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Saving Face With Exercise


What have you done for your facial muscles lately?

Probably nothing, which is just the answer the producers of at least five videotapes and one surgical-steel mouthpiece are counting on.

Behind this new batch of exercise elements is the theory that, with the fitness mania in full swing, we've been madly conditioning our abs, thighs and buns. But we've completely ignored what could amount to biceps in our faces.

Now, a number of self-proclaimed experts have arrived to tone our last remaining body part--the one that everyone sees first.

Facial exercises are nothing new. For decades, books and magazine articles have urged people to contour their countenances. And the medical community frowned. The new wrinkle is moving those static lessons to video--with names like "Face-Fit," "15 Minute Acupressure Face Lift" and "Face Aerobics." Your guru of choice is there to get you to move muscle groups you never knew existed and to prevent problems you never imagined (such as vocal cords growing weak and feeble with age).

Two of the videos even come with motivational tapes. And in every case, you are reminded that plastic surgery will never be as much fun or as cheap as these home techniques for eliminating your sags and bags.

Dr. Timothy Miller, professor of plastic surgery at UCLA, has the standard medical objections. While he doesn't have a problem with acupressure, he says that to build facial muscles through exercise "doesn't make much sense. If you strengthen the muscle, you increase its pull, which means you would have more wrinkling, not less. If you don't believe it, all you have to do is look at a person who has partial facial paralysis. You will notice they have lost a lot of wrinkling on the side of the paralysis because the muscles can't contract."

Still, he doesn't see any real harm in trying. "The only thing, I can think of," he says, "is a little bit of disappointment."

Not with her method, says Susan Levin, a youthful-looking 43-year-old who has been doing and teaching facial exercises in Pennsylvania since she was 27. Based on a technique that "anchors" the muscles and provides resistance, her "Face-Fit"--the only product yet with an infomercial--is the most expensive: $90 for two videotapes, an audiocassette, an instruction manual and cream.

Produced by a Denver marketing company, the kit is being sold to the gravity-impaired in Australia, Japan and Russia via world-wide TV. Inspirational in looks and teaching method, Levin is on a mission. Although she believes her 20-minute daily program is the only one to effectively prevent plastic surgery, she is happy to have company in the marketplace.

"The more conversation and the more people who believe in facial exercise, the more it's going to come up," she says. "I want it be become a household word."

So does Laura Hart. Her $80 "Face Life" video-audio kit features photos of Hart at 22, in her wedding gown, and at 53, in a girlish white frock.

She believes "that a muscle can be shortened and thickened so it does its anti-gravity job, which is to hold the facial skin tight to your bones. If held with plump muscles, the skin will never sag. It cannot wrinkle," she insists.

Through exercise techniques--with such names as "Sin or Eek," "Big Build" and "Three-Zone Bump"--all gamely demonstrated by her, she certainly looks as if she has shortened and thickened her facial muscles. But she hasn't erased those rings around her neck, and some slack under her chin. Still, Hart, whose one-woman company is in Boston, is happy with the results. "People think I'm 35," she says. "I look better than I did at 22."

Judith Olivia, a Florida-based skin-care professional, learned the exercises for her "Face Aerobics" video ($30) from her grandmother, she says. She's been doing them since she was 12. And now that she is all of 30, she doesn't have a sag or a bag anywhere, you will notice, as she takes you through the "deep muscle" workout, which has been featured on "Geraldo" and "The Susan Powter Show." The tape segues into a commercial for Olivia's cosmetics and other videos that concentrate on specific parts of the face. It's a bit like finishing an aerobics class at the gym and passing by the products counter.

With a near-perfect face (her neck is hidden beneath a beige Lurex mock-turtleneck sweater), 46-year-old Cynthia Rowland introduces her "Facial Magic" video, which also features the anchoring technique. But Rowland lets others, including two men, do the work.

Cotton gloves, included for $25, are part of the program. And as one very worried-looking woman demonstrates a finger-inside-mouth technique, she looks like a Muppet. Never mind. Rowland's star pupil, a woman named Diann Kaufman, keeps coming in and out of the tape to remind us how these sometimes unsightly exercises have turned her face--and, of course, her life--around.

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