More Dangerous Dissembling

Etta James is in the hospital because of complications following unspecified “abdominal surgery” last month.

As of 9 a.m. central time, there are three articles about this that mention Etta James had weight loss surgery a few years ago. The AP article didn’t mention it. Which means a Google news search on Etta James returns 273 articles that didn’t mention it.

I wish Etta James a speedy recovery and all good things. And no, of course, I don’t know for certain that James’s recent abdominal surgery had anything to do with the WLS. She could have had a hernia or something.

Nevertheless, I feel comfortable calling this total bullshit. The chances that someone who had WLS would end up in the hospital after completely unrelated abdominal surgery are pretty fucking small.

It’s bad enough that celebrities have their viscera renovated and then lie about how they lost the weight. But passing off complications as something unrelated is just brain-breakingly disgusting. Judging by the AP article, the press release from the James camp did just that — but even so, it ain’t like an intrepid journalist would really have to knock herself out to connect the dots. Sure, you couldn’t speculate openly about the nature of the recent abdominal surgery in an AP article, but you could bloody well do what those three other journalists did and mention that she had WLS, so readers could do their own speculating. I mean, seriously, if a celebrity known to have had breast implants were in the hospital for “chest surgery,” would the former point go unremarked?

Downplaying the risks of weight loss surgery is just one more way the media reinforces that getting thin at any cost is all that matters. And it’s not just the mainstream media; it’s the goddamned medical journals, too.

In an article in the Oct. 13 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers unveiled encouraging news for people seeking surgery to reduce their weight. JAMA reviewed the results of 136 studies and found that surgery to lessen the size of the digestive tract resulted not only in weight loss but also reversed diabetes in 77% of obese patients, eliminated high blood pressure in 62%, and lowered cholesterol in at least 70%. The study was funded by Johnson & Johnson (JNJ ), a maker of instruments used in such surgeries.

Emphasis mine, but big, fat kudos to Business Week for noting that at all. And of course what rarely gets mentioned when studies like that trickle down to the mainstream media is that there’s no proof whatsoever that being less fat caused the reversal of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Weight loss surgery doesn’t just make you thin; it makes you physically unable to eat large quantities of food and in most cases, much less able to digest fatty or sugary foods. So basically, it forces you onto exactly the kind of diet already recommended to control diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol — the kind of diet that, absent WLS, might not make you much thinner, even if it makes you much healthier.

But people don’t stay on diets like that! And healthcare costs are out of control! So why not force the fatties to behave and save us all some money?

Well, here’s one reason:

Two years ago, the rationale that the surgery can cut down on the health-care costs associated with being obese also took a blow. A large ongoing study in Sweden found that [sic] the use and cost of drugs in obese patients to be about the same, whether or not they had the surgery. Those who didn’t have the procedure needed medication for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, while those who underwent it needed treatment for gastrointestinal-tract disorders, anemia, and vitamin deficiency.

Those who undergo the surgery are also more likely to die within a few years from complications related to the surgery than they would have been from complications related to obesity. There’s that.

But oh wait, if they die young, that’s less money the rest of us have to pay for their healthcare. Not a problem, then.

(H/T Corinna from the Fat Studies list.)

37 thoughts on “More Dangerous Dissembling

  1. I’ve noticed that before. A fat or fatish celebrity is hospitalized for “abdominal surgery” or complications from “abdominal surgery”. The risks, complications, and even deaths are dismissed so only “success” stories filter through. If it works, it was WLS. If not, well, then it was “abdominal surgery”.

  2. Just to play the devil’s advocate, only one of the two stories that mentioned the WLS (the third didn’t show up on the link I clicked) was a news story. The other was a press release, and of uncertain quality. This leads me to think that confirming James’ WLS was very difficult to do, and not necessarily a case of willful neglect by the media.

    I suspect a huge part of the reason the media doesn’t write about WLS– and in the case of Etta James I think this is very likely if it is the case she had WLS (which, I feel obliged to point out we _do not know_)– is that people are pretty unwilling to fess up when they’ve had it. The stigma about fat applies to surgery, too. There’s just a lot of shame going around, and shame never does anyone any good.

    No reporter worth his or her salt would speculate about James’ surgery without serious backup, and would be wary to simply include James’ previous surgery in the piece because it would imply information about the current surgery where there is none. That’s the kind of thing newspapers can get sued over. In this case, I think it’s important to remember that the breaking news here is Etta James is in the hospital. The reasons why are unclear, probably because her privacy is being protected (as it should be).

    I agree with you that there should be more reporting on all kinds of health risks, cosmetic surgery high among them. But it’s a little too easy to blame the media. As much as we have to take everyone to task (as I’m taking you right now), I think we also have to remember not to rush to judge. Passion is important, but so is prudence.

    This extends to the stigma against surgery. I would never have unnecessary surgery myself, the principal reason being, I’m a big weenie about needles and pain. But members of my family have had WLS, and while I worry for them, I support their decisions because I believe that people have the right to do with their bodies as they wish, and because I do not think it helps them to express disapproval. I think we’d both like to see a day when people can speak openly about their feelings and experiences surrounding weight without feeling threatened. The more we can create an environment in which debate is fostered by open communication, the better off everyone is.

    Get well soon, Etta James. God, she’s cool.

  3. Spill, it is actually a verifiable fact-that Etta James had a Fobi Pouch, like Randy Jackson and Roseanne Barr. She spoke about it with Essence Magazine in 2004, and you can get a PDF of the article here, which is actually the first Google result for “Etta James weight loss surgery.”

    And like I said, of course a journalist can’t speculate openly about this recent surgery. But when they’re already mining the obit for facts about Etta James to beef up the article, they could certainly mention the WLS without getting sued — since she’s spoken about it publicly and her own website bio makes a HUGE deal of the fact that she lost 200 lbs. She apparently considers it an important part of her life.

    I’m not judging people who had the surgery — I have at least a few readers who’ve had it that I know of. I am certainly not trying to shame them or anyone else. And I completely support people’s right to do what they will with their own bodies; that’s a big part of what this blog is about.

    But it is dangerous surgery, and the risks are routinely downplayed in articles about it — especially in articles about celebrities who’ve had it. At its worst, I think it’s incredibly irresponsible journalism, and at its mildest — as in this case — I think it’s a missed opportunity to, as I said, connect the dots. We see all these images of Carnie Wilson and Randy Jackson and Al Roker, etc., etc., and the only message that comes with them is, “Look how thin!” We don’t see the people dying of pulmonary embolisms after surgery. We don’t see the people who have to go back for surgery after surgery to fix leaks. We don’t see my friend who lost one of her bridesmaids three weeks before her wedding, because that woman — who’d had the surgery a few years earlier — died suddenly at 31 years old.

    We also don’t see all the people who gain the weight back even after surgery, making the purpose of it that much more questionable.

    Some people really feel they need the surgery as a last resort, and I can understand that. I don’t know what it’s like to be so fat you’re unable to care for yourself. But there are plenty of people nowhere near that fat taking these risks without fully understanding them, and I think that when the media celebrates celebrity WLS and/or pretends it didn’t happen, they’re complicit in promoting a too-rosy picture of it.

  4. You are so right. And the depression rate with these poor people is incredibly high. The WLS industry is out there to make money not to have our best interests at heart. I have a feeling we are going to see lots of complications from these surgeries down the road that we could not have dreamed of.

  5. I remember reading about James’ surgery last year, and she said the reason she did it was because she didn’t feel worthy of going onstage as fat as she was. I wanted to take to my bed the rest of the day and sob when I read that. I don’t believe for a minute that James came to this conclusion on her own; I would bet all 27 lives of my cats that promoters, managers, record label A&R people, etc. told her, “Lose weight — oh, about half of your present size — and then we’ll talk.”

    Funny, but Solomon Burke doesn’t have that problem, does he? No, because he’s a man, and thus doesn’t have to worry about people laughing at him when he’s on stage in a sequined gown. That anyone would tell James she didn’t deserve the microphone, with her unbelievable talent, because she didn’t fit into straight sizes, makes me want to kill someone.

    And when I read “abdominal surgery,” I thought, “Fuckers, you stupid misogynist fuckers, you are killing this great woman, you are killing her. I hope you’re fucking happy now.”

  6. Kate,

    Two things. Your understanding of “a verifiable fact” and journalism’s idea of a verifiable fact are two very different things. Unless Etta James herself calls the reporter and confirms the surgery, the only “verifiable fact” here is that Ebony reported she had WLS.

    Two, it is absolutely libel territory to mention that James had WLS when she’s been hospitalized for unspecified complications from an unspecified abdominal surgery. If it turned out that she had pancreatitis, she could sue the AP or whomever for implying that she had cosmetic surgery.

    Okay, three things– I wasn’t trying to say anything negative about you or your views of WLS in regards to other readers. I was just trying to advocate for open dialogue.

    I would love to see a series on the dangers of cosmetic surgery. If you have a criticism of the media, make it that there hasn’t been one. But I think to attack the AP for their deadline piece on James’ surgery is a stretch.

  7. Passion is important, but so is prudence.

    Spillah, I am sure you are an awesome person and, hey, it is good to get another perspective on things. But the above reads a little too much like , “Calm down. Don’t get so upset, it’s no big deal.”

    I don’t see any of this as a report on Etta James being in the hospital – that was simply a catalyst for the post. So, yeah, that might be the breaking news for other people but for this blog, with this focus, the breaking news is that YET AGAIN the media feels free to mention her weight loss as an important fact but doesn’t ever have anything to say about the complications that can AND DO arise from these surgeries.

  8. Hi, The Rotund.

    I do not think at all that WLS is no big deal. It scares the crap out of me.

    What I mean by prudence is not calling the AP story “total bullshit.”

    The total bullshit is, as your rightly point out, that weight loss is glorified and the dangers of WLS ignored. But you’re talking about two vastly different parts of the media spectrum– wire services and celebrity media– and attacking one for being complicit in the evils of the other, when the reality is, I think the AP was just doing their job.

    I want to be very clear I say all of this with deep respect for everyone’s views.

  9. Spill, when I say it’s a “verifiable fact,” I mean that that article is only one of many published articles in which James herself says she had the surgery. (And it was Essence, not Ebony.) I get that that’s not enough for a reporter — but I also get that if she’s on the record about it in several places, a call to her publicist (since Etta is obviously not available right now) with the question, “Did Etta James have weight loss surgery?” would likely yield a yes.

    And I think you’re still missing the context I’m suggesting it might have been mentioned in. Not “Etta James just had abdominal surgery, which might be related to her WLS,” but “Etta James, most famous for her rendition of ‘At Last,’ most recently recorded blah in blah year. After years of struggling with her weight, she had weight loss surgery and lost 200 lbs., which her website says made her more comfortable performing onstage…”

    Like I said, many of the articles obviously went for the obit info they had on file, which is all shit like that. There’s no reason WLS couldn’t be part of it, if they could confirm it — which previously published articles suggest they could.

    And yeah, the writer was on deadline, I don’t know how journalism works, etc. The problem is, journalists produce a product that I take in as a consumer. As a consumer, I’m pissed off by the pattern of reports that celebrate WLS when it produces a smiling thin celebrity and ignore it when it causes serious complications. This is, however indirectly, part of that pattern. It’s clearly not the worst example. But it’s an example, and if you paid attention to these articles like I do, you’d see the pattern, too.

  10. What I found strange, in the one article that I read, was that it didn’t mention her past WLS, but it did mention her history of heroin use (despite the fact that she’s been clean and sober for decades).

    So, they could have mentioned her former WLS in the article without necessarily saying that she was having a revision or was in to deal with complications of the prior WLS (which they may not know).

    The reality is, though, that Etta James has been pretty open about her WLS in the past and while I don’t often advocate for WLS, it does sound like it improved quality of life for her because she was having difficulty with being mobile before the surgery.

  11. Oh, and to clarify after your last comment, I wasn’t calling the AP story “total bullshit.” I was calling bullshit on one more celebrity skirting the WLS issue (you’ll note I blamed the press release for that, not the AP), and one more article that goes right along with that instead of asking a simple question.

    It may not be the job of an AP writer to ask that question. And the writer might not have had time to ask it. Or the writer might not have been curious enough to ask it. Whatever. Honestly, my best guess is that the AP writer didn’t know James had had WLS and therefore didn’t even think about it. The writer might be too young to have any idea who Etta James is, and wouldn’t really need to know to do their job.

    That doesn’t mean this wasn’t a missed opportunity, which is all I said it was, in terms of the article.

  12. Thanks for the clarification, Spillah.

    Thing is, I do often think the wire services are just as complicit in these issues as the celebrity media. Because one informs the other. The wire services are not operating in a vacuum and they aren’t run by machines. They are people, just like other people, who are being shaped by the media around them.

    I don’t think Kate is crying bullshit on the entirety of the AP, either. She has acknowledged that the press release is the source of the info in the AP article. What’s frustrating is that the reporter, shaped as he or she is by media bias, didn’t bother to do any additional digging. Because, really, I thought THAT was what reporters DO. Even on deadline.

    Nor do I think Kate is particularly villifying wire services here. It’s really more about how ALL branches of the media, including medical journals, have bought into this story of weight loss surgery as a cure-all for fat people.

  13. Nobody would have batted an eye if the article had mentioned another previous surgery. “Etta James is in the hospital for complications from a recent abdominal surgery. James, 69, also underwent heart surgery last year, and is being treated for diabetes.” (Example; not true.) Nobody’s going to look at that and say “how dare you imply that her recent surgery is related to her other health problems.” It’s just thorough reporting.

  14. Hi,
    I am totally swamped right now, but I do want to respond to two things– one, a publicist probably wouldn’t answer that question on deadline if there was any possibility she had been hospitalized for WLS complications (all you have to do is spend time on the phone trying to get an honest answer out of a celebrity publicist once in your life to know that) and while I realize it sounds implausible to a sane person, newspapers get attacked all the time for the things they insinuate just by reporting the truth, and yes, they would catch hell if they had said ,”Essence (or Ebony, both did) reported that James had had WLS and she reportedly said it had made her really happy,” in the same piece where they said she was hospitalized for an unspecified abdominal complication, particularly if it turned out that she had pancreatitis. (They could, however, protect themselves a bit by saying, “So-and-so denied it was WLS,” or whatever, but suddenly the piece is about whether she’s in the hospital for WLS, not her hospitalization, which opens the door again.) I’m not saying it’s right– I’m saying that I’ve seen far more over far less.
    And I guess my larger point is, an AP wire isn’t about the WLS until the WLS becomes a part of the story of her hospitalization– and none of us know at this point that it is. Wire services are for breaking news– in this case, the breaking news is “Etta James is in the hospital, this is what we know.”

    I agree that there are rampant examples of media bias; I just don’t think this is one of them. And so many people take potshots at journalists, blanket-blaming “the media,” without knowing how what pains many reporters go to in order to be objective, which is why I am sticking my cleats in the mud on this one.

  15. But I think Kate is right when she suggests that there would have been no hesitation to include mention of past health problems if they weren’t WLS. Heck, I read a story about Roger Ebert’s film reviews being archived online and IT mentions his recent health problems which weren’t remotely related to the story being discussed. Those sorts of details ARE routinely reported, so its not unreasonable to take not of their absence.

  16. I’m not disagreeing with the assertion that unrelated health issues could be reported. I’m saying that one you begin to speculate (directly or indirectly) whether it was WLS, it’s a whole new issue, and not really an issue that is the purview of an AP wire.

  17. But there is no speculation that she’s had WLS. She did. The suggestion isn’t that the reporters should speculate that the WLS was connected with the abdominal surgery. The suggestion is that it is highly relevant information that should have been presented to the reader. The reader can take the information however they like. Leaving out such relevant medical history is the issue being raised. Not leaving it out and also not speculating on it.

  18. I’m talking about the speculation that this is a second WLS, or that her hospitalization is WLS related. The point is, you’re assuming you know that the hospitalization is WLS related. We don’t know that.

  19. No one is suggesting that the press should have speculated as fact, though. The suggestion is that they should have included relevant facts in the story and that leaving out those facts is worth discussing.

    We, as readers are free to speculate. We’re free to wonder if the hospitalization was WLS related. To wonder if the surgery was a complication from WLS. No one is saying we know for a fact, but there is reason to seriously wonder why the press left out facts we know from this story when similiar facts are routinely reported in such stories. Why not here is the question at hand? Why is WLS the health issue that dare not speak its name?

  20. I just wondered if you had any thoughts on lap-band surgery? I think that gastric bypass is incredibly dangerous and the risk of complications is something like 80% during your lifetime after surgery. However, I’m working towards having lap-band surgery for my own health and well being. I’ve done tons of research on it and know that, of course, there are risks, but I like that it’s reversible and does not modify how your body functions on its own, just helps slow you down a bit.

    I don’t have any co-morbidities, thank god, but at 27 years old and 320 lbs I’d like to take care of things before I develop them, or screw up my knees forever, or gain even MORE weight *shudders*

  21. There is nothing that WLS does which you could not do without surgery. Nothing. The only problem is that without surgery, its usually called anorexia or bulimia depending on how it works for the individual. While not as deadly as other surgeries, you still stand a better chance of being alive in a year, or two, or twenty, by not getting the surgery than you do by getting it. Long term studies do not exist for any WLS procedure, but similiar surgeries performed because something actually needed to be taken out have been shown to cut life expectancy by decades. Being fat cuts life expectancy by a few years at most. Being reversable as a selling point frankly scares me. The benefit of lap band is that you can stop it? What other surgical procedures are touted as reversable? There are also limits to its reversability and reversing it carries the risks of an additional surgical procedure.

    You are healthy. If you can learn to live in harmony with your body, you can continue to pursue your health in the most reliable manner available to you. You may still face health problems. Your weight may go up or down. But you can be as healthy as you can without trying to engineer a specific number on a scale. Especially without putting yourself in mortal danger because of the belief that your body is unredeemable as is. It isn’t.

  22. Littleroo, here’s an excerpt from a Junkfood Science article on bariatric surgery, regarding the lap band. Don’t assume it’s going to be reversible; it might not be.

    The Mayo Clinic reported in 2000 that 20% to 25% of gastric bypass patients develop life-threatening complications, but the recent Lap-Band U.S. clinical trials done to earn FDA approval reported 89% of patients had at least one adverse event, one-third of them severe. Complications from lap bands are more likely to require surgery to correct and the bands result in so much more vomiting, they are known as “surgical-induced” bulimia among medical professionals. While many consumers believe the newer, less invasive laparoscopic bypasses and lap-band procedures (which tighten a constrictive band around the stomach to make it smaller) are safer, they merely have their own “unique set of complications,” according to surgeons Shanu N. Kothari, M.D., and Harvey J. Sugerman, M.D. writing in Healthy Weight Journal. Ulcerations and the bands eroding into the stomach can happen and usually are why the bands are not reversible or removable. A September 2003 and an August 2005 Blue Cross-Blue Shield TEC Assessment scientific review of the evidence on the newer procedures concluded they had also “not demonstrated improved net health outcomes.”

    The full article is here.

  23. Oh, and BStu, there are other surgical procedures that are thought to be reversible, in particular sterilization procedures such as vasectomies and Essure-type tubal ligations. However, you’re right that these are not marketed to a fare-thee-well the way bariatric surgery is with the promise that “you can always get it reversed.”

  24. littleroo27, I don’t promote any form of WLS, but no, I don’t put the lap-band in quite the same category as more invasive surgeries. The risks certainly don’t seem to be as severe. And obviously, it’s your body; only you know what the best path to take is.

    But you asked for my thoughts, and personally, I think any form of WLS should only be a last resort for deeply unhealthy people — and even then, I would still have reservations. There’s my two cents.

  25. I’m talking about the speculation that this is a second WLS, or that her hospitalization is WLS related. The point is, you’re assuming you know that the hospitalization is WLS related. We don’t know that.

    Spill, I never even thought about it being a second WLS. Personally, I was only speculating about it being a complication. Which it MAY NOT EVEN BE, which I SAID.

    But you seem to be missing some key points here.

    1) That Etta James once had WLS is fact.

    2) That fact is arguably relevant to an article about her current health problems, and I, obviously, would argue it is.

    3) I never suggested — not in the original post or in comments — that it would be the place of any reporter, for a wire service or anywhere else, to speculate that this recent hospitalization was WLS related.

    4) What I said was, you could say elsewhere in the article, as part of a history of Etta’s life, that she once had WLS — just as some articles have mentioned that she was a heroin addict.

    5) From there, readers could speculate freely about a possible connection, which would not even be implied by the article. But the dots would be there for the connecting, if one were so inclined.

    Also, in response to an earlier comment, I’m certainly not disputing that people sue newspapers over dumb shit all the time. But as I know from personal experience, being sued for libel does not mean you committed libel. If what you printed was demonstrable fact, it’s not libel. And all I’m saying I’d like to see printed is that Etta James once had WLS, which is a demonstrable fact.

    Would a paper or wire service want the headache of maybe being sued anyway? No. But apply that argument to more important things than celebrity weight loss, and you see where it goes wrong: if the press is afraid to report facts because they might get sued, that’s a big fucking problem.

    Finally, the argument that readers shouldn’t object to what gets printed because we don’t know how hard journalists work simply doesn’t hold water. By that logic, no one without a journalism background should be allowed to read a paper and form opinions on what’s printed. It’s ridiculous to expect the average reader to have any special insight into the world of journalism or take into account all the pressures bearing on the journalist. The average reader buys and processes the words on the page, period. And when those words on the page leave out relevant facts (which I believe this article did) or betray an unacknowledged bias (which this didn’t, necessarily), the average reader has every right to wonder why.

  26. littleroo27, I speak as a fatty fat fat woman who is 5’3″ (5’4″ on a good day), 300 or so pounds, and who is about to turn 30 (whoo!) in September.

    There is no guarantee that, to use your example, your knees will give out because of your weight as you age. There is no guarantee that your knees will NOT give out even if you are light as a feather. Lap band surgery is not a magic bullet.

    If you are truly concerned for your health, as opposed to whatever number designates your weight, I would suggest giving the HAES approach a try. You might still not be happy, you might still go for the lap band afterwards. But if your general health is what you are really seeking to improve then an approach to living that is health-centered is going to do you a lot more good than an approach that is weight-loss centered.

    I have to say, on a personal level, it kind of freaks me out that someone who is close to my own weight and age and who, it seems, is in good health, would be considering having this surgery at all, much more for preventative reasons. Invasive surgery rarely seems to PREVENT much at all.

  27. Re: Lap Band – do remember that the results from it aren’t all that better than the traditional diet-and-exercise “lifestyle change” for weight loss. Some people lose no weight at all, most lose a modest amount and many of those re-gain, and only a small percentage actually reach and maintain a substantial loss. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to risk frequent spontaneous vomiting and acid reflux – I happen to like having teeth (especially after forking over a mountain of cash to my orthodontist).

    There are definitely things you can do to improve and maintain your health without undergoing a surgically-enforced eating disorder or a non-surgical option. Research Health At Every Size (FatFu has a great list on her blog sidebar), check out what people like Kelly Bliss are doing, etc. Being 300lbs doesn’t even preclude you from doing triathlons (look up the Fat Girl on a Bike blog) if you want to.

  28. This “reporters have to tread so very very lightly” crap just tans my hide. You know what? We get people calling in ALL THE TIME, all butthurt over something we wrote. We’ll listen to them, often more patiently than they deserve, and sometimes we’ll publish their comments with our rebuttals, but we don’t stop writing true things because we’re scared someone might get their panties wadded. In fact, upstairs in the National Press Club there’s a “journalist’s creed” that says basically that.

  29. “there are other surgical procedures that are thought to be reversible, in particular sterilization procedures such as vasectomies and Essure-type tubal ligations. ”

    Essure procedures are absolutely not reversible, and many vasectomies aren’t either. Vasectomy reversals can fail either because it’s just not possible to get the ducts healed back together, or because of sperm auto-antibodies. The Essure procedure places a spring like device in the Fallopian tubes. The device doesn’t occlude the tubes on its own – it causes inflammation and scarring in the tubes, eventually blocking them (this is why you need three months and a dye X-ray to prove that your tubes are blocked before it can be pronounced a success. Once fibrosed, the only reliable way to get the implants out would be to remove the Fallopian tubes altogether. It would be theoretically possible to get pregnant via IVF after Essure, however there are no data on the outcomes of pregnancies with the implants in place.

    I know this is off topic, but I’ve seen a few people bandying about the “Essure is reversible” factoid, and it’s 100% false and a potentially dangerous belief.

  30. BTSu saud: There is nothing that WLS does which you could not do without surgery. Nothing. The only problem is that without surgery, its usually called anorexia or bulimia depending on how it works for the individual.

    In my case, it was both. The funny thing is, no one ever asks me if I had an eating disorder. It never even occurs to them that losing 175 pounds in one year might be unhealthy. They just ask “Oh my gosh, did you have WLS?”

  31. Lauredhel, that’s why I said “are thought to be reversible,” rather than simply “are reversible,” because I know the actual evidence on that is pretty equivocal. Probably I should have made that a little clearer, sorry. You can never just revise and re-revise body parts like you’re rearranging furniture; there’s always a risk that something can’t be “undone.” The point is, doctors aren’t “selling” those procedures to people by telling them “you can always have it reversed,” unlike WLS.

  32. Indeed. Supposed reversability is a selling point with lap-band and I can’t think of any other procedure where even possible reversing is any more than an after thought and one I’m sure the surgeon would caution against expecting too much from. With lap-band, its part of the marketing materials.

    (Aside, I actually just ventured to a lap-band site to confirm that its part of the marketing materials and it sure was. I also found out that at 5’9″ and 240lbs that YES! I qualify. The “success” stories are horrible, too. Mom’s who got chopped up out of fear that their child would hate them for being fat. A woman who called her maybe 300lb self “virtually immobile”. Another mom afraid of embarassing her child.)

    Rachel you raise a good point. While those behaviors would ordinarily be called anorexia or bulumia, they are usually just congratulated when practiced by fat people and clinically aren’t acknowledged, either, as when a fat person develops an eating disorder its just given a catch-all diagnosis. I’ve seen it for myself, the adulation heaped on a fat woman who was developing anorexia. Its scary just how much is okay with fat people in the name of weight loss.

  33. BStu, OT but your review of those marketing materials reminds me that I HATE it when “my children were ashamed of me” is promoted as a good reason for weight loss. Is it really healthy (for you OR the kids) to internalize your children’s beliefs about your body, whatever those might be, and undergo major surgery because of them? That puts a ton of responsibility on your kids’ shoulders and validates their beliefs about weight (which are probably fairly mixed up and influenced by their peers, kids’ natural tendency to be embarrassed by their parents, etc.) as if they are little adults. It also lends an awful lot of credence to the idea that it is OK to shun people, even if they are your own mother, for being fat. What happened to teaching your kids to respect their parents and other people, regardless of their weight? (If your son or daughter said “I’m embarrassed by your wardrobe” or “I’m embarrassed because our house isn’t nice” it would send a terrible message to respond “You’re right, Junior, so sorry, what you say goes and I’ll change those things immediately”). And what happens if Mom dies in surgery and it comes out that she got the surgery in part because she felt bad that the kids were embarrassed? That is some therapy fodder right there. The whole thing changes the parent-child dynamic in a way that I don’t think can be healthy.

    The twisted cherry on top of the screwed-up sundae here is that it often seems that these people’s kids are not ashamed of them (or, you know, no more embarrassed than every kid is of his or her parents) until the parent projects so much self-hate and shame that the kids also adopt that attitude. If you ever want to despair for the future of humanity, read that awful book “Diary of a Fat Housewife.” The author is ragingly depressed and seems to pull her whole family into her destructive downward spiral, but thinks that all of her problems are caused by her weight. There is a part where she claims that her daughter said that Mom’s weight was the worst problem her family had and from how it is worded, it’s clear that the author basically browbeat the daughter into “admitting” that and validating her own screwed-up view of things. It’s incredibly dysfunctional and the mom’s weight was absolutely NOT the real problem, nor do I think it really ever is in that situation.

    Immobilized at 300 lbs.! Ha! I’m glad I didn’t know about that because I guess I should have taken to my bed at 276 pounds instead of working full-time, going to the gym, and doing activities with my husband and friends. I was under the apparently mistaken impression that I was capable of the same things as everyone else. Silly me.

    (However, I think people do realize deep down that this is not a good reason to cite for weight loss or WLS, because if nothing else it’s pretty fucking shallow. If you push them on it they modify it to “I mean, I want to be alive to watch my children grow up” and then they are immune to ever losing an argument again because it’s all about the children.)

  34. Hey there,

    I’ve been out of the journalism business for a few years (and wasn’t exactly a hot shot even then), but if a reporter is really concerned about being dinged for libel, she can always cover her ass by using the hoary old “allegedly” or “as reported in May of last year by ____.”

    In this case, though, I hardly think anyone would go to the trouble, any more than they would list attribution for Paris Hilton’s arrest after it had already been widely reported.

  35. i just want to say it could *totally* be a hernia operation.

    after all, my mom has had two hernia operations due to her wls.

  36. I’ve only seen two stories on James’ WLS, and to me that isn’t “widely reported.” (The libel aspect is just an extension of the larger point about the reasons for primary reporting. It isn’t a fact, journalistically, simply because a magazine said it was.)
    And to put the two ideas together in a 300 word piece about James’ hospitalization IS to speculate.
    But all of this misses my point, which is that an AP wire is just that, an AP wire. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a piece about WLS and Etta James. I’m saying one has no way of knowing what the process was that resulted in her WLS being left out of the piece. Maybe it was ignorance, or maybe it was that the publicist was being a jerk and denied the WLS, but most likely, it was because the point of the piece was to say that James was in the hospital, period. Someone wants to dig further than that, they can and should, but I think it’s pushing it to blame the AP for not mentioning it.

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