“I didn’t decide to become anorexic. It snuck up on me disguised as a healthy diet, a professional attitude.”
Unbearable lightness tells the story of Portia de Rossi’s battle with anorexia. She is the actress who is popular for her roles in Ally Mcbeal, Arrested Development and most recently, Scandal.
I have not read many memoirs/autobiographies/biographies. That, like historical fiction, is a genre I am trying to explore. I do not remember how I came across this memoir. However, it intrigued me enough to pick it up. The psychologist in me desperately wanted to read it. I did not even know who Portia de Rossi was when I bought the book. I thought she would be some long gone, dead Hollywood actress talking about her struggle in Hollywood and her battle with an eating disorder. I was wrong. I looked her up when I started reading the book because I wanted to put a face to the name.
Portia de Rossi’s writing is fluid. She moves between her present, her past and her future (for the sake of the book) easily. This book needed to be written simply and elegantly. And it has been. It speaks to the layperson in you. As much as I kept thinking that she is a Hollywood actress and these rules really do not apply to the regular woman out there, her writing was humbling. She made me feel included in her life. She made me see her as a person. Not as a persona.
This book should ideally be read by all women. It should be read by women who are chronic dieters, trying to achieve an unrealistic standard of beauty. It should also be read by men, who in recent times have started attempting this impossible feat as well. The rates of men and women suffering from body image issues, eating disorders, and subsequently depression, anxiety disorders, OCD and other mental health issues has steadily increased. A large amount of blame can be put on the media, the fashion and movie industries. It can be put on the glamour that is associated with these industries, which has become so ingrained in our society.
These are the kind of messages we bombard ourselves with at every step of the way:
“The theory of objectivism claims that there are certain things that most people in society can agree upon. A model is pretty. A lawyer is smart. Our society is based upon objectivism. It’s how we made rules and why we obey them.”
However, I believe that the damage is not just being done externally. Yes, we may be getting several messages from these industries. But we are choosing to raise our children with these messages as well. Where we can teach our children to eat healthy and exercise for enjoyment, we are too busy telling our children to eat ‘right’ and exercise to be a ‘certain size’. Too often, we are caught up in our young one’s faults instead of their wondrous, innate beauty.
We say –
“If only she had a smaller nose.”
“If only he was taller.”
And this doesn’t stop at looks only! We move on to various other traits and attributes as well!
We drill into our children’s subconscious –
“If only he got 90% in his exams, he could do it.” (Whatever ‘it’ is)
“If only she learnt some household chores.”
We may consider ourselves in the 21st century but we are regressing into a dangerous space. We need to stop and check ourselves. We need to stop this spiral that we are on. There’s a can of worms that has been opened by us and we need to put a lid on it.
I would have been very happy to have read the book and not identify with Portia at all. After all, I am hardly a candidate for anorexia. But alas… I have let these external and internal messages penetrate through my whole being as well. I identified with her anorexic self. I didn’t expect myself to and this caught me by surprise. But I found myself finding rationality in her irrational thoughts, which were on a slippery slope. On one side I knew that this was too extreme, but on the other side, I found myself thinking, “If one doesn’t take these extreme steps, how can one expect to lose weight?” What I was actually telling myself was, “If one doesn’t take such extreme steps, they will not achieve their goals.” When did I set these standards for myself? When did we set these standards for ourselves? And more importantly, when did we set these standards for our children?
I wouldn’t advice this to my friend or anyone for that matter. But these are the standards I have set for myself. Seemingly, for my personal and career growth. This is how deep – seated these messages have become.
Portia de Rossi is truly a phoenix rising from the ashes and Unbearable lightness is a story of hope. It is a story of a battle hard won. It is a story of accepting yourself no matter how you look, what you weigh, what your attributes are. It tells you that no matter how deep that abyss is, you can still climb out of it. It is the story of a life.
Here are some quotes that I absolutely loved from the book with some photos that I clicked: