V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Every pitch is a hit
Published in The Toronto Star, July, 2009

A group of women has formed a semicircle around Stephanie Fairley, who has rolled up her pant leg to reveal a shapely, closely shorn calf.

"It has been two weeks since I used this," Fairley says, holding up the infomercial product Smooooth Legs, a hand-held pad made of superfine crystals. It claims to buff away body hair painlessly.

We ooooh and ahhhh at Fairley's naked leg, in a manner reminiscent of infomercial scenes showing overzealous audience members turning to each other, nodding in disbelief at the all-in-one apple-peeling-avocado-slicing back scratcher.

At Showcase, the Eaton Centre retailer that bills itself as The Best of As Seen on TV store, I'm euphoric and catch myself hiccupping in delight at the sight of shelves lined with ShamWows and Debbie Meyer Green Bags.

That's because I am an infomercial junkie.

I'm a sucker for kitchen gadgets endorsed by former-tough-guys-turned-cookware-peddlers like Mr. T and George Foreman. At the risk of dating myself, I'm Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show, who would watch infomercials wide-eyed, rotary telephone at the ready, yelling "$19.99" at the TV.

I am a sucker for dramatic before-and-after pictures, over-caffeinated, fast-talking pitchmen and teary testimonials by women whose lives were transformed after buying one small container of mineral foundation.

Who can remain unmoved by Shannon M., who credits the mineral makeup Sheer Cover for concealing a large, conspicuous red birthmark on her face and renewing her self-confidence?

Who can resist the toothy white smile of the infomercial's host, Leeza Gibbons, an Entertainment Tonight castoff who now trots out faded former child starlets like Melissa Gilbert and Alyssa Milano to endorse the product?

I watched mesmerized as Milano, my girlhood idol, bared her face to the world, revealing a dull, unremarkable version of herself. Then, with just a few brush strokes, she was miraculously transformed into the ageless, beautiful (albeit C-list) actress I recognized.

With an earnest, sober expression of sincerity, Gibbons seemed to be explaining to me, personally, that I, too, can erase those freckles and unsightly blemishes that I fret over so. My passport to a better life? The magic of Sheer Cover's light-reflecting minerals, of course.

It was a pitch my retail demon couldn't resist. Terms like "antioxidant," "100 per cent natural" and "true shade technology" chipped away at any doubt. I turned from being a healthy skeptic into hopeful believer.

I went online and charged it.

My love affair with The Magic Bullet followed a similar trajectory, except, this time, I had product testing to back up my purchase. You might almost call it an arranged marriage.

What North American audiences know as The Magic Bullet – a slim food-processing device – Koreans know as The Kiss. And it was The Kiss that my mom used one day to make me a fruit smoothie.

The experience was all the more remarkable because ours had always been a primitive, elbow-grease-powered kitchen. There were no such exotic contraptions as dishwashers, food processors or blenders. A bean grinder? Growing up, the only coffee I knew was the instant kind.

Fast forward a few years, to when I moved into my first apartment and the infomercial for The Magic Bullet aired almost every day.

Hosts Mimi and Mick, an odd pairing of a pixie-haired blond and a loud-mouthed Aussie, made alfredo sauce in minutes; cheese nacho sauce and guacamole; blended coffee drinks and mousse.

But wait, there's more. This "countertop magician" chopped, whipped, juiced and blended in mere seconds.

I imagined the culinary wizard I would become with nary an effort: Homemade soup, pasta sauces and sorbet from one device, made in minutes.

I went online and charged it.

I did the same with the fat-busting George Foreman Grill, bought during my strict fat-busting phase. Unfortunately, it was also a flavour-buster. All the grease drips into a fat-catcher, making rubber shoes out of chicken and steak.

The grill now sits at the back of my kitchen cabinet in my home's infomercial graveyard. There are also small burial plots around the condo, like my makeup case, where half-finished bottles of Proactiv have been sitting unused for years.

I admit I didn't apply it regularly as instructed, but I am an impatient woman. When this "skin care army in a bottle" failed to miraculously transform me with a brand new face, I gave up.

My Ab Slide, an ab machine you wheel out in front of you to work the core, has travelled with me through five house moves, but is bagged up and lives under my bed.

While some of my purchases were duds, I am happy with others.

For example, I am a faithful Sheer Cover user. As promised, it is lightweight and settles with the natural oils on my face, producing a dewy look. And the concealer is the best I've ever used – it's smooth and offers solid coverage. Half the fun, though, is receiving a package in my name, every 16 weeks, in the mail.

And The Magic Bullet? My love burns strong. I have yet to make full meal with it but knowing that I can make one if I wanted to is enough for me. Meantime, it regularly conjures up fruit smoothies and whipped cream.

Back at Showcase, Fairley has sold the audience. I watch jealously as two women snatch the hair remover Smooooth Legs off the shelf, excitedly impatient to try it for themselves.

Sighing quietly, I stroke a few bundled up ShamWows longingly and reread how Debbie Meyer Green Bags work. I am on an infomercial diet and have kiboshed any retail spending.

Perhaps sensing my disappointment, the sympathetic store manager, Andrew Gee, urges me to try on one of the shop's most popular items, the Snuggie, "the blanket with sleeves."

I put it on and my spirits lift – for once, I actually don't want to buy something. I may be easily seduced by beauty and kitchen products, but I draw the line at cultlike felt robes. It's just wrong.
 

Infomercial items I still covet:

Mr. T Flavorwave Oven Turbo

Oh Flavorwave, where have you been all my cooking life? Where were you when grandiose meal plans were thwarted by frozen steaks or rock-hard chicken breasts? Where were you when my turkey roasts crumbled under the carving knife because the meat was embarrassingly dry? Did you pity me, Mr. T, for all the times I had to pop a slab of meat into the microwave to nuke it into a leather shoe?

Until I find space for you my beloved – that and $179 -- we may live apart. But know that absence only makes the heart grow fonder.

 

Debbie Myers Green Bags

I was a terrible science student in school. But Debbie’s hokey graphic-heavy explanation was simple enough to convince even me that these bags could indeed preserve the freshness of my foods for up to 30 days. I hate wasting food and have been known to consume things past their expiration date. I’m also contemplating sewing these bags together and sleeping inside it, to see if it has the same effect on aging women.

 

P90X 90-day fitness program

There’s a lot of buzz around this product. I know of at least one couple who’s following it, and a lot of friends know about it.

It requires the user to exercise an hour a day for three months, using creator Tony Horton’s “advanced training technique, muscle confusion.” I can’t remember the last time I engaged in physical activity everyday for an hour, aside from the heavy lifting of fork to mouth. But I like the fact you don’t need any fancy equipment, just resistant bands and weights, and that you can do it in the comfort of home.

 

 

 

 

 



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