Friday, March 4, 2011

Unbearable Lightness, Portia de Rossi

I'd been eyeing this one for a while, as I mentioned, I'm a bit of a collector of memiors about eating, and disordered eating, and what it means in a person's life, so was keen to read this memoir. 

This is a gripping read, de Rossi's explorations of the thinking involved in spiraling down into the terrible realities of disordered eating is spot on, and harrowing.  I liked her writing style, how much of it was written from that space of strange thinking, where your messages about fat and beauty, and your own actions are so jumbled and wrong, but seem so linear and commonsensical when you are within it.  I like when memiors of mental illness capture that world, the odd world that to the person seems so sensible and real.  It made the book a page-turner.

I read it while suffering from a terrible plague that my partner bought home with him from America (thanks darling!), and read this book in a day while suffering on the couch, next to my sick 2 year old, in front of Nick Jr.  Perhaps this added to my overwhelming impression of illness from this book, which de Rossi has captured so well, illness disguised as the right thing, the attractive thing, the successful thing.  We all need to re-read the Beauty Myth, like de Rossi, on my first reading of Naomi Wolf's book, I wondered how I could have been such an idiot to "fall for it".  Of course, it's not us as individuals that should be blaming ourselves, it's the society we are part of.  But it's easy to blame ourselves, to hold ourselves as responsible.  As individuals, we are all supposed to be able to somehow overcome our backgrounds, our societies, or at least that's the rhetoric we buy into.  But none of us escape our social systems, no matter how aware of them we are.  Eating disorders are a case in point.  They are, on the surface, all about the individual.  Of course, they are really about our society.  It's a neat trick to get us to blame ourselves. 

There are some chilling scenes in this memior, what sticks in my mind is her fitting for a Loreal commercial, where de Rossi is humiliated publicly for not fitting into the size 4 skirts offered her, this was obviously a big trigger for the final stages of her eating issues.  Also, the loneliness of her home gym, and the messages she wrote herself on the walls.  Her frantic running up and down the apartment stairs, forgetting her dog, to work of some gum (!!) she ate while starving.

I would like to read more about her recovery, this part of the book felt skimmed over, like she hadn't finished with it yet, or perhaps it was too personal.  I wish this aspect of the book had been more fully explored, and showed more clearly the differences between disordered thinking and "normal" thinking, exploring those ideas a little more. It felt too skimmed over.  I would like to know more about how her weight gain affected her career, because no matter how tabloids might villify anorexic celebrities, they still represent the "unattainable ideal" held up to women in this culture.  How did recovery affect her roles, magazine covers, and modelling?  Or is recovery actually being able to let this go, because those ideals just ARE unattainable, if you're "normal"?

I definitely recommend this book, it's powerful, and would be a good read for young women starting out in all this, too.

I read this in trade paperback, it was nice to read a "real" book again!


[Image credit - here - this blog, this is not a diet, is just great!]

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