Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Tri-Review, part three: "Unbearable Lightness" by Portia de Rossi

When I told friends I was reading Portia de Rossi's autobiography, they all laughed at me. Partly, because its title is almost the same as Milan Kundera's masterpiece, The Unbearable Lightness of Being; but mostly, because autobiographies written by young film and TV stars are usually badly written and fairly uninteresting. And really, I too expected Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain to be the regular Hollywood-esque hyperbole churned out by most celebs (which, lets face it, I love). 

However, Portia's book defied everyone's expectations. Rather than the typical trajectory of birth to stardom that many actresses' stories take, Unbearable Lightness is a beautifully written and thoroughly harrowing account of Portia's struggle with anorexia during the early years of her television career.

The story begins with Portia waking up in bed one morning, and obsessively counting the calories she ate the day before:
Yesterday I got out of bed and walked directly to the treadmill and walked at 7.0 for 60 minutes for a total of negative 600 calories. I ate 60 calories of oatmeal with Splenda and butter and black coffee with one vanilla-flavored tablet. I didn't eat anything at work. And at lunch I walked on the treadmill for an hour. Shit, I had only walked. 
This quotation reflects the style, tone and content of the rest of the book. Told in the first person, Portia tells her story as if it is actually happening. Though often interspersed with  more self-reflective sections, she usually lets the story tell itself. When Portia is down to about 37kg (yes, there are pictures included so you can see proof of her skeletal frame) she is clearly off the planet - but she doesn't tell us this explicitly. Instead, she explains how she hides her journal from her psychologist so the shrink won't see how she's written "YOU ARE NOTHING!" all over it; she describes how running for hours and hours a day (and not eating anything) made her body so sore she couldn't even stand; how she felt triumph when the ache in her joints after jumping in a warm bath was so great she could forget about hunger and food.

The book is such a great insight into the mind of a person with an eating disorder, or any form of mental illness. Portia's story shows how eating disorders really are an illness, and demonstrates the complete irrationality of the anorexic mindset (which, of course, the sufferer doesn't recognise as irrationality at all).  I reckon this would be a great book for family member and friends of those suffering from anorexia or bulimia. Not only would it help them get inside their loved one's head, but it could help them understand why much of their own help or intervention might not be that affective.

I probably wouldn't recommend Unbearable Lightness to anyone still in the midst of dealing with an eating disorder - the story is so raw and detailed, and Portia's writing so relatable and powerful, that it could potentially exacerbate a problem.

Portia's eating disorder and subsequent breakdown are also both related to her sexuality, and the pressure she felt to keep "being gay" a secret. Unbearable Lightness is also her "coming out" story, to an extent, and describes how her deep friendship (and later, marriage) with Ellen de Generes helped her form an understanding of true, inner beauty, as well as an understanding of a healthy body.

Portia's honesty about her deepest struggles was gut-wrenching, but also encouraged me to face my own struggles head-on...I know that sounds cliched and way too sentimental, but it's true! So read it! Read it now!

1 comment:

  1. ahh, this book sounds amaze! Once I get my life back - post exam stress, I am so reading it.