Dear Lisa Lyon,
This is a mash note in response to the book Lisa Lyon's Body Magic, that you, loosely speaking, wrote with Douglas Kent Hall (Bantam, $9.95). For the benefit of anybody out there who might miss it, this volume is a large-format paperback with a red cover and yellow type. And there, right on the front, is a black-and-white photo of the luscious Lisa, wearing a tank top and tight shorts, a barbell draped lightly across her shoulders. Her hair falls in studied disarray, and she looks straight into the camera with large dark eyes, her mouth slightly ajar. This is a look distilled from a thousand generations of seductresses, and it's only after staring at the photo for long moments that one notices the type in the lower right-hand corner: "A total program of body conditioning by the first world woman's bodybuilding champion."
The way this book makes the reader oblivious to such things as subtitles and other typographical niceties is why this is a mash note and not really a review. Feminists are going to hate some of the things I'm about to say, but let them go out and find their own darn book; I've found mine. This isn't so much a book as it is an example of the power of packaging as done by those wily folks at Bantam. On the inside the text is minimal, and thank goodness, because what there is of it is poorly written and loosely edited. Lest you think I jest, consider this sentence: "An important step is to stand in front of a mirror wearing no clothes..." which is, I guess, as opposed to standing in front of a fully clothed mirror. Or this: "Lisa is engaged to married the well-known French singer Bernard Lavilliers." Uh, how's that again? But those are mere examples to prove a point; again, as I've said, the text isn't important. If it's lofty prose you want, go buy War and Peace.
Consider, instead, the simple, uncomplicated joys of body magic; after all, there just aren't many authors who will peel off all their clothes and slather their bodies with Crisco, or whatever it is, and pose nude to prove a point. But Lyon did—five times!—for her book. It must be stressed that these are decorous figure studies, nothing untoward here. Photographer and co-author Hall simply positioned Lyon in front of a wall of ersatz white brick, switched on whatever light happened to be handy and clicked away. Richard Avedon won't feel threatened.
But even with lackluster photo quality, it's pretty hard to go wrong with Lyon: There she is limbering up, stretching, bench pressing; there's Lyon doing side flies and kickbacks with dumbbells—most of this while wearing tights, net stockings and that languid, heavy-eyed look. Though this book was supposedly written for women, what Lyon and Hall have come up with is everyman's guide to sensual female body building. The saving factor is that this isn't Lyon's fault any more than it was Marilyn Monroe's fault in The Seven Year Itch; the dog-gone costume department gave her this get-up and she just kept sort of spilling out of it. What can a girl do?
June 7, 1981
And to think that Lyon once suffered from an inferiority complex. "I was extremely insecure and shy around people," she writes. Not only that, but "I had a number of specific physical problems: A swayback, slight scoliosis.... I had a winged scapula in the back and a tendency toward round shoulders. My hips and my shoulders both turned in, which meant that when I stood with my feet parallel, my knees and hip bones pointed in instead of straight forward."
One hurts all over just reading about it. Turned-in hips, indeed. But body magic cured all that and more, Lyon asserts, just as it assuredly can cure you. What's more important, you can achieve, as Lyon has, an animal feel—she identifies throughout her book with the big, sleek jungle cats. "That we are smarter doesn't necessarily mean that we're any less animal," she says.
And the catlike look is also elusive: "People will probably never point you out as a bodybuilder," she says. "Your muscles will not advertise themselves. You are not going to have to worry about people stopping you on the street and saying, 'Listen, would you mind lifting up the back of this car while I change the tire.' You will be trim and taut and look great in a dress and heels. You will look better, more feminine, and not like a boy in drag."
Definitely not. And if there are still any unbelievers left, Lyon promises more—though you will not read any of that stuff in this mash note, not in this old-fashioned appreciation of you, Lisa Lyon. We know what you and Bantam are up to with this decidedly dumb book, and may it work well for you. May you make a million and slink about, animal-like, in expensive furs; may you buy the finest scented oils with which to coat your entire body for more of those shiny photos that linger, ever so slowly dissolving, in the mind. Go get 'em tiger.