Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book U: Fabookulous January 18, 2011

Unbearable 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.

This year as LibraryLove and I trek our way through the alphabet in books, it would be hard to go in order from A to Z. I say this because sometimes books are available at the library out of order, such as Unbearable Lightness. Therefore, I’m starting off 2011 with Book U! That’s right– sometimes I march to the beat of my own drum.

 First of all, I have to say how good it felt to take my time with a book and slow the pace down from 2010’s challenge. I had fun reading 52 books, but I am looking forward to longer selections in 2011 as we have more time for each book. I think it will bring some of the fun back into reading that may have felt like an obligation last year.

Portia de Rossi’s memoir is, well in a word, shocking. She details a 20 year battle with eating disorders (both anorexia and bulimia) that makes it almost impossible to believe she is alive to tell this story. Getting to her lowest weight of 82 pounds, Portia did this by eating just 300 calories a day and taking up to 20 laxatives a day. This, combined with hours of relentless exercise and obsession with working out, caused her to eventually pass out and be forced to deal with things.

I chose this book after seeing it featured on (of course) The Ellen DeGeneres Show and having my curiosity piqued. A family friend’s daughter has struggled with anorexia but I do not know much of her struggle. I’ve not been up close with an eating disorder (that I know of) and I can’t imagine what pain and suffering that feels like. Eating disorders lead to an obsession of not only calories, foods in versus foods out, and obsessing over exercise. It consumes your every thought, move, meal, and minute of everyday as you find yourself hiding from those closest to you. Of course, this is only what I’ve been told based on reading Portia’s story.

In addition to Portia’s struggle with eating disorders and self image issues, she was hiding another very real part of her life while in the Hollywood eye. Her sexuality remained hidden for years as she struggled with finding herself and her confidence to live life unashamed. I can’t imagine keeping not one, but TWO huge secrets like that all while being filmed, followed, photographed, and watched constantly. Unbearable Lightness will make the reader feel compassionate yet hopeful as you are taken deep into the darkness that used to be de Rossi’s life. I admire her openness with this story, not because people want to know in the sick way that give papparazi jobs, but because I am confident her story will help countless others. If another girl, woman, boy, or man struggling with eating disorders and/or their sexual identity can feel liberated and encouraged with this story, it would make it all worth Portia’s sharing.

Bravo to Portia for finding herself, staying true to herself, and for having the heart to share it with others that may still be in the darkness. A beautifully written memoir, Unbearable Lightness is not to be missed! For those who don’t know about eating disorders and haven’t experienced it either first hand or through a loved one, let yourself be opened to this very real struggle going on all over the world.

4/5 stars.


Up next: Book H! (Like I said, going out of order when the opportunity arises… Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo is in the queue!)


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