Review: Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

Unberable 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.

In this searing, unflinchingly honest book, Portia de Rossi captures the complex emotional truth of what it is like when food, weight, and body image take priority over every other human impulse or action. She recounts the elaborate rituals around eating that came to dominate hours of every day, from keeping her daily calorie intake below 300 to eating precisely measured amounts of food out of specific bowls and only with certain utensils. When this wasn’t enough, she resorted to purging and compulsive physical exercise, driving her body and spirit to the breaking point.

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. With the storytelling skills of a great novelist and the eye for detail of a poet, Portia makes transparent as never before the behaviors and emotions of someone living with an eating disorder.

From her lowest point, Portia began the painful climb back to a life of health and honesty, falling in love with and eventually marrying Ellen DeGeneres, and emerging as an outspoken and articulate advocate for gay rights and women’s health issues.

In this remarkable and beautifully written work, Portia shines a bright light on a dark subject. 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.

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Review

What an emotional head-trip Portia de Rossi’s memoir is. By the time I finished reading it, I was both glad the novel had stopped and so very thankful I’ve never had anorexia, bulimia, or cared about dieting. Having a choking phobia and being concerned with carbohydrate totals because of an autoimmune disease is bad enough thanks. I’m exhausted out of sympathy for all those who go through this, or a similar experience to Portia’s journey, as I imagine they must be truly exhausted.

Knowing all of this happened and someone went through such an experience, as well as Portia’s struggle with accepting her sexuality, made it both easy and difficult for me to read. On the one hand; I’m so happy I was able to finish this in three days. I know if I had of taken a week or more then it would have messed with my head too much. Her tale and how she shares it digs deep into you and once those hooks are in… I’d be amazed if you felt no sympathy or pain for her whatsoever.

Her struggle with bulimia and anorexia, her goal of reaching her unrealistic ideal, was obviously such an obsession for her and that obsession seeps through her words and is something you can’t avoid. When the story started to get really deep into the nitty gritty of her obsession that was when I found myself wanting to get away from it the most. I think if you’re not careful or have been having the same issues yourself, you might find your day-to-day life being influenced by reading Portia’s experience.

On the other hand, even with my natural inclination of wanting to get away from so much negativity and tunnel vision, Unbearable Lightness was extremely easy to read and hard to put down. Portia has such a talent in getting you to relate and at times to feel her pain, it really is quite hard not to be won over and engrossed. I have read several comments in other reviews and in general ones about the book when it comes to editing though. Sure, there should probably be another editor or more editing, but in the end the story comes across feeling as though Portia is personally relating to you how she lived, breathed, and obsessed in those years of struggle.

I have, and do have, problems with eating, but I’ve never had anorexia or bulimia. My eating difficulties are not connected to concerns of weight (unless I want to put it on because I am and feel underweight) and being accepted for my weight, so while I could connect on some level with Portia’s anxiety, fear, and rituals, struggling with weight is something I’m unfamiliar with and made it hard for me to relate.

What I related to the most was her fear of her sexuality being exposed. The whole story made me want to cry, I was teary by the end of it, but her shame and fear stemming from being gay was just… I would say sexual orientation sucked, but really it’s society that does with something like this. Society, YOU SUCK. YOU SUCK HARD.

No matter how much Portia has come to terms with everything and how great it was to actually read about it (not the whole journey of recovery, but the difference between her earlier thoughts and her far more happier ones), I still find myself so emotionally battered that I must do something nice for myself. It’s one of those types of stories, but it was definitely worth reading.

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