I always think it is important for women to find female role models in the industry they work in. Luckily for me since I work in the beauty industry I have a plethera of female role models to choose from.
Recently W magazine published an article about Deborah Szekey, the founder of the luxury spas Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico and the Golden Door in California. Rancho La Puerto really can be called the first modern spa since it was the first spa to emphasize wellness, fitness, and health not just beauty treatments. Way of ahead of her time in terms of her philosophy about diet, exercise, and healthy living, Szekey endevoured to educate those who came to her spas in how live a clean lifestyle for better health.
Sezeky’s life reads like a movie and how she ended up founding the spa is fascinating:
Deborah Shainman was born in Brooklyn to parents who ate a diet of raw foods; her mother, a nurse, was vice president of the New York Vegetarian Society. The family spent summers at health camps in the U.S. and abroad, where they were hosted by the Hungarian scholar Edmond Szekely, who lectured on the importance of natural living. When Deborah was 16, she worked as Szekely’s secretary. A year later, in 1939, she married him—but when he received orders to return to Eastern Europe and participate in Hitler’s war effort, the newlyweds, both Jewish, headed instead to Mexico, where they settled into an adobe house in the middle of a small vineyard.
Since Szekely’s acolytes were already used to traveling to his camps, Tecate became just another exotic spot where they could set up tents, stay for a week, and live a communal existence, pitching in with the gardening and cooking when they weren’t hiking, playing volleyball, or taking dips in the nearby Tecate river. In the afternoons, guests gathered outside Szekely’s hut for his talks—on everything from responsible sun exposure to the dangers of pesticides and cigarettes, pronouncements that at the time had the air of prophecy. Since Szekely had a number of expat friends in Los Angeles—there was a large Hungarian presence in Hollywood, including the founders of both Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox—showbiz types like William Holden, Barbara Rush, Kim Novak, and Burt Lancaster started to make the trek.
By the fifties, the importance of exercise was catching on, but following through occasionally presented a problem for better-known actors. “Kim Novak had a wonderful hourglass figure,” Szekely says. “But one day she told me, ‘Deborah, it’s so hard exercising with people looking at my big bottom. I’m beginning to get a thing about it.’ So we opened the Door.” With its serene Japanese-garden setting and an 18-guest capacity, the Golden Door provided ideal privacy for actors to shape up for their next film role.
“In those days, nobody had trainers,” Szekely says. “They didn’t even know what a massage was. So they’d come and spend a month—and they worked—and the studio paid for it.”
Even though Szekely recently turned 90 she has absolutely no intention of slowing down. A very active volunteer and advocate for social justice Szekely lives life at full speed:
At age 90, the only pills she takes are vitamins, a little something for her thyroid and a B12 shot every month. She is living evidence that 90 is the new 60, and energy-wise, she shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, those who know her well say that on the occasion of her 85th birthday, she announced that she intended to only age one year in the next five and, by all accounts, she aced it.
“I can’t be 90,” she exclaimed, “My schedule is the same as it was when I was 60!” She eats no red meat or chicken and follows a diet “as close to nature as possible.” Four times a week, she does pilates and her weight has stayed steady at 118 to122 for decades. While we’re checking her vitals, her blood pressure is 104/62 and her cholesterol, 193 (not fasting).
About the only thing that raises her blood pressure are the actions of agri-business and Big Pharma and the government’s support of programs that have fueled the country’s obesity epidemic. Her Wellness Spring initiative aims to raise $10 million by collecting $10 each from one million people. The money will be used to fund lobbying efforts to counter those of businesses that she argues are poisoning and killing Americans with fast food and a culture that “considers watching TV an activity.”
I can only hope that if I get the chance to live to 90 I’ll have Szekely’s health, clarity, and energy. What a great inspiration to us all!
Sources and Further Reading:
- Mother Nature – W magazine
- Happy Birthday Deborah Szekely, Godmother of the Wellness Movement – Huffington Post
- David Freeman on Deborah Szekely – Huffington Post
- Deborah Szekely’s new campaign – Wellness Warrior
- A Cooking Adventure at a Mexican Spa – Food and Wine Magazine
- A first hand account of time spent at Golden Door including words of wisdom from Deborah Szekely – Travel Feature: Golden Door – Healthy Happy Life
Image from W magazine