Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain, Portia de Rossi

I loved this book. I should probably preface this by saying that I’ve always had a deep-seated interest in eating disorders and those who suffer from them. The same goes for psychological illness like Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and other conditions that  prevent the sufferer to recognize the true way that their bodies look. Perhaps its because I’ve been struggling with my weight, body, and self image since I was young, so on some level I can see the slippery slope that leads to something like an eating disorder. But this is dangerous behavior. de Rossi does a great job, in telling her own story, of explaining just how a number of different factors (in her case, her Hollywood career, her destructive need to hide her sexuality, her sense of shame at that hiding, etc) can lead to something as powerfully destructive as an eating disorder.

As de Rossi puts it: ”Since I was a twelve-year-old girl taking pictures in my front yard to submit to modeling agencies, I’d never known a day when my weight wasn’t the determining factor for my self-esteem”. That’s a hard life to live for a young girl, and even harder for a woman of 38 (de Rossi’s age when the book was published) to continue to struggle with. In addition to obsessively worrying about food and exercise (towards the end of the book de Rossi describes how she wouldn’t even go to the gym anymore, instead having all the equipment installed on her rooftop garden, in order to avoid mirrors and the judgments of her fellow gym-goers), she struggles with the added stress of being a lesbian in Hollywood at a time when that meant, essentially, career suicide. de Rossi writes with clarity and, perhaps more surprisingly, candid and emotional honesty. She invites the reader in and, although there are pictures inserted about half way through the book that showed her at her different – and lower and lower – weights, it’s as though the reader also believes that she really is fat, she really does need to work out those extra few minutes, maybe people really are looking at her and laughing. In short, she brings you in to the horribly cruel mind of someone with an eating disorder (although it’s all self-cruelty), in to their depression, anxiety at basic tasks, horrible feelings of lonliness. It wasn’t always an easy read. But it was a rewarding one. No doubt about it.

Perhaps the greatest thing I loved about the book was the end. This seems counter-intuitive, but the end of this book meant, luckily, the end of de Rossi’s anorexia and binging and purging – although, in all honesty (and as she explains) there really is no concrete cure or end to something like anorexia. It also meant her discussing and explaining a bit of her relationship with Ellen Degeneres (since the book came out, in fact, Portia de Rossi has become Portia Lee James Degeneres). Ellen has long been one of my favorite comedians, and has always been my favorite lesbian, especially when it comes to Hollywood lesbians. I think that, not only is she funny and beautiful, but her ability to be out and to be proud in Hollywood at a time when people weren’t really being out and proud is something I continue to admire! Like I said, this book wasn’t always happy reading. In fact, it was mostly unhappy reading. However, that didn’t make it bad reading. Like most great books, this book left an impact. I’m hoping you’ll pick it up soon and let it do the same for you. Happy reading!

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. K
    Jun 30, 2011 @ 01:54:31

    I am 35 years old struggling with an eating disorder. After reading this book, I was shocked that someone else went through what I go through on a day to day basis, Mexican dinners, convenient store runs, and preparing for family gatherings to name a few. I thought I would make a change, but continue to follow my habits. How can I change? I want to be inspired and know how I can be the person I once was, and love myself again. I am sick of struggling…everyday!

    Reply

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