So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib. —Genesis 2:22
And so it began: The promise that if you remove a rib, something awesome is going to come from it. In Adam’s case, the Bible’s first man was bored of being naked all by himself, so God popped out one of his ribs to make a lady friend for him. And as reasons go, it’s not that much sillier than those currently given for rumored rib-removals — which range from women having their ribs taken out to attract men, to men having their ribs removed so that they’ll never need a girlfriend in the first place.
However these rumors get started, they certainly are persistent, with new celebrity names being assigned to the same old stories every few years. With the help of board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Otto Placik, we dug deep into this rumor mill to see if there’s any truth to any of it.
The Extreme Diet
The Rumor: Popular female celebrity removes rib(s) to appear slimmer.
The Background: This is by far the most persistent and pervasive of any rib rumor out there. While most popularly assigned to Cher or Jane Fonda, its origins date all the way back to Victorian times, when the rise of the corset meant that women were pressured (literally) to make their waists appear as small as humanly possible. Out of this punishing fad grew a rumor about 1890s actress Anna Held, famous for having an 18-inch waist: That she’d had some ribs removed to achieve her notorious figure. Strangely enough, some believe that her own manager started this rumor as a way to promote her fame.
Since then, the rumor has been assigned to at least one popular actress per generation, from Elizabeth Taylor to Jane Fonda to Raquel Welch, reaching its zenith with Cher in 1990, when she publicly hired a doctor to examine her and refute the rumor. Most recently, the tale was assigned to Mexican superstar Thalia, who egged on the rumor by supposedly revealing a photograph of her ribs in a jar (she soon revealed that the whole thing was a joke).
The Science: This was just a baseless rumor with no scientific credibility — until 2015, when model Pixee Fox had six ribs removed to resemble cartoon character Jessica Rabbit. While many speculate that this is just another hoax, Placik — who has treated Pixee Fox, but did not perform this particular procedure — confirms that Pixee did indeed undergo the operation. Her surgeon, Barry Eppley, also confirmed it on The Doctors.
As for how it works, Placik explains that there’s a practice called “rib harvesting,” where cartilage from the ribs is taken for use in cosmetic surgeries such as rhinoplasty. Placik claims that Eppley may have “started out harvesting ribs for reconstruction, then taken it one step further.” He adds, though, that the practice is, “generally frowned upon by our community,” as it can “[compromise] the protection [the ribs] afford to the internal organs. There are also risks of partial lung collapse during the procedure.”
The ‘Slightly’ Less Extreme Diet
The Rumor: You can break your “floating rib” and achieve a slimmer waistline.
The Background: A variation of the traditional rib-removal rumor, this one says you can break — without actually removing — your “floating ribs” to achieve a thinner waist. The floating ribs are your two lowest ribs, which don’t wrap all the way around the ribcage, instead only joining at the back. Much like the previous rumor, it’s been said of celebrities like Cher, Raquel Welch and Bo Derek.
The Science: Hard-partying trans woman Amanda Lepore claims that she really did have the procedure performed in Mexico, as it’s illegal in the U.S. Placik explains, “If you fracture [the floating ribs] at the spine, you can then bring [them] inwards like the pincers on an insect as they hinge closed.”
But he adds that you’d be in an immense amount of pain following the procedure, as you’d have to spend six weeks healing up inside a corset to achieve the desired shape. Worse still, he says, the procedure probably wouldn’t even have a lasting effect, since “the breathing muscles pull them outwards while healing,” causing them to heal right back how they were before.
The Life-Saving Technique
The Rumor: Rib removal can ease blood clots.
The Background: Not a rumor so much as a somewhat common, but little discussed medical procedure used to treat a condition called thoracic outlet syndrome. It’s been performed on such notables as athletes Mike Foltynewicz, Alex Cobb, Matt Harvey and Adam Pelech, as well as singer Tamar Braxton and even Isaac Hanson of the Hanson brothers (no, we don’t know which one that is, either).
The Science: Unlike other rib removal surgeries, which feature lower rib removal for cosmetic reasons, this procedure involves removing part of an upper rib near the collarbone as a medical necessity. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome sees blood vessels or nerves become compressed between the collarbone and the first rib — often as the result of a physical trauma or a repetitive motion from work or playing sports — so the small top rib is removed in order to ease the blood flow.
Unlike cosmetic surgeries, Placik says, “You will not see any change in body shape with this procedure, as it’s essentially deep in the base of the neck.”
The Solo Sexy-Times
The Rumor: Eccentric male celebrity has lowest ribs removed so that he can suck his own dick.
The Background: In the 1980s, rumor had it that Prince had his two lowest ribs removed so that he could pleasure himself orally. By the 1990s, the rumor had been assigned to Marilyn Manson. There was never anything credible to these rumors — Manson himself even publicly refuted it — but something about the sexual ambiguity of these men has caused the rumors to persist.
The Science: “I don’t understand how removing a rib would allow a man to pleasure himself!” says Placik. Since performing autofellatio has to do with flexibility at the waist, the rumor doesn’t hold any credence to it at all. “It’s impossible to find a scientific article or technical piece written on the subject,” says Placik.“I’ve tried to look it up but the literature does not exist.”