5 Fitness Products That Were Sued Out of Existence
There’s always that one person who ignores every principle of fitness knowledge and hastily picks up the phone to buy a dubious exercise product they’ve just spotted in a 2 a.m. infomercial. As soon as that gadget-bearing parcel arrives at their doorstep three to five business days later, they’ll tell themself that they’re only two weeks away from admiring their shapely new form in the mirror.
But by the time the reality sets in that the one-note gizmo could scarcely train a single body part effectively, let alone all of them, they’ll already be committed to three payments of $39.95 for something they’ve finally deduced to be an ineffectual hunk of junk.
Historically, it’s at that precise moment that the U.S. court system comes riding in to the rescue, either directly or indirectly shutting down fitness companies, or forcing their inadequate products to fade into oblivion. For the sake of offering you a laugh at what were (hopefully) the misguided purchases of other people, here are five fitness products that were ultimately sued out of existence as a result of the misleading and exploitative tactics that were used to advertise them…
The Mark Eden Bust Developer
From the late 1960s all the way into the early 1980s, millions of women pinned their hopes for larger breasts on the Mark Eden Bust Developer, a product devised by husband and wife tandem Jace and Eileen Feather, and sold under the name of a presumed fitness expert who didn’t exist. The actual Bust Developer amounted to a pair of plastic clamshells that were pressed together against a tension spring to produce the desired effect.
The “desired effect” was advertised to be a bust boost of approximately four-and-a-half inches, but the Mark Eden Bust Developer didn’t come close to delivering that, because it was physiologically impossible for it to do so. However, in fairness, the action of pressing the plastic shells together against the spring did work the chest muscles, and over time, it could provide users with a form of bust development, albeit in the pectoral muscles behind the fatty breast tissue, not within the breasts themselves.
Later on, the Feathers went back to the drawing board and produced the X-shaped Mark II developer, as if allowing the product to follow the same naming pattern of a Lincoln Continental would make a difference in its effectiveness. The upgraded product was also said to include “IVR,” a trademarked term that stood for “infinitely variable resistance.” It still eluded many consumers that breast tissue wouldn’t grow as a result of strenuous pec-pumping efforts no matter how much the resistance was varied.
In the early 1980s, the Mark Eden Breast Developer was finally retired after the Feathers agreed to settle a legal complaint brought by the Federal Trade Commission, paying a penalty of only $1.1 million under the condition that they would refrain from selling any more products promoted as bust enhancers.
The Sean Michaels Bust Expander
For all of the issues with the Mark Eden Bust Developer, its one saving grace was that it at least superficially trained its users’ chest muscles. In contrast, the brains behind the Sean Michaels Bust Expander had some serious nerve. After ordering it, you opened the box to discover a circular tube of rubber that was only six inches in diameter.
The instructional guide advised the Bust Expander’s users to engage in only a few different pulling movements with the tiny rubber tube. If we could charitably say that the two-inch range of motion offered by this product somehow qualified as a row, we could credit Sean Michaels with lending his name to a product that might bestow some very meager improvements upon the muscles of the back and shoulders. The muscles of the chest, however, would be left embarrassingly undertrained.
The ads for the Bust Expander, though, promised to administer five inches of girth to the user’s breasts specifically through “pectoral isolation.” Not surprisingly then, in December 1977, a D.C. federal court judge ruled against Sean Micheals claiming that the company sold its products through misleading marketing, promising results that it was wholly incapable of delivering. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the decision in 1981, officially rendering the Sean Michaels’ circle of rubber to be — with respect to its stated purpose — a bust.
As another of the infamous scam products produced by the Feathers, the Astro-Trimmer took advantage of what is essentially a sleight-of-hand survival feature of the human body and marketed it as a permanent weight-loss solution.
The concept behind the Astro-Trimmer was that it was, at its core, a waist-trainer device. This placed it with similar body-shaping products that squeeze the floating ribs of their wearers, thereby encouraging the internal organs to shift slightly upwards. As with all waist-trainers, this creates a strikingly evident, yet purely temporary slimming of the waistline.
In order to breathe a little more ingenuity into the scam, the Astro-Trimmer requested that its users fasten one end of a glorified bungee cord to the rear of the waist trainer, connect the other end to a door frame and then lean forward and walk in place. Somehow, the act of marching in a stationary position for 10 minutes against minimal resistance — a marginal calorie burner at best — was posited as the action that would cause the waist-shaping effects of the Astro-Trimmer to stick.
The Astro-Trimmer was guilty largely by association in the FTC’s settlement with the Feathers, as its advertising crimes were considered less egregious than those of its bust-targeting cousin. However, the Astro-Trimmer was dramatically toppled — along with all of the other questionable products produced by the Feathers — by the 1983 bankruptcy filing of its parent company Cambridge Plans International. The Feathers had made the bulk of their fortune selling a dangerous liquid protein diet drink, and the subsequent lawsuits filed by the surviving families of the diet plan’s victims proved to be too much resistance for the company to stand against.
The Weider 5-Minute Body Shaper
As slimy as the Joe Weider fitness empire has been accused of being, it has had a hand in everything from the mainstreaming of bodybuilding to the emergence of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the normalizing of muscular physiques all across the planet. Not that any of that validates the claims of its 5-Minute Body Shaper, however.
Introduced as a vehicle for Weider’s buxom wife Betty to promote, the Body Shaper consisted of a few nylon ropes incorporated into a pulley system that was itself attached to a doorway. The touted exercises requested that you lie on the floor and move both your arms and legs in an alternating fashion in order to challenge your muscles and burn calories.
In practice, though, the challenge to the muscles was minimal, and the caloric burn negligible (roughly 13 grams in five minutes).
After the Weiders were sued in California’s Superior Court for misrepresenting the benefits of their workout contraption, they were ordered to issue refunds to each of the 100,000 California customers who forked over $10.50 for the Body Shaper. They were also prohibited from ascribing ludicrous training successes to their Body Shaper in the future, resulting in it ending up in sporting goods bargain bins within a few years of the Superior Court’s ruling.
The Ab Circle Pro
In several respects, the Ab Circle Pro was a fitting culmination to 15 years of incessant infomercials with an abdominal focus. It was a magnificent confluence of ideas that at first blush appeared to have sidestepped the fraudulent gimmickry of other ab devices. It’s as if the device’s unusual approach to core training made it appear more honest, and therefore justified its $250 price tag.
The Ab Circle Pro didn’t promise to deliver a chiseled physique through a guided crunch motion, a rolling wheel extension or with a waist-wrapped electrical device. Instead, it offered an atypical body position — a 45-degree angled forward lean — in conjunction with an unnatural side-to-side, dip-and-lift motion that seemed to focus attention almost entirely on the obliques, the least-addressed part of the midsection. Stated plainly, the ACP appeared to be just innovative enough in just enough noteworthy areas that its outrageous promises seemed as if they might actually be plausible — until, that is, they promised users they could lose 10 pounds in two weeks just by using the ACP for three minutes a day.
This caught the FTC’s attention at the exact moment when it was completely fed up with claims that one-dimensional ab trainers could seer away rows of body fat. Needless to say, if one hour of dedicated jogging isn’t sufficient to burn enough calories to eliminate a full pound of body fat, three minutes of free swinging leg movement will barely burn off a jelly bean. In August 2012, Direct Entertainment Media Group and Fitness Brands Inc. settled the FTC’s lawsuit against them by agreeing to fork over $25 million in refunds to those who had been duped by the ACP’s marketing scheme.
The moral of the story: All of these companies might not have been so great at helping you lose weight, but they all were pretty good at making your wallet lighter.