Friday, March 9, 2012

Unbearable Lightness

 'unbearable lightness' by portia de rossi. 

what did i know about portia prior to reading? 
she's married to ellen de generes.
what did i learn about portia de rossi whilst reading?
what a confident, brave, fantastic woman she is. 

Detailing her career from model to actress living in Los Angeles; this is the story of Portia de Rossi (born Amanda Lee Rogers) attempting to simultaneously stand out from the crowd to book jobs but trying desperately not to do so for the wrong reason: being 'overweight'.  Rewarding herself with food having starved herself to lose the vital pounds before a photoshoot led to fully blown bulimia once the jobs started being booked back to back. 

It didn't get any easier when she moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of an acting career, a lesbian, she was terrified of revealing her sexuality - no lesbian actress got the lead role, they were the 'character actresses' stuck overweight and unfashionable - nobody wanted to be a character actress.  Simultaneously Ellen Degeneres had recently come out as a lesbian herself; she was the benchmark - if Ellen could maintain her career it might be possible for a fledgling lesbian actress to make it in Hollywood.  As we all know, Ellen didn't make it, her tv show was cancelled and her calls went unanswered for years.  Being a lesbian and especially being an 'overweight' lesbian, in Hollywood, was unacceptable.

Instead meal times were measured by chop sticks - each bite was smaller than the width of the chop stick, each portion rigorously measured out, each calorie was painstakingly added up - at her most extreme she stopped using toothpaste, lip balm, anything which you would consume calories without even being aware.  At 80 pounds she collapsed on set of her first lead movie role; diagnosed with lupus, osteoporosis, and cirrhisis of the liver, this wasn't about being over / under weight anymore; it was about surviving.

The thought of being in the middle of the pack had always worried me.  From my first awareness of competition - that someone could win and another person could lose - the pressure to excel in everything I attempted was immense.  I had to win, get an A, and take home the prize.  Even when I took first prize, topped the class, won the race, I never really won anything.  I was merely avoiding the embarrassment of losing.  When ability is matched by expectations, then anything less than an exceptional result was laziness.  And laziness in my opinion was shameful.
This isn't an easy book to read.  I gasped much more than I would have liked.  In an interview Portia said that she didn't want to use a ghost writer but instead wanted to painfully live through every word because she wanted the story to be told from the point-of-view of the sick person.  It really is like stepping inside of an eating disorder - of understanding the thought process behind her actions, the events leading up to them, and thankfully the happy ending - a stable weight, no more yo-yo dieting.

It's one of those books which I think, sadly, is so prevalent in our society.  Understanding that complex relationship we've all developed with food.  Having a better understanding of the thought processes behind these problems, I believe, can help us deal with them.  Portia's family and friends continually told her that she was 'too thin', a concept she couldn't understand, it was a compliment, surely? How could anyone be too thin?!  So many people, I am sure, have already been helped by this book - even if you've never experienced an eating disorder personally, most of us know someone who has.  Ultimately this book has a very powerful, personal, and potent message - and I can't recommend it enough.
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Katrina said...

seem like a really intriguing book!
xo katrina

Casee Marie said...

What a wonderful review. I didn't know much about Portia either, so your insights educated me. I can only imagine the strength it took to get through such a difficult time, but then to confront it and share it with the world as well. I have such respect and admiration for her!

Bella Luna said...

Wanna read this book so bad! I love her xxx

Unpublished Life said...

I read this book last year and it astounded me - the content and the honesty of Portia's writing is raw and real and scary. The book gave you a very honest portrayal of what anorexia and bulimia is like - running for hours at a time, measuring yoghurt into tiny pots, eating quarter of a can of tuna fish with 1 cal spray ... it was so shocking!

I am so glad that Portia wrote this book, because I think it opens people's eyes to the pressure of Hollywood and what it is really like behind the scenes.

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