December 12, 2010

Scary Skinny: Portia's Unbearable Lightness...


Some books are interesting or entertaining, the rare one will wallop you in some way. Unbearable Lightness, a memoir by actress Portia de Rossi, is one of those rare reads.

De Rossi is best known for her TV work on Ally McBeal and Better Off Ted, and especially for her coming out and marriage to Ellen DeGeneres. With Unbearable Lightness she bravely stands on her own.

De Rossi's story of coming out, dealing with depression, and battling an eating disorder, is heartbreaking. A simple sentence like "You are what other people think of you" says a lot about her state of mind.

This book was an eye-opener for me. It is a step into a scary world of eating disorders. Anorexia is scary and lonely and exhausting. De Rossi defined herself by what she thought were other people's expectations of skinny blond actress perfection, and avoided dealing with the real issues in her life by making skinny her only value.

And she became skinny. Scary freaky skinny. 82 pounds. And when she fell off the starving herself wagon, and she did, then she went ballistic at a Mexican restaurant, or stopped at 7/11 on the way home from dinner to stock up for a binge in the car: "There's a big difference between eating and what I had just done. What I'd done was an act of defiance." Of course she wasn't defying anybody, as no one was as obsessed with her weight as she was. She was fooling herself.

After her first day on Ally McBeal, de Rossi's debilitating insecurities kicked in, so she exerted control over the only thing she could, and punished herself with the same action --- she binged wildly. Her inner voice: Go on, eat it, you fat piece of shit. You're pathetic,. You can't even handle one day of work without bingeing. you have no self-control. You don't deserve this job.

I read this book because of an interview I saw on TV. I surged though it at first, then put it aside as was so distressing to read. I picked it up and put it down several times, eager to read it and afraid of what was coming next: I'd never known a day where my weight wasn't the determining factor for my self-esteem, My weight was my mood, and the more effort I put into starving myself to get it to an acceptable level, the more satisfaction I would feel as the restriction and the denial built into an incredible sense of accomplishment.

De Rossi says eating disorders are about control, insecurity and loneliness. These are issues for every adult, and her experiences with them were so intense they were debilitating, and this book is a must-read. She gets through it, and it is inspiring that she is now healthy and happy.

Unbearable Lightness is smart and brave, and it will help people who struggle with depression, loneliness, food, self-image, sexuality, self esteem, or feeling like an outsider. So, if you are human, this book will impact you. And if you are battling an eating disorder, it could help save you.

17 comments:

Stephen said...

It is on my list right after the Patti Lupone memoir...

Fragrant Liar said...

Wow, sounds like a gripping read. Thanks for the review.

The Invisible Seductress said...

I wondered what this book would be like. Thank you for sharing. I was Bulimic and I say "was" loosely because I think when you have an addiction, no matter what it is, you are ALWAYS still in some working level of that addiction. In 2009 I had 13 surgeries and have been having major issues still. When the doctor said he was putting me on medication to strengthen my organs, but it would cause major weight gain, I had a panic attack. I seriously considered denying the treatment even faced with his strong words of organ failure/transplant/death. The addiction that I had somehow contained (in pieces) is welling up and spilling out. So even though I am not eating anything, I have gained 70 pounds in 5 months. I feel so out of control and dark. Very dark. Maybe this book could help? I know I drained here and I am sorry, but it just happened. ;}

Lauren said...

Wow. Sounds intense.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Any TV production by David E. Kelley seems beset with anorexia and bulimia problems among its stars -- I've heard it said that the "culture" of those shows promoted horrible body image among its actresses.

TICKLEBEAR said...

just goes to show beautiful people don't always have it easier than the rest of us as they battle their own demons...
:/~
HUGZ

Kelly@TearingUpHouses said...

This was the first book I've ever read by a celebrity and it was amazing. I'm so impressed that she wrote it completely on her own.

As a former college track athlete and someone who has been VERY close to eating disorders, I identified strongly with the pressure she felt (not so much the self hatred) and how the idea of health and fitness caused her to sink further into her disorder.

It's a fine line.

Kelly

Brahm (alfred lives here) said...

@ Kelly - I agree, "amazing" is the right word. I identified with parts of it, and not at all with other parts, and overall it is a breathtaking read.

@ Invisible - don't be sorry, thanks for sharing, and read the book. Tough at times but well worth it.

Annie (Lady M) x said...

Sounds like the book has it all. I wouldn't have considered reading it if I hadn't read your review. Thanks Brahm!

Jabacue said...

Same here. I had no plans to even consider this book. I assumed it was another 'fluff' publication from Hollywood. I'll wait till spring howvever, winter is 'dark' enough let alone adding to it.
Thanks .
Jim

Linda Medrano said...

What a terrible state of affairs. I'm not sure I could read this because it would be so very upsetting. I know this "body image" thing is hard on our young people, girls and to a lesser degree boys too. I would imagine that the pressure to be think in the entertainment field is much much worse. Portia is a brave woman to write so honestly about a very serious subject.

Mrsblogalot said...

I remember the first time seeing her on Ally McBeal and thinking wow, that girl has it all. You truly never know what's inside someone do you? Sounds like a powerful read.

Brahm (alfred lives here) said...

@ Linda - understood, is upsetting at times. Much of it. If you can push thru is well worth it. This changed what I know and how I look at stuff.

@ Mrs Blogalot - well put, I think every bimbo starlet is annoying and vapid and well a bimbo. This one has brains and heart.

paul said...

I probably would have dismissed this book as too depressing to read. But a recent public incident compels me to read it. Jenifer Ringer, principal dancer with the NYC Ballet Company was attacked by a critic with "The New York Times." Now, I have seen Jenifer perform so many times when the Company is in residence in Saratoga Springs during July. She is an exquisite dancer and has delighted everyone. Never once did I consder her weight because she is not overweight. Her brilliance and grace is what attracted me. Now this "critic(?) humiliates her in print saying that she looks like she ate one sugarplum too many. I cannot even begin to comprehend how hurt and devasted she must feel. Although, during an interview she remained her gracious self. Another sad and unbelievable thing is that "The New York Times" stands by the statement of their critic.

Brahm (alfred lives here) said...

@ Paul - I heard about that also, and was shocked by it. Shows how far we have to go. Read this book, is smart and worthwhile.

pattypunker said...

fantastic review. i'm putting this on my christmas list now.

Kate said...

I think many, if not most, women define themselves/value themselves largely in terms of their weight. And (speaking for myself) it's not based on the opinions of the people around us (my husband and friends think I look great), but on our own comparison of how we measure up to an ideal.

In high school, I tried being bulemic, but I wasn't good at it...and the longer I sat there with my finger down my throat, the stupider I felt. So I was lucky enough to escape doing that to my body, but not necessarily enough to avoid comparing myself negatively to others.

Now, I try to appreciate my body for what it can do and treat it well and keep it busy. Though I'll never look like a supermodel, I try to remember that what and who I am is plenty good enough.

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