June 10, 2002
By Hilary E. MacGregor
In this city of celluloid and image, the search for the perfect body is endless. And despite the sophistication of the populace, there is an almost naive faith that enough money can buy a cream, a salt, an herb, a wrap, a machine, an attitude, a therapy, a miracle that will strip wrinkles from your face and fat from your thighs, and keep you forever young.
Among the very pampered of this city--an underground network of the glamorous and those who serve them--pass beauty secrets unknown and unaffordable to most of us.
One of those secrets is Utta.
Utta is a Beverly Hills masseuse who claims her deep-tissue therapy will realign basic body shape, squish away cellulite and toxins and restore muscle tone. Spend an hour and $150 with Utta, and you believe that her hands could crush your fat cells and sculpt you into a Bernini statue with skin smooth and flawless as marble. Each one of her fingers could compress a Coke can.
Hidden behind a discreet brown door on the second floor of a modest brick building on Wilshire Boulevard, Utta Body Sculpture is a place that inspires superlatives, loyalty and gushing testimonials from clients. Now, Utta is routinely working 12 hours a day to fit in clients desperate for a last treatment before she departs for her traditional two-month summer vacation.
Utta doesn't advertise. Her skills spread by word-of-mouth or occasional stories about her in beauty magazines such as Elle and Allure.
She is a one-woman show who works out of two tiny massage rooms and wears a headset to answer the phone while she plies her trade. Utta's age is her secret--"Chronological age is irrelevant," she says. (Best guess: 40-ish.) She doesn't use a last name and is listed simply as Utta in the phone book.
Signed portraits of grateful celebs adorn her vestibule ("My body is still in your hands.... Cher"), and she has given last-minute tone-ups to various stars before they have stripped on screen. Those who have submitted to her kneading hands include figure skater Tai Babilonia, Daryl Hannah and Candice Bergen.
She does not claim she can make a Geena Davis into an Audrey Hepburn, nor a Marilyn Monroe into a Twiggy. A woman's frame is a woman's frame. But Utta says that women who really know their bodies will see a difference in their shape and skin tone after a session or two. Most of her clients' clothes fit differently after seven to 10 sessions, she says.
This is not just any massage. Once the client lies limp on a heated massage table, Utta attacks the fat, pulling, yanking, stretching, pinching and kneading until the skin turns pink in defense. "I go into the areas that are blocked due to little fat deposits, toxic deposits, injuries, tension, calcium deposits," says the masseuse from Munich in a soothing, singsong German accent. "I go in and break down whatever has collected. I reintroduce the circulation, and the blood comes in and flushes the waste away. It burns."
On women, those blocked areas (surprise, surprise) tend to hover between the waistline and the knees, and that irksome pad at the back of the arm.
First-timers often cry out. Occasionally they bruise.
But Utta says longtime clients get so used to the treatment they can sleep right through the pinching. Regulars swear the treatments are addictive. Anne Bennett, 49, of Brentwood, has been going to Utta twice a week for a year. She does yoga and weights regularly. She sought out Utta "basically for vanity reasons." Bennett, a mother who coordinates a conflict resolution program for at-risk teenagers, says she already ate well and got lots of exercise. But she has had her clothes taken in since her treatments began. She said her 21-year-old daughter noticed such a difference she started quizzing her on her secret. (The daughter is now an Utta addict too.)
"I've been a massage junkie all my life, and this is absolutely different," Bennett said. "It changes the texture of your skin. She really does re-sculpt your body. Your skin is not going to look like a 20-year-old, but you can look really toned and really fit without doing bizarre things." A whole group of her friends goes now: "We are Utta groupies."
Helen King (who won't reveal her age but admits to being a great- grandmother) says she has been a client of Utta's ever since the masseuse arrived in the United States 25 years ago. King first sought out Utta after suffering a ruptured disk. She said Utta healed her, and she has been pain-free ever since and has never had medical treatment for the injury. "I just have to tell you, this woman is remarkable," King says. "She just has magic in her hands. Magic in those fingers. And she is such a good human being besides."
A third client, who declined to be named because she is familiar to the public, said she read about Utta in a magazine item that she clipped and held onto for years. Finally, she went, feeling skeptical but desperate. "I needed to be firmed, toned, because I am in a position where people are looking at me all the time," she said. "I went to see her three or four times and, ultimately, when I put on my jeans or whatever, I went down a size. I couldn't believe it."
There is no question, that once on the table with Utta, you feel you are in the hands of a gifted masseuse with a calming nature. Her hands are so strong, her manipulations so unusual, it's easy to imagine stubborn fat cells being deflated and chunks of cellulite broken down.
But is this medically possible?
Cellulite, irregularities in the fat layer, shows itself as dimples in the skin. Cellulite treatment, according to doctors, is something that has proved highly elusive. Until three years ago there was no treatment for the dreaded dimple effect that was even recognized by the FDA. Then in 2000, the FDA approved a French- created contraption called Endermologie, which is said to, among other benefits, "temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite." The machine is about waist-high, and has an arm with a suction chamber on it. The chamber lifts the skin, then massages it aggressively with mechanized rollers. There are various roller movements, including kneading, popping and a figure eight. Studies done at Vanderbilt University and UCLA showed that Endermologie stimulated lymphatic flow, increased blood flow and helped stimulate the formation of new collagen fiber, which restores elasticity to skin, according to Dr. Brian Kinney, a clinical assistant professor of plastic surgery at USC and a spokesman for the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. After 12 to 14 sessions, twice a week for seven to eight weeks, the machine can sometimes make a difference, Kinney said.
"It can rupture adipocytes [fat cells] like bubble wrap," Kinney said. "Whether a hand can do it, I don't know. It is conceivable, although it has never been shown in any peer-reviewed medical journal that a masseuse might be able to do this."
Dr. Peter Vash, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at UCLA and a secretary of the American Obesity Assn., was more skeptical. "I am not aware of any scientific peer-reviewed articles which attest to the fact that either massage or some machines are able to significantly break down fat cells to the extent that they can significantly reshape skin or body tone," Vash said.
"You can affect skin/body tones with a whole host of temporary measures--wraps and creams and certain kinds of salts. Maybe even massage, to some degree. But from a physiological point of view, all that does is reduce the amount of fluid, dry out the fluid content of the skin, so that like a sponge, it drops down and you have a short-term appearance of flatter, smoother skin."
Utta believes her process works, and that a machine can never rival the human touch. Sometimes she even pinches herself, while she is watching a movie or reading a book. She lifts her shirt to show her belly. Three big babies, no stretch marks.
"Endermologie, that ironing thing, is supposed to work this way," she says. "It's metal, and it runs over you to break the cellulite. But you can never replace hands. Hands are such great tools. They feel into the body. You have energy coming through your hands."
Utta first found the power in her hands as a swimmer in Germany. When her teammates would get cramps she would rub them down. Teammates began to seek her out for headaches and other ailments. Eventually Utta studied sports massage.
The FDA will never approve Utta, and no peer-reviewed medical journal will assess her skills.
"I'm not saying it doesn't work," Vash said. "If people believe this helps and they go, and this treatment is a placebo, and it gives them inspiration to go out and get healthy, I find no fault with that."
March 28, 2002
So you think beauty knows no pain? Think again.
Get ready to take that concept to a truly deeper level.
Utta Body Sculpture, housed in a no-frills office on Wilshire, promises a new physique in ten sessions. How? Deep-tissue massage that reportedly breaks down fat pockets and releases toxins. The catch: For one hour, you’re all Utta’s. We’re talking some pretty rough prodding, pushing, pulling, kneading, and pummeling. No kidding. Some even bruise. But Utta is as sweet as they come.
Sound about as hokey as popping a little miracle B-12? Maybe. But the results speak for themselves. Those who brave the first beating tend to become clients for life (full disclosure: we tried it—twice!!—and found it strangely therapeutic). Just check out the glossy headshots on the wall to see exactly whose ass she got into shape for which role.
So if you’re a believer, grit those teeth and get your soon-to-be-perfect butt down there.
If you're planning on running around scantily clad, UTTA Body Sculpture is an essential prerequisite. Tucked into an old brick building in Beverly Hills, Utta's studio is filled with zen-inspired knick-knacks, autographed glossies of grateful celebs, and two small massage rooms. Using nothing but unscented oil and vise-like hands, Utta attacks the body, kneading and pulling muscles like taffy. Her treatments ($120 per hour) reshape and sculpt bodies by breaking up unsightly fatty deposits and releasing toxins. She's reshaped many a star before pivotal nude scenes. Granted, her vigorous method releases groans as well as toxins, but after one session we noticed a difference.