Unbearable Lightness by Portia De Rossi

I didn’t decide to become anorexic. It snuck up on me disguised as a healthy diet, a professional attitude. Being as thin as possible was a way to make the job of being an actress easier . . .” Portia de Rossi weighed only 82 pounds when she collapsed on the set of the Hollywood film in which she was playing her first leading role. This should have been the culmination of all her years of hard work—first as a child model in Australia, then as a cast member of one of the hottest shows on American television. On the outside she was thin and blond, glamorous and successful. On the inside, she was literally dying.Even as she rose to fame as a cast member of the hit television shows Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, Portia alternately starved herself and binged, all the while terrified that the truth of her sexuality would be exposed in the tabloids. She reveals the heartache and fear that accompany a life lived in the closet, a sense of isolation that was only magnified by her unrelenting desire to be ever thinner. A crucial book for all those who might sometimes feel at war with themselves or their bodies, Unbearable Lightness is a story that inspires hope and nourishes the spirit.

Unbearable Lightness is a book I’ve wanted to read for a little while now. Like most people, I know who Portia de Rossi is. What I didn’t know until recently was two things: That she suffered from anorexia and that she was a lesbian. Without sounding totally ignorant and stereo-typical, Portia de Rossi isn’t someone I’d ever have assumed of being a lesbian. (I stand happily corrected.) I watched her on Ally McBeal years ago and I’d never have guessed how much of a struggle she was going through with regards to her weight and to her sexuality. After watching her Ellen interview on YouTube, I bought myself the paperback of her novel, because it’s very rare for an actress, a famous actress no less, to be so forthright about suffering from an eating disorder. 

It feels wrong to say this, but I enjoyed reading about Unbearable Lightness. I’m not a big fan of the way I look – is anybody? – and I find it interesting how even beautiful people like Portia struggle too with their bodies. I mean, when you see Portia de Rossi, you don’t think she’s fat, do you? I certainly don’t and never have done and I found her story to be an eye-opener. Because of the synopsis, I DID expect the book to focus more on her recovery from anorexia, but instead the book actually focuses on how she got there in the first place. How she became an actress, how she moved to LA from her native Australia and how she descended into dieting hell. Her honesty is raw and although at times I did worry it was a bit too informative – it’s like a manual on how to become anorexic and there ARE people out there who will see it as such, though I suspect Portia wasn’t going for that angle! Anorexia is usually only something I read about in magazines so to get such a look into Portia’s life and the rigorous way she maintained her diet was something else. My main emotion throughout the book was sympathy. Here Portia was, making her break in Hollywood, and she should have been enjoying it and yet she was stuck in an endless dieting circle, it made me so sad. 

I did feel short changed by the fact Portia’s recovery spanned all of 30 pages. Without sounding macabre, I wanted to see her struggle in its entirety, not just something pigeon-holed at the back where she can tell us she’s recovered as much as someone who’s anorexic can. I also wanted to read about her and Ellen, because it seems as if Ellen helped a lot, despite the fact Portia was more of less better when they finally started dating in 2004. Overall, the book was well worth reading and I am so pleased I purchased it for myself. I learned a lot about an illness I never really knew much about and it must have been such a painful journey for Portia to drag it all back up again to write about it. A lot of people will be able to see themselves in Portia’s book, even those who don’t suffer from an eating disorder because everybody in the world at some point or another wants a slimmer stomach or less bulky thighs, that’s just how the world seemingly is now. There’s an all-encompassing desire to be stick-thin, to be perfect and the worst thing is perfect is not attainable. Portia is proof of that; no matter how much she dieted she was still never happy with her body and her novels speaks that. I applaud her for writing the book, I really do.

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