off.

I stifle a harrumph.

But others swear the pin truly works, not enough to shave off numerous dress sizes, but enough to make a marked difference.

Maria Hufton, for example, who is 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighs 215 pounds, says the body rollers have worked better than any diets she's tried--and she can list dozens of failed attempts. While she hasn't lost weight, she's lost inches, and she says that's good enough for her.

"My stomach was almost to my knees; it was very big," she says. "Now it's still big, but it's more firm."

Madeline Ruiz, who owns Lily's Salon, also bought the pins and says she's watched her butt move up a few flights.

"It moved it up higher," she said with amazed sincerity.

The medical community looks blankly at the mention of Pressler's pin--never heard of it. But it sounds like Endermologie, San Jose plastic surgeons say, a practice using a torturous-looking machine with two cellulite-rubbing rolling pins and a vacuum. Endermologie works like Pressler's pins, but it costs nearly twice as much and takes place in the doctor's office.

"You'll lose more weight staying at home and not eating than coming into the office for Endermologie," says A.M. Yenikomshian, M.D., a plastic surgeon who does Endermologie in his office. "Endermologie does not make you lose weight; it tones the body. You lose inches because the skin gets toned. The amount of weight loss is minimal, maybe two or three pounds."

Plastic surgeon Howard Sutkin, M.D., is quick to say the only surefire way he knows to eliminate fat is liposuction, a process that costs anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. "We are skeptical about Endermologie because it hasn't shown up in our literature as being a proven technique," he says.

After I slip on my shirt in the back room at Lily's Salon, Pressler walks in and begins a desperate last attempt to sell me on the rollers. She lifts her shirt and pinches her skin to demonstrate the absence of any fat on her stomach. She turns sideways and grabs the area below her hips to show where saddlebags once were. Lastly she points to her small butt, packed into tight black stretch pants.

"I used to have saddlebags and love handles; they all went away with the rollers," she says.

I think for a moment and recall Pressler heaving the rolling pin up and down my midriff, and those of women much larger than I am. And I'm not surprised.

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From the January 15-21, 1998 issue of Metro.

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