Friday, January 6, 2012

Unbearable Lightness: a Story of Loss and Gain by Portia De Rossi

Portia de Rossi comes from Australia, where she expressed interest in modeling at an early age and latched onto the profession as a vehicle to get what she needed in life – money, acceptance, admiration and love. Her mother, left by her father to raise Portia and her brother alone, loved both of her children. But Portia felt the need to excel and to be a comfort to her Mom, and made it a point never to be in trouble or needing anything. On the contrary, she was determined to pull out all the stops and provide for anyone who she loved. What she didn’t realize was that by raising the bar so high for herself, she couldn’t accept any weakness or imperfection in her performance and came to believe that others were judging her on the same level.

When she becomes an actress and a star on the Ally McBeal television show, Portia memorizes acceptable answers for fan and media questions, regardless of how true they are, and decides she has to be a size six since sample outfits generally come in that size. With a tall and rangy physique, Portia has been accustomed to dieting ever since she was a model and was expected to weigh in as “thin”.

What follows is a life of bulimia and finally anorexia. In De Rossi’s story, she tells her side of events so convincingly, that if you weren’t aware of her actual starving herself, you might be fooled. She perfectly describes how a person can zone into a part of their body and see it as fat or ugly, regardless of its actual condition.

Her collapse comes (lucky for her) before it’s too late, and the end of the book is all about how she worked her way towards health, taking the emphasis of right or wrong out of food, and just letting herself eat. Her recovery phase is a bit too rushed and presented to you as a fait accompli – as though there was this confident stunning superstar just waiting to emerge. De Rossi credits a lot of her recovery with her resolutely gay lifestyle, marrying Ellen DeGeneres, while it might just be that relationships can help.

When we have an epidemic of fat in America, does the prevalence of eating disorders increase as our average weight goes up? And why do our media images resist leaving thinness behind? All of these issues come to mind with this timely memoir. If we can’t exactly walk off into the sunset with Portia and Ellen, at least we can mimic their food choices. The best trick is to forget about food, and get used to feeling hungry, in moderation. Easier said than done. Well we can always long for the 40’s to come back, and hope for an end to factory farming and technology bringing us the latest and greatest salty/sweet crunchy melt in your stomach taste combination.

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