The world met Star Jones in 1997, when she went from Court TV correspondent to one of five co-hosts on Barbara Walters' talk show The View. She was known for her quick wit and take-charge attitude, but also for her rapidly growing weight problem. By 2003, Star had reached 307 pounds and was diagnosed as morbidly obese.
That same year, Star decided to undergo gastric bypass surgery. Yet, as her weight melted off in front of the national TV audience, she never addressed her changing body with her fans. In the three years that followed, Star lost 160 pounds. She also lost the trust of her viewers and, ultimately, her popularity. In 2006, Star was let go from her spot on The View.
While on The View, Star was loved by fans for her outgoing personality and what seemed like genuine confidence. When she first started out at the talk show, Star says her self-assurance was the real thing. "There's a difference between being happy when you're full-figured and being happy when you're morbidly obese," she says. "I had given the audience full-figured Star full blast, and when I changed to morbidly obese Star, I didn't have the courage to let that mask down. I didn't have the courage to say: 'Y'all, I ain't happy no more. I'm scared.'"
Star says when she first started on The View, viewers sent letters of support. "Then, as I got bigger and bigger, the mail turned nastier or concerned," she says. "[They said things like,] 'We can hear you breathe.'''
Star says that while she used to love watching herself on The View, especially the opening walkout, she eventually tuned out entirely. "I think the last year before the surgery I never watched myself on camera at all."
Despite the fan mail and her aversion to watching herself on TV, Star says the ultimate decision to have gastric bypass surgery was made for her health. Between her 40th and 41st birthday, Star says she gained 75 pounds. "I was dying," she says. "I now know I was very depressed. I was lonely, and I didn't know how to say, 'I'm lonely.' That's one thing that I have learned in doing a bunch of research and self-analysis—we in our community are ashamed sometimes to admit that our emotional health needs some help."
Though she was struggling on the inside, Star says at age 40 she was having the most successful year of her career. She was always on the scene, appearing at all the major openings, but she was still lonely. "I found myself eating alone after the big party or event," she says. "I was faking it, and it took me a long time to admit it."
Star says it was hard for her to accept that while she was so accomplished in some areas in her life, she couldn't get a handle on her weight. "I could stare a murderer down in a courtroom," she says. "I thought to myself, 'I should be able to control this.'"
At her heaviest, Star says she tried to disguise her weight by increasing the size of her persona. "The hair, the lashes, the nails," she says. "This is the first time since I've been doing television that I've worn my natural nails, because I'm confident enough to not need big long acrylics."
Though she is now 160 pounds lighter than she was when she underwent gastric bypass surgery, Star says having a new body hasn't totally set in. "I'm still 300 pounds in my head some days," she says.
Part of that feeling is the fear that she will disappoint her fans, Star says. "When I was a little kid and I would get chastised by my parents, I longed for a whooping instead of hearing my mother say, 'You have disappointed me,'" she says. "If I disappoint you, I feel like a failure."
The fear of disappointing people is one of the primary reasons Star initially refused to talk publicly about her surgery, she says. "People who loved me and had my best interests at heart would say: 'Star, it's not a bad thing. You can admit it.' And I couldn't. I just put my head in the sand. I was defiant," she says. "I said, 'I'm not talking about this, and if you bring it up again I will fire everybody.' That's how in pain I was."
As Star continued to push away the people who were closest to her, she says the audience could sense that they were being pushed away as well. "I was ashamed," she says. "I was ashamed that I couldn't control my weight, that I was an addict for all practical purposes, that I had never stuck to a real diet or exercise program and that when confronted by my doctor, he said, 'If you don't make changes, you will die.'"
In May 2008, Barbara Walters told Oprah she kept Star's gastric bypass surgery a secret because Star had asked her to. Barbara also said she had been uncomfortable lying on a show that was based on honesty, and the audience of The View was getting turned off.
Star says she was initially hurt by Barbara's comments but has grown to understand where her former co-host on The View was coming from. "I'm so sorry that I placed a burden on my colleagues," she says. "I never asked them to lie. ... I wanted to keep it private. I wanted them to keep my confidence."
Despite rumors that Star claimed her weight loss was due to portion control and Pilates, she says she never lied outright. "I'm a lawyer—I know how to couch my words," she says. "I would say 'medical intervention.'"
Star says she wishes she'd had the courage to talk about her decision publicly so that her colleagues wouldn't have felt pressured to lie. "I wish that I had the strength to face my own demons so that I could have allowed someone to help me," she says. "If I had been stronger, then I could have let people in."
It's widely known that Star kept her weight loss method a secret, but she says most people misunderstand why she did that. "It would have been the easiest thing in the world to just say it was gastric bypass," she says. "The harder thing would have been the more probing question, which was, 'After you got the procedure, how did it make you feel?'"
Star says she'd been scared that someone would ask her that question and she wouldn't know how to answer. "If I fell apart and became Jell-O, I was afraid of what the audience would think," she says.
While she knew she could handle the physical aspect of the surgery, she wasn't ready to handle the emotional ramifications. "I didn't know who I was, I didn't know who I was going to be," she says. "Emotionally, I knew that I had to lose the weight, but I didn't realize that I should do therapy. But that's what I did. I got into very intense therapy, and I started to lose the weight [in my head]."
Another very public decision Star made while she was losing weight was to marry her now ex-husband, Al Reynolds. Star says she thinks she would make the same decision today, as her thinner, healthier self, but says she can't be sure. "I was very happy, and what was attractive would still be attractive," she says. "But I was a different kind of woman to date [then]. I was your fun, smart, witty, life-of-the-party kind of girl. ... I had people who were attracted to me, but it was never with desire."
Men noticed Star in a different way after her surgery, she says. "It was nice, as I changed, to experience [desire],'" she says. "To feel like you rock someone's world for just that moment."
Now that Star is at a healthy weight, she says she's finally able to be her true self. "I'm learning every single day," she says. "When you lose another whole person, you try to find out who the authentic you is inside. Then you accept every single thing—the blemishes and all."
Star says she doesn't try to be perfect—she just wants to be more honest about who she is. "What you see is what you get," she says.
After undergoing gastric bypass surgery, Star says she still had 85 pounds to lose. This time, she says it's no rumor—she lost the weight with the help of Pilates. "When I was on the Pilates machine for the first time, I couldn't lift my legs. There's an exercise called the hundred—I couldn't get through two much less a hundred," she says. "But I wouldn't quit. I did it five days a week. ... And as I did it, I remember my gym pants started to fall off a little bit, and I just started to cry. I knew it was working."
Star says she also had some follow-up surgeries to deal with her new body. "I couldn't get rid of the stomach. I'd gotten rid of all the fat, but I couldn't get rid of the skin," she says. "So [I had] the abdominoplasty, which is commonly referred to as a tummy tuck, because that's not healthy to have skin hanging here. And then for vanity's sake, I had the boobs lifted because they went like pancakes."
Recently, while Star was in the supermarket, she saw an unflattering tabloid picture of herself in a bathing suit. She says seeing those photos hurts her more now than it did when she was overweight. "When I was 300 pounds, I couldn't hide anything," she says. "There's nothing worse than being 150 pounds and then having a little pocket and having a tabloid take a picture of it and put it on the cover. ... I was bending over and they shot me from the side. I remember putting that swimsuit on that morning and how happy I felt. I remember it like it was yesterday, and they could reduce such a wonderful moment to something horrible. I was so depressed."
This time around, though, Star says the emotions didn't cause her to overeat. In the past, she says, hearing the negative comments and late-night jokes about her weight sent her into an eating spiral. "The late-night comics [were] crushing," she says. "We pretend that it doesn't matter, but it hurts every single time."
Along with the weight loss came some noticeable changes in Star's demeanor. "I don't have to be as loud. I don't have to be as boisterous," she says. "I'm healthy. I can breathe. I can walk up stairs."
The change in her health was especially noticeable recently, when the elevator in Star's apartment building went out. The last time the elevator was out of service, she says she had to stay in a hotel room for the night since she lives on the 10th floor. "When it went out last year, I walked the stairs," she says. "When I got to the top, it was like the biggest accomplishment. I was breathing hard—be clear. But I felt so good."
Though the road to her new, healthy self was bumpy, Star says it has made her who she is today. "Do I regret not being strong enough to share everything right away? Yes," she says. "But would I take it back? No, because I'm healthy here today. I got emotionally strong while I got physically strong."