Robyn's Reviews > Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain

Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi
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Aug 17, 12

bookshelves: biography-or-memoir, library, nonfiction
Read on August 16, 2012

This is a book about disordered eating. Therefore this review discusses eating disorders.

This was a difficult book to read. It can also be a very dangerous book to read.

Here's me: there are aspects of my body that I'm not 1,000% happy with. I'm not, however, terribly fussed about it. If my thighs aren't slim and trim and smooth and perfect, then they're not, and I have more important things to worry about. I've never been on a diet, I've never purposely thrown up, and I've never skipped a meal for reasons of weight or body image (I've skipped meals due to being in a rush, not having money for food, or because my illness was in a flare-up and eating was far too painful. In all cases, I wished I were eating.). For 90% of my life I've not had a scale in the house, and I judge my weight based on the fit of my clothes and the difficulty of aerobic activities.

This book made me feel fat. It made me wonder how many calories I'm consuming and using each day. It made me think that if I cut back a bit, maybe I'd frown less when family posts photos on facebook that show the backs of my arms. And then the book gave, essentially, instructions on how to begin and nurture an eating disorder. What foods, how much, when. What exercise, how much, when. What tricks to use for those few stubborn pounds or to keep people from stopping you. People who are in the middle of an eating disorder will read this book and not take from it that they're killing themselves. Just as Portia didn't see that, despite all the headlines calling her an anorexic actress and despite the fear and concern from her loved ones. People who have struggled with eating disorders in the past are likely to be thrown into crisis by reading this, unless they are at a very strong place in their recovery. This is a book for people (like me), who have never experienced these thoughts.

Even there, this book was difficult, because so many of Portia's thoughts are normal, everyday, common thoughts...taken to a dangerous and fanatical extreme. She was very real throughout the book, I could feel her personality in the pages. As the book progressed, I kept thinking up things people might try saying to her, to get across to her that what she was doing was horrible. Since "you're too thin" was something she found impossible and therefore funny (attributing it to jealousy), "I'm worried about you" fed the need for love and attention, "anorexic" was something she defined very specifically in her own mind and therefore dismissed as being simply untrue, I kept hoping for someone to try things like "you look sick", "you look bad", "you are so skinny that you've clearly lost control". I wanted someone to be blunt and somewhat cruel by saying something like "nobody admires you for this, it makes people want to avert their eyes because you look diseased". For me to be longing for someone to hurt the feelings of someone in the midst of an emotional crisis is unheard of. But it hurt me to see her turning all the gentle nudges into compliments and encouragement in her own mind. I hated it.

The book definitely wasn't properly balanced. 272 pages of disordered eating, 22 pages about recovery (the entire epilogue isn't about her recovery, so I'm only counting the pages that are). The latter was not enough. In one paragraph the 4 weeks between collapse and arriving at the Treatment Center were disposed of. The miraculous moment where, after resisting months on end of various forms of treatment and therapy, a single sentence from her girlfriend of the time changed her entire perspective on food was...pat. Easy. Confusing. I have no idea how she came to turn herself around, really, because she breezed right through it. Which means anyone reading this book with a particular loved one in mind will get no assistance on how to help them. They'll get an understanding, yes. But a way to help or a path to try? No.

Lots of editing problems. Did they even hire a copy-editor, or did they think that correcting typos was too mainstream?

Overall a good book, well-written, and definitely a window into a mindset that's hard to understand from the outside. I meant to put it down after chapter 13 and read the rest in the morning, but I ended up just staying up and finishing it. Wish there'd been more of the recovery process and the years since, instead of just a few pages that leaped over details.
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