Ever since she was 7 years old and the other little girls in her ballet class snickered at her muscular legs, Wendy Stehling has felt funny about them. But the pivotal moment came two years ago while she was trying on bathing suits in front of that most heartless of critics, the three-way mirror. After nine sedentary years in the advertising business, she found that, at 29, her once fit and firm thighs had gone flabby. Stehling immediately decided on a vigorous program of diet and exercises aimed specifically at slimming her limbs in the one remaining month before summer. The results were not only more glamorous gams (each thigh dropped three inches around in just four weeks) but the best-selling book Thin Thighs in 30 Days (Bantam, $2.95). Seven weeks after its release, Thin Thighs is No. 2 on the paperback bestseller list, with 425,000 copies in print.
At just 64 pages, the book is thinness itself. That doesn’t mean her program is easy, merely uncomplicated. Warns Stehling, now 31: “The program is and has to be tough because thighs are tough to reduce.” But, she maintains, thinner thighs are possible “if you work at the program diligently.”
Stehling’s slenderizing system involves a three-part plan which she calls the Work-Off, the Walk-Off and the Weight-Off. For the Work-Off, a series of six exercises that are to be done daily except Sunday (even flab, it seems, needs a rest), Stehling researched the programs at some of New York’s top fitness centers such as Pilates and Elizabeth Arden. Nevertheless, she says that, for the most part, “my exercises are original.” And they seem to work. Says model Arlene Kinney: “I can spend less time doing Wendy’s exercises and get better and faster results than I can with other exercises.” Model-actress Geena Davis finds the exercises for muscle toning the most helpful part of the book.
The Walk-Off suggested by Stehling averages two miles of brisk (4 mph) walking six days a week. Beginners, she says, should aim for half a mile a day and by two weeks have worked up to three miles. “Walking is a pleasure,” says Stehling. “You’re increasing your circulation, speeding up your metabolism and getting more oxygen into your system.” She also believes that walking has reduced the severity of her varicose veins, which were so bad five years ago she was treated surgically.
In her Weight-Off plan, Stehling doesn’t promote any particular diet but simply encourages the reader to be sensible and count calories (charts are included that give a rough idea of how many calories one burns each day). There are also dieting tips about not skipping meals and reducing the intake of fat and salt, plus the perky suggestion to “feel happy if you are hungry. When you are hungry, your body is using up the fat of your body, including your thighs.”
The manual’s medical imprimatur is from Dr. Eugene G. McCarthy, a clinical professor of public health at Cornell University Medical College. “The book deals with overall body tone,” he observes, “and my endorsement is for self-care and self-fitness.” Still, there has been at least one complaint. Eileen Ford of the Ford Model Agency, who originally passed out copies of Thin Thighs to her staff, now says, “I can’t recommend it. I put my knees out with it.” The complaint dismays Stehling. “These exercises were checked carefully,” she counters. “You can’t hurt yourself if you do them the way I say to do them, that is, slowly, letting gravity do the work.”
The eldest of two children of a German-born scientific consultant, Wendy grew up “a horse nut” in Chevy Chase, Md. and cleaned out stalls as a teenager in return for free rides. Stehling graduated from New York’s Pratt Institute in 1973 with a degree in advertising design and worked for numerous agencies before starting Stehling and Partners, Inc. last spring.
She shares a studio apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with photographer John Olson, who took the pictures of Wendy demonstrating the exercises in Thin Thighs. Olson and Stehling knew each other professionally for years, but all that changed at a 1980 party he hosted at his farm in Chatham, N.Y. It was the first time he saw her in a bathing suit and glimpsed Stehling’s now famous thighs. “I became very excited,” he recalls. “She was invited as a client, but she left as someone other than that.”
Not surprisingly, Stehling favors bikinis over one-piece suits now that her thighs inspire sighs. But what about those who haven’t been on the program? “Guys probably won’t notice flabby thighs on a woman wearing a string bikini,” she advises. “They’ll look at everything else first.”