Tuesday, June 28, 2016

TAC Book Review: Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

(2010 ISBN 9781439177785 Publisher Atria Books)

 By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

The first time I saw Portia de Rossi was on the TV show “Ally McBeal.” Wildly popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I never really got into it. None of the characters seemed real to me—everyone was kind of cartoonish. The addition of Portia de Rossi to the cast apparently sent shockwaves into the series. She played Nelle, a buttoned-up ice queen with her blonde hair squeezed up in a tight bun. But Nelle evolved and showed her sexier side, modeling underwear and freeing her tightly bound golden locks.

What viewers didn’t see was de Rossi’s off-screen suffering. Her anxiety about appearing on TV in just a bra and panties. Her panic about not fitting into the wardrobe provided. Unbearable Lightness reveals a life of struggles—from the loss of her father, to her battle with eating disorders, and shame over her sexual identity.

De Rossi’s memoir does not shield the readers from the details of her eating disorder behaviors. She graphically describes binges and purges. She talks candidly about her quest to eat as few calories as possible and her compensatory behaviors to offset what she did consume. This book is not for the squeamish or the easily triggered.

Eating disorder behavior is very isolating and shame-filled. Sufferers engage alone and then describe feeling “disgusting,” “ashamed,” “mortified,” and so forth. Because of de Rossi’s willingness to spell out it alarming detail the specifics of her behaviors, she confronts that shame and rejects isolation. It’s like she’s telling her readers, hey, I know what you do in the darkness and you’re not alone. I’ve done it too. It’s going to be OK.

As we so often tell our clients, eating disorders are not about food, exercise, and weight. And de Rossi’s story illustrates that as well. As a young adult, she knew she was a lesbian. But she could not come out and tried to bury her identity. Then, once she became famous in the U.S., she felt even more pressure to hide her true self. And this shame—this sense of feeling flawed and unnatural—provided fuel to the eating disorder fire.

Unbearable Lightness describes de Rossi’s eating disorder, but the real story is in how she connected with her true self—the person she was born to be. Through that exploration, she has been able to recover and find peace.

I recommend Unbearable Lightness if you are solid in your recovery. As noted earlier, the details could be triggering. If you’re just starting your journey, then perhaps you could read (or listen to the audiobook) with your therapist or support group.

Crisply written, de Rossi’s candor is oddly shocking and reassuring. She has crafted a memoir that offers hope without easy answers, inspiration without quick fixes.

Keep reading!

If you're interested in purchasing this book, visit Women and Children First Bookstore's website for details on how to order. A phenomenal Chicago independent bookstore, since 1979, W&CF has been been a great place to explore books from local writers, feminists, LGBT authors, and political activists. Their selection of children's books is unparalleled.  Next time you're in Chicago, head on up to Andersonville and tell them the staff at The Awakening Center sent you!

Nancy is a Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center. She sees clients individually and facilitates the DBT group, two meditation groups, and an ED therapy group. You can reach her at 773.929.6262 ext. 17 or at nancyhalltac@gmail.com.

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