Did you know that “fat” black people are paying between $20,000 and $30,000 to cut out parts of their bodies in order to stay “healthy”? That made my stomach churn and my blood boil.
It’s not often that I read a piece that is extraordinary enough to make me feel compelled to let you know about it, in case you haven’t seen it yourself. There was an article in the November 2007 issue of Ebony magazine that made my stomach churn and my blood boil: I was that angry. It was about fat people. Fat black people. Obese folks with enough disposable income – $20,000 to $30,000 per operation – to cut out parts of their bodies. Here are the fundamentals of the Ebony spread.
The article is headlined: “Why I Had Gastric Bypass Surgery”. And in it: “Three blacks share their journey through the procedure as our culture battles the deadly condition of obesity. Chubby. Big-boned. Thick. Large. Obesity and its related ailments – hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and stroke – are the leading killers of African-Americans today. Blacks who are obese are at least twice as likely to die prematurely, compared to those of normal weight…
“Studies show that most of us are either overweight or have someone in our family battling a weight problem. Experts contend that black women in particular tend to be heavier than white women and have less success in shedding excess pounds. Black men who are overweight die earlier than white men. It comes from our food. It comes from our habits. It comes from our families. It comes from our culture.”
Heavyweight opening words to suit, appropriately, such an important topic. But, the article says, for people who are more than 100 pounds overweight, keeping off lost pounds is a battle they never win. Ebony continues: “That’s why a growing number of blacks have turned to gastric bypass surgery – also known as bariatric surgery – to help turn themselves around.”
What the hell is that, I asked myself. All is explained. Apparently, there are: “Three major types of bariatric procedures”. There is the: “Roux-en-Y: This procedure, the most common and popular form of gastric bypass surgery, results in rapid weight loss – as much as 100-150 pounds in the first year – by surgically reducing the size of the stomach to about the size of an egg and then bypassing the first third of the digestive process. Patients feel ‘full’ quickly after beginning a meal and soon lose the appetite for continued eating.”
Then there is the: “Lap-Band: Also called Laparoscopic Adjustable Gastric Banding (LAGB), this procedure has become increasingly popular in the US because, rather than surgically cutting the stomach and intestines, it uses a small, inflatable rubber band-like balloon to restrict the passage of food to the stomach. The digestive system remains intact and nothing is bypassed. The opening can be increased or decreased by a doctor using saline. However, it is still a major surgical process and the weight-loss process can be slower than other procedures.” Finally, there is the: “Duodenal Switch: Also known as the DS, this procedure restricts the amount of food that can be eaten at one time and limits the absorption of fats into the system. Although it can be a more difficult surgery to perform, it has shown excellent results by bypassing much of the digestive process, resulting in fairly rapid weight loss.”
Ebony then let “several prominent African-Americans” talk about “their journey through weight-loss surgery”. Those with prominence are Khaliah Ali, 33, (Muhammad Ali’s daughter); Bryan Monroe, 42, (vice-president and editorial director of Ebony and Jet magazines); and Joe Madison, 58, (a radio talk show host).
For Joe Madison, D-Day occurred when: “US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and I were on a panel at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation conference. I am sitting next to him – I had not seen Jesse Jr. since his surgery [Jackson had also undergone bariatric surgery in 2004] – and I said, ‘Jesse, what happened? What did you do? You look fantastic!’ He began to tell me about the procedure he went through, something called a DS or duodenal switch. It was the same surgery his sister [Santita Jackson, who has lost more than 200 pounds over several years] had done. And man, did it work.” Joe Madison’s “weight before” his duodenal switch was 277 pounds. His “weight today” is 178 pounds.
Khaliah Ali’s “weight before” was 335 pounds. Her crisis regarding her size came to a head when her four-year-old son, Jacob, wanted her to put on a costume to accompany his Spiderman’s outfit as they went “trick-or-treating” for Halloween. “But a 335-pound woman can’t masquerade as anything else,” Khaliah said. “It was painful not only because I couldn’t indulge him, which a parent particularly wants to do at holiday time. But also, his first Halloween trolling for candy took me back to my own childhood Halloweens, both literally and figuratively…
“The thing was, even when I was a child, there were limits imposed on what was supposed to be unadulterated joy. Quite chubby, I stood out from all the stick-legged girls running around in their costumes. I was never going to look like the kind of fairy princess I wanted to be. I was never going to be able to wear that bumblebee costume, sticking my legs into a leotard and putting that big, round black-and-yellow thing around my middle…
“About a year later, I had Lap-Band surgery, and a year after that, Jacob went trick-or-treating as one of the Power Rangers. And I went as a woman who had lost 150 pounds and reached half her former body size… One of my sisters suggested I dress up as a cat, so I drew whiskers on my face, bought cat ears and a tail at a costume shop, and threw on a tight black turtleneck and high black boots. I didn’t need to make a whole production of it.”
Ali’s “weight today” is 158 pounds. And then, there is Bryan Monroe 6’3”. His “weight before” was 441 pounds. His “weight today” is 282 pounds. So he used to be 200 pounds overweight and was once hospitalised in intensive care for diabetic ketoacidosis, triggered by “extremely elevated blood-glucose levels”. His life was not “fine”. Monroe described his stomach operation. “I waited for an anaesthesiologist to put me under, then for a surgeon to start punching five small ‘laparoscopic’ holes in my abdomen, then reach inside with a long, flexible instrument that looked straight out of Aliens, and rearrange my guts.”
This is what Monroe says his surgeon told him: “She told about the advantages of one type of gastric bypass surgery, Roux-en-Y (it is the most common procedure and weight loss could be rapid as your stomach goes from the size of a football to the size of an egg), and compared it to another, Lap-Band (not as dramatic, but adjustable and theoretically reversible, but the weight loss can be slower).” Monroe says that the surgeon also told him about the “physiological and psychological impact of the surgery”, but he – or the article? – does not expand on this. Ebony does, however, outline that “as many as two patients in every 100” could die “during or after the procedure”.
Monroe confirmed his delight with his new slimmer self with this anecdote: “Normally, I carried one of those airplane seat-belt extenders discreetly in my carry-on bag, since I had long since exceeded the limits of a standard, ‘normal’ seat-belt… Just for kicks, I decided to try to fasten the seat-belt and, to my surprise, not only did it click, but I had some slack left over. As I exited that flight two hours later, it brought me joy to toss that extender in the first trash can I could find. I would never need it again!”
Sometimes I feel a topic is so serious that no matter how allegedly “seriously” it is approached, I don’t feel satisfied that it is being taken seriously enough. Fat black people are one of those issues for me. Fat black people who can’t or refuse to lose weight to save their lives. Fat black people whose relationship with food is so dysfunctional that they cannot even see or comprehend that they are in a dysfunctional relationship – the most problematic relationship that they are in.
Imagine wanting your stomach to go from the size of a football (normal size) to the size of an egg! What is that? Repeat that again. Run that past me again. The size of a football to the size of an egg. Now, would that be a small, medium, or large egg?
I tried to make it make sense to me. So, I took off my glasses. Take a pair of spectacles or sunglasses. Cut them in half. Break them. Now, you see, you can only cover one eye. That, my dears, is now the size of your stomach. Half a pair of glasses. What “food” fits into a “stomach” that size? Half a sandwich? An egg?
But you will have to wait until another column(s), when I will set out my thoughts on (a) Black people’s psychologically dysfunctional relationship with food; and (b) The fat lies told to fat people. Note to Ebony: What rich black folks do, poor black folks copy.