Home Health and Health Care Tennessee Woman Diagnosed with “Ghetto Booty”

Tennessee Woman Diagnosed with “Ghetto Booty”

by Erika Nicole Kendall

This… really… happened:

A Tennessee woman coping with a severe lower back problem endured even more pain when a doctor diagnosed her with “ghetto booty.”

Terry Ragland, 55, could not believe the words coming out of Dr. Timothy Sweo’s mouth during the April appointment at Sports Orthopedics & Spine in Jackson, Tenn.


“He said ‘I know what the problem is. It’s ghetto booty,’” Ragland told WREG in Memphis. “I think I blacked out after he said ghetto booty. I think my mind was just stuck on the phrase because I couldn’t believe he said that.”

Sweo had diagnosed Ragland with lumbar lordosis, but decided “to take a technical conversation regarding your lower back and make it less technical,” he later wrote her after she had complained to the office manager.

To make matters worse, Sweo told her there was no remedy for her condition, even though she could manage it with pain medication.

“It says to me that he doubts what type of intellect I have, how intelligent I am to be able to understand what he conveys to me in a medical term,” Ragland told WREG.

Sweo admitted off-camera to the station that he said “ghetty booty” to Ragland, who has filed a formal complaint with the state’s Department of Health.

“What I was trying to explain to that patient is that she has lumbar lordosis, which is a fancy name for the curve of the lower spine that makes the buttocks protrude more,” the doctor said. “In trying to explain that I said that she had ghetto booty, and she didn’t like that apparently. That was my attempt to explain why she had the back problem.”

The state will determine whether the doctor will be sanctioned, according to the report.

“I think I do understand why her feelings were hurt but I don’t understand what’s offensive about it,” Sweo said.

Said Ragland: “It’s not endearing. It’s not loving. It’s not a compliment. It’s wrong in every aspect and it’s very demeaning.”

Sweo has practiced general orthopedics for 12 years, according to the Sports Orthopedics & Spine website. He writes that “my goal is to provide top quality service to all our patients. To help heal injury and treat the pains of aging, with the appropriate non-surgical or surgical treatments, and to do that with great professionalism and compassion.”[source]

This isn’t, really, about the term “ghetto booty” for me. People don’t think critically about language and the words they say, so I’m not surprised that this flew out of ol’ dude’s mouth.

What this is about, for me, is the fact that this is a variation on a theme I’ve had running for a very long time about doctors and their condescension… especially when, even though they know more than most, they still know so very little.

Sweo had diagnosed Ragland with lumbar lordosis, but decided “to take a technical conversation regarding your lower back and make it less technical,” he later wrote her after she had complained to the office manager.


“It says to me that he doubts what type of intellect I have, how intelligent I am to be able to understand what he conveys to me in a medical term,” Ragland told WREG.

Ragland says it all – why would you dumb down a medical condition that I have to live with? Is it too much to ask that you sit with me, talk to me about what’s going on with my body, and give me resources (or – gasp – talk to me) about what’s going on in my body? Is that sincerely too much to ask? Why condescend to her by telling her it’s “a case of ghetto booty,” and that there is no cure?

It might not’ve been racial, but telling a Black woman that there’s no cure for her ghetto booty feels like grounds for an ass whipping. It almost feels like street harassment gone awry or something. It’s insensitive.

The weird thing about hyperlordosis – excessive lordosis, or curvature of the spine – is that, for certain people, it can present even when that’s not the case simply because of the size and shape of their behinds. What’s more, the size and shape of your behind can affect how you sit, which affects how much your pelvic bone has to tilt forward when you sit, which affects the curvature of your spine, which affects whether or not you habitually tilt your pelvic bone forward everywhere you go regardless of whether or not you’re sitting. Think of you, holding a bowl full of water. That’s your pelvic bone, as you stand with proper posture. Now, envision yourself pouring that water out of the bowl, tilting the bowl forward so it pours out into the sink. That’s your pelvic bone tilting forward.

If you’ve ever seen or known those people who walk with their entire behind poked out, on purpose? Those people are normally forcing hyperlordosis – and, yes, I’m assuming he meant hyperlordosis since that part of the body is naturally curved that way… it’s excessive curves that causes damage – into their spine to make their booties look bigger. I think Jackie-O colloquially referred to it her “stank walk,” and many of the booty models you see in magazines, when they’re posing like they’re straddling something, they’re forcing their pelvic bone to tilt downward, thereby making their booties look bigger.

As a trainer, you learn about spinal curvature and pelvic tilt because… people who have poor form when they do any kind of squat- or sit-up-based exercise can actually alter the way their spine curves, and the way it functions at the base of the pelvic bone. And, much like how hyperlordosis can be trained into you, I’m not entirely convinced that it couldn’t be trained out of a person, either. Corrective exercise specialists and physical therapists might be able to chime in on that, but if her back was hurting because of excessive curvature, then training for posture or even for basic fitness would contribute positively in ways that “pain medication” would not.

…which leads me to my next question. The only suggestion he had was “pain medication?” Hmmm…so, he’s not going to explain the condition to her, he’s not going to give her any resources so she could, at the bare minimum, go and do some googling of her own… he’s just going to refer some pills to her and send her on her way? Did he even know anything about lordosis prior to receiving the pain pill pushing company’s information in the mail, or no?

My bad.

I’m not anti-doctor, I’m anti-scumbag. This, here, just isn’t fair. See the little bit of explaining I just did, here?

How hard would it have been for him to tell her any of this, condescension-free?

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Dorothy July 18, 2013 - 11:43 AM

I am a studies to become a personal trainer and in my reading on lordosis, it is indeed very difficult to treat, however, not impossible. If she has had this condition for a very long time, her body may have caused a skeletal deviation (rather than muscular) to occur that is irreversible; where the body adjusts to the spinal curvature and bone, once connected differently, can’t be reversed. To ease her back pain symptoms, she can work on strengthening her abdominal muscles and hamstring muscles for support. She can also work on overall core strengthening exercises to improve her situation before she tries pain meds.

The term the PT used was unacceptable and shouldn’t dumb down medical terminology. He should have written it down for her to research and given her exercises to work on so that her pain level can decrease. He should have referred her back to her doctor, or even a personal trainer, if he felt he couldn’t help her beyond demeaning her. The very idea that he sees nothing wrong with his terminology says he needs to go back and revisit what it means to be professional and caring.

bridgetarlene July 18, 2013 - 11:50 AM

Erika, I’ve been following your journey since forever and I have been so proud you decided to go through the process of becoming a personal trainer.

I’m now thinking you need to consider med school because stuff like this is why we need more intelligent, truly “professional and compassionate” people serving as doctors.

Erika July 18, 2013 - 12:10 PM

It’s so sad to see the doctor’s answer to the problem is pills.

This reminds me of that sad, sad joke: What Do They Call the Person Who Graduates Last in Medical School?

Answer: A doctor.

Everyone is definitely not fit to be one. He’s truly unprofessional, unsympathetic, and display no compassion for this woman. I’m glad she reported him. He doesn’t deserve to be a doctor.

Elizabeth July 20, 2013 - 8:09 PM

I love this blog! You are so honest, informed and insightful. Congratulations on your decision to become a personal fitness trainer! Simply stated doctors treat symptoms not systems. The lady in this story might have benefitted from a visit to the chiropractor. I swear by them. Few people really understand the benefits of a GREAT chiropractor. When you add healthy eating and exercise, your body will love you for it.

Katie July 18, 2013 - 12:19 PM

I actually have this condition, so I can attest to the fact that for some people, it’s not something you can entirely train away. However, physical therapy and specific exercises that strengthen leg and core muscles can help with the severity of the problem and alleviate the pain associated with it. I don’t know whether this doctor gave her such terrible advice because he’s racist, incompetent or a little bit of both, but I hope Ms. Ragland finds better care and help for her problem, and I hope this article causes Dr. Sweo to lose a lot of business.

Lissa July 18, 2013 - 12:22 PM

He said it in plain English, “curvature of the spine that makes the buttocks protrude”. Why did he have to really go there by saying “ghetto booty”. What a jerk that guy is.

coffeeandfingernails July 18, 2013 - 12:34 PM

Surely there was a way to explain this condition in plain English without that phrase. I’d say you did a pretty good job of that here. The first thing I thought of reading this was women with very large breasts who have back issues as a result. I cannot imagine a doctor telling a woman under those circumstances, “those over the shoulder boulder holders are just too damn big.” It would be unprofessional and insensitive. I think the fact that “ghetto booty” (obviously) has racial/class implications must be part of the explanation for why he thought this would be ok.

MarshaB July 18, 2013 - 3:52 PM

I agree Coffee. I have both too large breasts and hyperlordosis. Both of them together make me feel very self-conscious as well as cause great physical discomfort at 56yo. The last thing I would want when I went to see a doctor -and paying him exorbitant amounts- is for him to be condescending and lacking in sensitivity. I suspect the doc is still pretty young and immature. I once had an intern (from a foreign country) look at my feet in exam and tell me that my feet were the flattest she’d ever seen. I laughed and said she’d clearly not seen very many feet – but it hurt.

MarshaB July 18, 2013 - 3:42 PM

Like so many racially insensitive or just plain insensitive comments spoken in the age of social media this doctor refuses to just apologize for doing the stupid. Instead he says he doesn’t understand why she would get upset. When I inadvertently stay something that is offensive to another I just say I’m sorry and take it as a teaching moment. If he had done that from the beginning it wouldn’t have had to make the news and risk a medical sanction. I too have lumbar hyperlordosis. As a kid they called it swayback and my dad called it a duck-bootie. It was cute when I was a 25 and a size 7 but at 56 it hurts like hell- I can feel the spinal bones rubbing together at L5S1 right where the curve is greatest and because the discs have begun to degenerate and lose fluid. These are the things the doctor should have been telling her. Over the past two years I’ve been seeing a chiropractor once a week and that’s been a great relief as the spinal adjustments take the pressure off and gently take some of the hypercurve away. And losing weight and strengthening my core is a GREAT help because the ab muscles help pull the spine back to alignment and less curve. Water exercise and therapy is great too because aerobics and weight training can be done without exacerbating the load. The term ghetto booty was cruel and racist and I hope she litigates.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 18, 2013 - 4:24 PM

“Duck booty” and saddleback – because of how it resembles a horse that’s spent most of its life carrying a saddle – are both common names. There was no reason for this. Seriously.

Eva July 18, 2013 - 3:59 PM

I would have embarrassed the doctor and said, “what’s ghetto booty?” And then watched him turn every shade of red as he tried to explain what it was?

CurlyCuse July 18, 2013 - 9:53 PM

I would love to have him explain what exactly “ghetto booty” is supposed to mean. Is he saying “you have a black girls’ ass” or “your large butt is a function of the socioeconomic reality that cheap calorie-laden fast food is so prevalent in neighborhoods where poor people are clustered” or “living in a ghetto changes your bone structure such that your back is swayed” or simply, “I’m too lazy and too much of a jerk to take your concerns seriously or speak to you in a way that respects your intelligence, so I’m just going to make some term up so that you go away”?

Marla July 18, 2013 - 7:02 PM

She needs to strengthen her core, wear a core waist support and perhaps get belly/flank liposuction or abdominoplasty. I have this and it only started bothering me once my lower abs and core started to get weaker as I got older. The more middle area weight I lose and strengthen my core, the less it is bothersome (middle area weight loss only comes with overall weight loss and stronger muscles…I know Erika). Trying to avoid the plastic surgery route but I am not opposed if it means living pain free. And yes, squat, squat, squat.

That Dr. is a grade-A butthole for uttering that statement. I hope he gets ridiculed by the medical community for at least a good half decade and he should apologize.

It is a tad funny though….like something from a comedy sketch…only it’s real life.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 18, 2013 - 11:33 PM

“(middle area weight loss only comes with overall weight loss and stronger muscles…I know Erika)”

*Diet. Can’t forget diet.

True July 18, 2013 - 9:17 PM

Ghetto booty? Really? I think when I read the title of the blog my brain fizzed out for a minute. Why couldn’t he have just told her about the curvature of her back? The need to “dumb down” his response was unnecessary. Would he have said the same to a man? UGH!

Ctina July 19, 2013 - 1:13 AM

Oh. My. Gosh. I am SO glad that you addressed this issue! Other than thinking that this doctor was an idiot, I kind of ignored this when I read it online a few days ago; and because of the way it was presented, it didn’t occur to me that there was a cure. I have no doubt that I also suffer from hyperlordosis – I can NEVER get my back to touch the ground when I lay down with my legs straight out and my lower back always hurts. I just googled ‘exercises to correct hyperlordosis’ and there were MANY links. I look forward to finding relief (and looking better with my improved posture) soon!

HD July 19, 2013 - 3:08 PM

I’m glad other people have already commented on the fact that many cases of lordosis can be treated with exercise and strengthening. What bothers me, on top of the obvious insult and the refusal to acknowledge any insult, is that by saying “there’s no cure,” he asserted that black women’s bodies are problems that need to be fixed.

Another thing is this: why is there a medical term for the curve of a person’s doggone butt? Why does it have to be made into a medical condition? This is a real question for me. Are all of us with round behinds supposedly walking around with lordosis? It’s not “hyper-” anything if that’s how millions of us are. There’s a big difference between natural curvature and a curve that causes someone so much pain that she’s seeing an orthopedic doctor in the first place.

HD July 19, 2013 - 5:35 PM

I tried to comment earlier but I don’t think it took. Sorry if this shows up twice.

It’s inherently racist to decide that people who don’t have a stereotypical white build need to have a diagnosis. Why is there any medical term at all to refer to the curve of someone’s butt?! I understand the term as it relates to an illness. Certainly the woman in the article was going to an orthopedic doctor because she was in pain. But it’s completely inappropriate to connect her medical condition to her race and then further insult her by saying “there’s no cure,” implying that our bodies are problems that need to be fixed.

Peaches July 19, 2013 - 10:52 PM

I think I saw this comment previously from previous readers. What does he know about the “ghetto”? It really angers me sometimes when a person from another race tries to be “hip” and crosses the line when speaking with you. Just be yourself, you are a medical professional, ACT LIKE IT. I hope that he is sanctioned, he probably won’t be, but this should at least teach him a lesson to treat everyone with respect. Our health is critical. Sit down and speak to us like we are adults , since we are paying you like an adult, and explain what is wrong with us, in the correct terms in order that we can research on our own.

That’s all for my soap box today 😀

sharon July 23, 2013 - 7:48 AM

hi Erika, thanks for the expl of lordosis. was useful when talking to my son’s PT. i used your analogy of the bowl (forgot you said water/i said cereal and milk), she said she would steal the explanation!!!! i gave you credit for it. Alan Alda is running a program to help scientists explain complex things to the average person, in a pleasant, non insulting way. this doctor needs to go to class.

found your site from mention on facebook, since i am changing my relationship with my body. thanks for your tips. this is a balanced approach.

Chocolate August 25, 2013 - 9:12 PM

I wonder would she have felt differently if a black doctor had told her that?????

Erika Nicole Kendall August 26, 2013 - 10:17 AM

I think so, primarily because it’s still a doctor telling her bad medical advice and failing to engage her in what’s going on with her body.

The race is secondary – perhaps even tertiary – to the stupidity, here.

Angela Norton Tyler November 7, 2014 - 6:13 PM

How many times each month do I see the headline and think, “Nah! This must be a joke!” and then discover that, yes, truth is stranger than fiction. Thing is, doctors have been shaming Black women since the beginning of time. I suppose what has changed is using slang to do it.


April March 2, 2015 - 3:48 PM

So unprofessional and so serious. He thinks nothing wrong was said.

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