I don’t think there has ever been a book that touched me as much as Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi did. Most people probably know de Rossi as an Australian born actress who played parts in Ally McBeal, Arrested Development and more recently Scandal. Personally, I have only seen Arrested Development, although Ally McBeal has been on my to-watch-list forever. Mostly, I know de Rossi as talk show host Ellen DeGeneres’ wife. That is also where I became aware of Unbearable Lightness and de Rossi’s eating disorder for the first time.
In her memoir, Unbearable Lightness, Portia de Rossi writes about her eating disorder. Most of the book deals with her illness, how she became anorexic, her state of mind in regards to her weight and weight loss, being gay in Hollywood during a time when that was unthinkable and hitting rock bottom. She spends a little time on her recovery, learning to enjoy food again and finally being true to herself by coming out and how she met Ellen.
I don’t think there has ever been a book review where I struggled so much to put in words how I felt about it. And I guess, in order to make you understand why it has been so difficult for me as well as why this book means so much to me, I have to be really honest with all of you. I was on the verge of an eating disorder once. Whenever I am stressed or incredible unhappy, I cannot eat. I am simply not hungry anymore. And so, when I was 18 and in the middle of my Matura (Austrian A-Levels), I just stopped eating. Thankfully, It was only a couple of weeks, but it was one of the scariest moments of my life. At my worst I weighed about as much as Portia de Rossi did at her worst. 82 pounds or 37,2 kg. The only difference is she is 1,72 metres whereas I am only 1,58. So it wasn’t as bad.
As if that connection wasn’t enough, there is more. See, I have always been skinny. It’s a family thing and apart from that horrible time, I have always been healthy. Skinny, but healthy. Yet, for some reason, strangers on the street as well as the “well-meaning” acquaintance or friends have always tried to tell me that I have anorexia. The first time someone told me that was when I was four or five years old and didn’t even know what that meant. My parents always told me that I was normal and healthy the way I looked, but hearing it so much, especially growing up, was really hard. How are you supposed to be comfortable in your own skin, when so many people are telling you that you are sick?
Anyways, back to the book. I really admire de Rossi’s honesty about her eating disorder. It can’t have been easy to relive all of that. What really made me mad, while reading the book, was how many people enabled her to do that to herself. The nutritionist, who gave her tips on dieting, to her credit, she did warn de Rossi’s mother, after she finally realised what was going on, the people de Rossi worked with, stylists and her manager. From what she described they should have seen how thin she got and instead of telling her how proud they are of her discipline in dieting, they really should have done something for her to get healthier. I am aware, that it is a slippery slope to tell people with an eating disorder that they have one, but not encouraging them should be the least thing to do, right?
Like so many other people, it took Portia de Rossi hitting rock bottom, not being able to move and finally blacking out on a film set, to realise that she needs to change things in her life. She had a couple of health scares and entered a kind of rehab programme. Before she really recovered, she actually got bulimic. It was only when she got into a relationship with a director named Francesca and being outed by the paparazzi, that she learned to have a normal relationship with food. The only thing I would criticise about Unbearable Lightness is, that I would have loved to read more about de Rossi’s recovery. But that is just a minor issue.
All in all, I think everyone should read Unbearable Lightness, because it conveys an important message about body positivity and shows how horrible an eating disorder can get. So, how about you? Have you read Unbearable Lightness? Did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments.
Title: Unbearable Lightness – A Story of Loss and Gain/Das schwere Los der Leichtigkeit
Author: Portia de Rossi
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK/mvg Verlag
Publishing Date: 01-11-2010/13.10.2011