Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fun Finds: The Body Principal

While perusing a thrift store book section recently, I stumbled across a celebrity fitness and lifestyle book that, surprisingly enough, is now close to thirty years old! Published in 1983, The Body Principal details the diet and exercise regimens necessary to keep oneself in the same shape as Dallas’ leading lady Victoria Principal.

Principal, a former teen model and later an actress (and, during a couple of lean acting years, an agent!), was at the peak of her success, having been on the primetime soap opera Dallas since 1978 in the role of Pamela Barnes Ewing. The show was a stunning success and she was able to parlay her fame from it into several ventures, this book being one of the first. (It would later be followed by The Beauty Principal in 1984, The Diet Principal in 1987 and Living Principal in 2001.)

The 191-page tome gives a bit of background information on Principal’s fitness history (primarily relating how Battle of the Network Stars reignited her athletic competitiveness and alerted her to a faltering physique until she began to reclaim it.) Soon she delves into detailed instructions on how to shed pounds, firm up and basically look and feel as amazing as she does. One of her secrets is isometric exercises done during various everyday tasks.

Often in books and videos like this, the star in question seeks to put herself on the same level as the average reader, so that she doesn’t come off as too beautiful, too rich or too unapproachably fabulous and possibly offend a potential follower (one giant exception to this is the screamingly funny mid-‘80s video of self-promotion that The Young and the Restless’ Brenda Dickson did called Welcome to My Home, a you favorite!) Principal attempts to equate her hectic workday schedule as a primary actress on a top-rated television series to that of a busy young career woman, wife or mother. Thus, she is shown doing her isometric moves as JOSE EBER fixes her hair! (As if he would really tolerate all that flailing as he’s trying to pick out her henna and Jhirmack-infused locks!) You gals can relate to that, right?? She continues this trend by doing leg lifts while her make-up is being applied! I guess the artist can’t look at her dead-on straight since she’s in the middle of doing leg lifts, unless she straddles Vicky and allows her to lift her feet between her thighs. It’s all fine for Principal to do this while someone else is primping her. It’s a different story to do one’s hair and makeup by herself and still concentrate on isometrics…

This line of thinking continues as she relates how she does her secret moves while in line at the grocery store. Ahem… I’m sorry. I really don’t think that Miss Principal was standing in line much of anywhere in 1983, much less a grocery store. Of course, there’s a cute guy in line behind her ogling her tush as she squeezes it in and out while waiting to pay at The Piggly Wiggly. You know what? In 1983, I could also command a glance or two at Kroger and I never did any of this stuff. Of course, now I get stared at because no one can believe that the groceries I’m buying are only for one person!

The book has a pretty large amount of photos in it, many of them depicting Principal in various light-hearted sportswear and accessories to suggest that she bowls, plays golf and tennis, swims and skis to stay in shape. She shows off a collection of the then-de rigueur striped and shiny (and clingy) workout wear, nearly always with tights. This oddball shot is meant to demonstrate one of her pelvic movements, but inadvertently gives her a bulge in the crotch that rivals some of the members of the (men’s!) U.S. water polo team.

This move, performed on a brass bed, brings back terrible memories for me. In the early 1990s, Vicki Lawrence had a talk show (called Vicki!) that I would occasionally catch, being a restaurant worker at the time. Once day she had on a doctor or some other type of healthcare professional helping her to show how one can rid him or herself of gas. In a “yes, she did go there” moment, Lawrence and the guest got down on the floor of the studio set, assumed the position shown at the bottom of this photo and proceeded to fart on national television…

Principal’s food and meal section quickly caught my attention, too, because the day-to-day dietary plans look like something out of a hospital for people in fear of death. Prune juice, poached eggs, steamed vegetables, melba toast and tea, tea, tea… Occasionally, a tad of pasta (half a cup) or some canned salmon creeps in. No butter, cheese, milk, red meat, salt, cream cheese or lunchmeats. (This was in the days before turkey was a prevalent lunchmeat or even menu option outside of the holidays, really.) And there are NO snacks listed whatsoever. She’s probably right about most of it, but my God, was there really anyone not starring on TV who could face eating like this all the time? Lest anyone think that it’s always necessary to eat like someone on death row in a deprived nation, she does allow that one might have the odd slice of pizza… one slice EVERY OTHER MONTH! I may be barking up the wrong tree and have a lot of vegans who visit The Underworld (and Lord knows I happen to be on a diet right this minute in the wake of a horrible weight gain due to injury and illness last year), but this plan seems stringent to the point of extreme annoyance.

My personal favorite part of this particular copy of The Body Principal was this inscription written inside the cover. It’s one of the reasons I bought the book because it just seemed too hilarious to pass by (and the book was only a dollar for heaven’s sake.) I don’t know if this Rich guy was Susan’s sassy gay friend or if he was Susan’s boyfriend (who later came out!) or what, but he’s no Robert Frost… If he was my boyfriend and gave me a beauty and fitness book for Sweetest Day, he’d be driving home with bruised balls.

This is no pamphlet. The Body Principal is 191 pages long. However, one has to slog through 189 pages before he gets to the, er, juicy part where Vic instructs women on how to finger themselves in order to determine whether or not their vaginas are too loose! Sweet Holy Jehovah! It’s not enough to starve, workout at all times, including in the makeup chair and at the grocery, all the while fitting in bowling, tennis, golf and swimming, AND give up pizza except for six slices a year. Now we have to firm up our private parts, too?

Thanks, Miss Principal, for an amusing trip down memory lane and for all the wisdom you imparted. Based on how in shape the country has been ever since the book’s release (not…), it clearly had a major impact on the face and fanny of the typical American female. In time, she would introduce a billion-dollar skincare enterprise called Principal Secret. And just in case all this amazing health and nutritional data and regimentation didn’t keep Miss Principal in fine form forever, she married a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon two years later in 1985 and was with him until 2006. Did she avail herself of his or any of his colleague’s services? That, I’m afraid, is Victoria’s Secret.



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