Eating Disorders, Control, and Unbearable Lightness by Portia De Rossi

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

Before I begin my review of this book, I want to share the story of the first and last time I forced myself to throw up. While this doesn’t relate exactly to Unbearable Lightness, it sheds light on why I empathize so much with Portia De Rossi and what she went through. Skip down a few paragraphs if you wish.

In my first few years of adolescence, I always felt lost. I was born gay in a society where the word faggot is tossed around like footballs are thrown on Sunday, born homosexual in a world where my own mother prefers me dead than happy with a man. I couldn’t change any of this – all I thought I could do was struggle through school and maybe make a friend or two.

Couple that with the need to be above average. Getting good grades wasn’t satisfying enough, so I controlled and obsessed about the simplest, most natural thing: my body. Society couldn’t make a law about being too skinny or too fat. I was never dangerously underweight, but I loved to teeter at the edge. At the edge, I felt accomplished, not average. Here’s a quote from the book where she discusses “average”:

“Average. It was the worst, most disgusting word in the English language. Nothing meaningful or worthwhile ever came from that word. An average person doesn’t cure cancer, win Olympic medals, or become a movie star. What kind of a boring, uninspired life was I going to live if I was thought of as ‘average’ in any category? My brother could not have levied a greater insult than calling me average with the exception of ‘normal,’ ordinary,’ and ‘mediocre’.”

But I stopped. Like Portia, I found other ways to express my emotions and take control of my surroundings. Part of this was due to when I forced myself to throw up with two fingers down my throat. I don’t recall the circumstances of the incident too well, but I remember the horrid pain – the pounding sensation beating across my skull, and the feeling of acid burning in my mouth. Of course transition from unhealthy to healthy was a gradual process that involved much more self-discovery than just that, but that’s one moment I can clearly recall.

My aunt’s delicious pumpkin cheesecake which I annually devour. Hopefully everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

My struggle isn’t even an eighth of what De Rossi went through in Unbearable Lightness. In the book, she details her draining yo-yo diet, her multiple episodes of binging and bulimia, and how she nearly lost it all after whittling herself down to a mere 82 pounds. Her struggle to meet the expectations placed upon her by herself and her Hollywood circle was horrifying – thankfully, she also shares the story of her uplifting recovery, and her heartwarming romance with Ellen DeGeneres.

De Rossi’s writing wasn’t perfect. A better editor could have eliminated the few typos and unattractive sentences I saw. But none of that mattered, because her honesty and how she made her sickening struggle relatable won me over. I cringed, I sighed, and I nearly cried in the middle of a shoe store. She can actually write pretty well, as there are several powerful quotes I noted while reading. Here’s one that describes her insecurity and her distrust during her battle with anorexia:

“All the words Ann used were euphemisms for fat. Normal just meant that I was fat. Since when did anyone ever go to the doctor’s and feel good about being in the weight range that’s considered normal? A normal size for women in this country is a size 12. Models aren’t ‘normal.’ Actresses aren’t ‘normal.’ She may as well have told me that I’d just embarrassed myself in front of 15 million people.”

I suppose the real reason I love this book is because I can empathize with it so much. Ellen was right when she said that it would help a lot of people. No, I don’t know what it’s like to keep track of every calorie I eat or to starve myself to the point of collapse. But it’s wonderful to know that someone else – someone successful, gay, and happily married – survived it all and is still doing much more.

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11 Comments

Filed under 5 stars, Book Reviews, Books, Personal

11 responses to “Eating Disorders, Control, and Unbearable Lightness by Portia De Rossi

  1. This review is fantastic(I teared up a little) and also your grandma’s pumpkin cheesecake seems very tasty :) I am really sorry for what you have been through and I am really happy you overcame it.

  2. If I try writing some poignant response to this, it isn’t going to work because when it comes to my body and the food I put in it, I lose every semblance of eloquence. As a girl who’s struggled with two severe eating disorders and serious body image problems, sometimes I just have to avoid books about eating disorders because they’re horrendous triggers. When I read Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson for school in 10th grade, I literally walked out of the room in tears in the middle of class (we had 20 minutes to just read our books). But when I read Portia’s book, it resonated so differently. I don’t know why, maybe because it made me feel more human and less like an anomaly, or because it reassured me that I wasn’t alone, or a waste of space, or just a pure idiot. I’m not exactly sure why, but it gave me something a little bit different than every other memoir, fictional account, or statistic about EDs.

    Now, I’ve gotten considerably better, there are two types of days.
    Sometimes I feel like I just want to give every ounce of my energy to this disease. I want to quit every responsibility and devote my life to fading away. I want to cut off all connections to the world because it hurts too much to live inside of it. I don’t want to have feelings for people, I don’t want to feel anything at all. I can’t stand the thought of getting close to someone as a prelude to saying goodbye. I’m too afraid to give myself to anyone. I don’t know if I’ll ever get better from this. I’m so tired of these fears. But I’m more afraid to embrace life than to wallow in the dark.

    And then the days that eat.
    And I’m happy. And I’m thankful. And thankfully, these days are more and more frequent, and the above days have become less so. They hit hard, but I hit back now. Governor’s school helped a lot. Teachers at my school helped a lot. But it doesn’t make every day any easier.

    I started rambling, there really is no point to this anymore. Hope your Thanksgiving was splendid!

    • Roshni, you should know that I feel the same way about your comments. They are well-written, coherent, and craft your thoughts together in a seamless fashion.

      I remember reading Wintergirls too, and maybe even in the tenth grade. It’s crazy how two people can read the same book, have similar thoughts about it, and not know of each other at all. Though I haven’t read too many books about EDs, I think I know what you mean about Unbearable Lightness. There’s just something so relatable about it – she pretty much hits rock bottom, and she’s so honest about how she felt throughout her journey of loss and gain. Every time she hated herself for eating more than exactly 30-40 calories or for still having one inch of fat on her stomach made me want to scream and sob simultaneously… it was just, raw. And real.

      Right now, I don’t know what you look like. I do remember what you looked like at Governor’s School, and I admit that I noticed how skinny you were while we were in our Peace & Conflict class together. But, just through reading your words, I can tell how intelligent and beautiful and thoughtful you are. I don’t need your appearance to do that. And it sucks that I couldn’t even discern what you were going through when I was in your physical presence – but it’s good, in my opinion, that you’re aware of your struggle and that you’re fighting to overcome it. It’s great that in this space you shared that with me, because I feel like I’m learning more about you and being even more inspired than I was at Governor’s School.

      No one expects you to be perfect. But I suspect that some people who know you expect you to be healthy, hardworking, and completely focused at all times – and that shouldn’t be the case. I cannot emphasize how glad (and sad, so I suppose a mixture of melancholy and empathy) I am that your bad days are decreasing, and that your good days are going up. Once again, while I’m sure you hear this often from your peers and your teachers, your writing is wonderful. I can’t wait to actually read an essay or short story or novel from you.

      I rambled too, so I guess that’s something we have in common! (; Please keep me updated or just spontaneously message me if you wish. We need to hang out sometime soon, we live relatively close by so it shouldn’t be too hard!

  3. The reality of eating disorders is something that’s always frightened me. I’ve never suffered from anything like it myself but I read a LOT of books on it in highschool. That alone was enough for me, really, to instill dread. It’s such a weighty issue and the way it invades the mind is the truly frightening thing to me.
    Insecurities seem inevitable in our society, and I guess it’s hard not to give them power – especially when you’re in the limelight like Portia. I’m in awe of people who are able to overcome it.
    I’m sorry you had to go through that at all, but glad that it was only one time.

    • Yes, eating disorders are truly disturbing. The way it reverses the human instinct to survive it was one of the worst things anyone can experience. However, I’m glad that those who have not had an eating disorder themselves can sympathize and raise awareness of it through reading books and spreading prevention methods.

      I agree, what Portia went through was just… crazy. To have the paparazzi and the media constantly judging her must have added so much extra anxiety to her already fragile mindset. She is an inspiration and a role model, and I hope that a copy of her book will find its way into the hands of myriad teenage females and males.

      Thank you for your support, and for reading and commenting!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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