Barbara Walters recently took a look at her cohost Star Jones Reynolds on the set of The View and told her, “You’re getting too skinny.” Says Reynolds: “To hear someone say that to me? The funniest thing in the world.” Reynolds, 43 – who weighed more than 300 lbs. in 2003 – credits “a medical intervention” for helping “jump-start” her 150-plus-lb. loss, but she won’t talk specifics. “I will not be the poster child for a particular method,” she says. “Only your doctor can tell you what will work for you.” In her new memoir-cum-self-help book Shine, she does detail her struggle with obesity and shares her gospel on being the best you can be. Husband Al, 35, a banker, thinks she’s there. “Half of the woman I fell in love with is missing!” he says, but “I’m proud of her.” An exclusive excerpt follows.It was my birthday – I was turning 41. So several of my girlfriends and I went to Jamaica for the week. Now, I love my birthday. But my weight, for the first time, was weighing heavy on me. I’d always loved my body. I was proud of my breasts, my butt, my legs; I had more dates and relationships than I could handle. I could always find pretty clothes in Lane Bryant even though my size went from 16 to 22.
But I’d gained 50 lbs. in the last year. One of my dearest friends was on that trip, and she sat me down and asked the question, “What are you going to do about your weight?” When such a friend confronts you, you have to stop pretending everything is fine. I thought about how difficult it was in church when I wanted to stand and sing out for God, but my knees hurt. I thought about the mail I received – some mean, sure, but most concerned because they could hear me breathing hard when I spoke on The View. The summer before, when I’d gone to Paris, I couldn’t walk from the plane to the terminal without getting winded, having an anxiety attack, and needing my inhalers. I didn’t even feel like shopping – and that was serious. Girl, I looove shopping.
Other things [in my life] were not terrific, as well. I had a goal: I wanted to find my life mate. [But] you can’t ask for Denzel Washington if you’re walking around looking all busted. I was too heavy. Say it, Star – I was obese. We weren’t talking 20 lbs., we were talking more than 100. My chest hurt. My back ached. When I sat on a beach, I had to think about did I really have to go to the bathroom, because I knew I’d get so tired walking to the clubhouse. I just didn’t feel good. So I went to see several doctors and submitted to [a] complete health assessment. I didn’t have any of the life-threatening ailments associated with obesity, but I was very much at risk of developing them. I needed complete medical intervention and supervision in a weight-loss and long-term health plan.
I started reading about different weight loss plans, from pills to surgery. I decided I wouldn’t be an advocate for any because I couldn’t take the chance that someone who had a different body might follow the programs I chose but have a tragic result.
[I will say that] there are three things on which every health professional and diet guru agree, and those are working for me: portion control, nutritional balance, exercise. At my heaviest, I never exercised. The first straw [that drove me to exercise] had to do with my asthma inhaler. I know this is the vainest reason in the world – when I went out in the evening, the thing took up too much space in my purse. (As I write, it’s been over two years that I haven’t used an inhaler.)
The second straw was the ability to cross my legs. I didn’t have it. I’m not talking about looking good crossing my legs, oh no, darling, I’m talking about being able to do it at all.
The third straw? I wanted to be able to put on my own necklace. When you’re heavy, to stretch your arms out and keep them up while you fasten your necklace is hard. I put on my own necklace now.
I met Al when I’d lost about 50 lbs. and was losing more. I was ready. I liked my body more, and I felt so much better. At a party on Nov. 13, 2003, a man took my arm and said, “You’re not just going to pass me by.” This man with skin the color of cooked butter, the most beautiful lips and the deepest brown eyes on the planet continued, “I saw you once at a party five years ago and was too hesitant to approach you, but I’m braver this time.” I was charmed out of my wits. I looked into those chocolate eyes, and I literally heard a bell ring – just like my mother said it would.
On date one, Al presented me with a CD of songs with the word “star” in them. More important was date two. We’d gone to church and come back to my apartment for a home-cooked meal. Al took my hands and said the words I’ll never forget: “I’m not looking for temporary.” Whooooaaa. “Well, I’m also not interested in sport dating,” I answered. From that moment on, we started thinking of ourselves as two parts of a penny. We’d talk on the phone till 4 in the morning. I left singing messages on his voice mail. He covered the floor of my living room with roses.
I was madly in love. The first time he held me in his arms sexually, it was almost frightening because we knew our erotic interest in each other could take over every other thing.
So we had an intoxicatingly sexual connection the first two months of our relationship. And we talked seriously about marriage. Because we knew this was all moving too quickly, we wanted to bring a spiritual adviser into the relationship. It wasn’t an easy decision. We both knew the first thing he’d say was, “To test this relationship, you must be celibate until marriage.”
They consulted a pastor, who said just that.
He told us that this period of abstinence would, in many ways, insure our ability to be faithful after marriage. The first two months we were celibate, it was kind of whimsical – like, “Oooh – look, we’re doin’ it.” I mean, Al is a beautiful man. He’s got the legs of a stallion. He’d be a perfect Ralph Lauren model. We both probably had the hardest time during the next two months. The last two months we grew even closer than I’d ever dreamed possible.
On Nov. 13, 2004, they wed. Star’s goal had been to weigh less than her groom that day – and she did.
Today we celebrate our love every waking moment. When I’m all dressed up, Al will say to me in the sexiest voice, “Let ’em have it, Ms. Jones.”
“Baby, you are the Man,” I answer.
“Thank you, baby,” he says.
And I’ll say, “Babe, did you make any money today?”
And he’ll say, “Yeah, I think I might have made a little bit of money.”
And I say, “Did you go buy your wife something? Because your wife likes pretty things.”
And he’ll say, “I know my wife likes pretty things. Didn’t I give you that big old diamond ring?”
And I’ll say, “Ooh, that was last year.”
So we toast each other with humor and appreciation and respect.
Al and I were really tested during our engagement period. One day we would read in the press that Al was out gallivanting with a bunch of women. The next day, we’d read a story questioning his sexuality. I remember my husband saying to me, “Baby, what am I today?” And me answering, “Just who you were yesterday, baby.” The attacks on the nature of our relationships never bothered me because I knew this man. Al would give me strength, and I’d give him strength, and we prayed every morning and every evening. And we still do.
People ask me how Al felt when I lost weight. One day, I asked [him]. He thought for a bit, and then he said, “It takes some getting used to, your thinner body beside me, because it’s not the same body I fell in love with.”
How sweet is that?
• From the book Shine: A Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Journey to Finding Love by Star Jones Reynolds. © 2006 by the author. Reprinted with permission from HarperCollins Publishers.