Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain
Cover image and synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
This book was tough to put down, even when it was difficult to read. Portia de Rossi seems to have really struggled her whole life with her weight, self-image, sexuality…however, she seems to have come through it all and is now happy and healthy.
Much of the book focuses on her time on the TV show Ally McBeal. I must admit that, while I’ve certainly heard of the show, I never really watched it. I do, however, remember how skinny its star, Calista Flockhart, was. I think the show and its shrinking stars got a lot of media coverage for their appearance. I did love to read all of the ‘behind the scenes’ information about what it was really like to work on a big TV show (it certainly didn’t sound as glamourous as I thought!).
The book also gave a sense of what it feels like to be stalked by paparazzi. With all the things in her life that she was trying to keep secret, I can understand why she was in constant fear of being found out by photographers.
There is a lot of stuff in here about Portia’s eating disorder. It was, at times, difficult to read it, because she shows, so honestly, what her life was like at her lowest point. It made me very very sad for her. It also made me think, of course, about the media, TV and film industry, magazines with photoshopped pictures, and the standards that some women feel they must live up to, as impossible as they seem. Based on this book, that life seems very sad, lonely and full of fear and anxiety.
I came away from this book happy, despite its dark subject matter, because I have a life where my looks and size are not factors on which my career success is based. I was also happy to read the epilogue about her recovery and acceptance of her sexuality, which led to her relationship with Ellen De Generes (one of my favourite celebrities!). There was a lovely passage describing their wedding day, which made me glad that Portia overcame all of these challenges, because she got to finally live her life as the person she is and not the person she thought everyone else wanted her to be.