Unbearable Lightness is an intense account of Portia de Rossi’s battle with anorexia and bulimia and it takes you deep into a dark place.
The book provides a rare and intimate look into the mind of a beautiful, intelligent girl who simply could not see what she was doing to her body as she exercised like a maniac and counted calories to the point of near starvation. It weaves a tragic story of an overachieving child, struggling with the death of her father, confused about her sexuality and in a complex relationship with her mother.
Glamorous Hollywood becomes a lonely, lifeless place in de Rossi’s narrative. The struggles to maintain a perfect figure, the competitive nature of a top-rating TV show, the battle for attention on the red carpet – de Rossi documents it all with a compelling honesty.
This is an important book for many, many reasons. In the modern world, where looks are so highly prized our children are making themselves sick trying to achieve the unachievable, to have a glamorous, successful actress show the truth behind the make-up and designer gowns is a rare step forward.
By laying her life bare to show all the insecurities and fears de Rossi opens up a valuable dialogue for other sufferers and their families.
The issue of sexuality is another important feature of the book. As de Rossi’s struggles with identifying herself as gay, afraid of the consequences of coming out in a world where difference is not rewarded, her pain adds fuel to the demon of an eating disorder. Unable to control her sexuality she could control how many bites of food she allowed herself.
The most illuminating part of the book for me was the relationship between de Rossi and her mother. It was a lesson in just how much of impact our words and actions can have on our children. Although de Rossi acknowledges the pressure for success was “internal” and she certainly paints a picture of a very driven child, her mother’s reaction to less-than-perfect makes me more aware of my own actions in dealing with my children’s achievements.
“Like any other parent, my mother celebrated the A grades and the less-than-A grades she felt there was no need to tell anybody about. But not acknowledging the effort that ended in a less than perfect result impacted on me as a child. If I didn’t win, then we wouldn’t tell anyone that I had even competed, to save us the embarrassment of acknowledging that someone else was better. Keeping the secret made me think that losing was something to be ashamed of, and that unless I was sure I was going to be the champion, there was no point in trying. And there was certainly no point to just having fun.”
After hitting 37 kilograms and collapsing on a movie set de Rossi has to face her crisis and find a new way of coping with the world.
As we all know the actress successfully beats the illnesses and finds love and acceptance in her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres.
It’s the dream ending giving hope to those currently struggling and their desperate families trying to find a way through the nightmare of eating disorders.
This memoir is one gutsy move. To display such truth shows just how far de Rossi has come. I hope that she gets to live the “happy ever after” for the rest of her life.
Book supplied by the Hardie Grant Book Club.