I'm glad - I'm SO glad - that de Rossi is better and that she got through her ED. What she went through was horrible. I just wish she didn't have to throw fat people under the bus in the process. The epilogue of this book is filled with fat-phobic references to "overweight" people "obese" people, bodies that are "heavy" and/or "fat" and it sucks. I wish Portia understood that even at 5'8" and 168 lbs(or whatever she was at her high point), she wasn't "fat" and that even if she had been fat, ACTUALLY fat, as in fat like someone who might regularly discriminated against because of the size of her body, THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN FINE. But for Portia, it's clear, 168 lbs was not fine and would never/could never be fine. And that's a very sad note to end on, especially in an ED recovery memoir.
There are other problems in the epilogue as well -- notably, de Rossi's insistence that she is "fully recovered." The idea of full recovery is a debated one in the ED community. Some (most, I'd say) feel that like an alcoholic, there's no such thing as being "over" an ED. There's managing it, not engaging in ED behaviours and enjoying good health, but once you've had an ED, you'll always have it, but in recovery, you'll be "symptom free" at the best of times. Portia's feeling - that she is fully over her illness - is is weird one. I hope she never relapses. It happens and it's got to be even more terrible for someone who really didn't understand how easily it can happen.
As much as I like this book and believe this book and relate to this book, the final impression I'm left with every time I reread it is that Portia is happy now only because she's 130 lbs (or thereabouts, or less). It's a fucking slap in the face to real fat people. She writes that in order to recover and live happily, you have to love your body regardless, but in the same page, she uses the word "overweight," as a massive insult, something that might magically go away once you get healthy and stop binging. Only, not all large people binge. Most don't, in my experience. And it's depressing to see someone who ought to understand bullshit body norms better than anyone make this kind of insulting, hurtful mistake.
What if Portia's set weight, her natural weight when eating and living as healthfully as possible, was 168 lbs? What if it was 200 lbs? 350? More? For so many women, that's the case. Plenty of women are both naturally fat AND healthy, but I don't know if Portia believes that. She's obviously still struggling. That's normal. I just wish that instead of ending her book the way she did, she had shown a little solidarity to other women out there - the ones who aren't lucky enough to have a socially acceptable set weight.
I wish I could recommend de Rossi's book now as heartily as I did back in 2011, but in retrospect, I think I made a mistake. The early part of the book is very compelling, but the messages inherent in the conclusion are deeply flawed and will probably do more harm than good to people of both genders who are recovering and looking for new messages to help them along the way. I'm not the only person who thinks so. The ultimate message in this book, sadly, is that thin (but not too thin) is ultimately the only way to be healthy and happy. And that's just not true.
Awhile back, I wrote a post on my personal blog entitled The Weight. It got a pretty big response. I don't usually write things that are so personal, and I guess that showed. People can be pretty dense, but they know when you're telling the truth in writing. They just know. They can sense when something is authentic.
Portia de Rossi's memoir, Unbearable Lightness is something authentic.
Had I not written the weight post, I would not have read the book, celebrity memoirs so often being inauthetic, silly, or both. But I blogged on the subject, and so many people recommended it, so I thought I ought to give it a try.
I'm glad I did. Really glad. The book is sad and raw, but certainly true. At the same time, it isn't for everyone.
De Rossi isn't a literary writer. She's a literate person, sure, but her style is unsophisticated. The whole thing reads like a long diary entry, or a rambling email. The language is simplistic, the grammar awkward, but that's okay.
I don't need De Rossi to be a literary superstar. I just need her to tell the truth. And she does.
Should you read it? Maybe. If you've ever suffered from an eating disorder, I expect it would interest you. If you've spent a long time dealing with low self-esteem and anxiety about your place in the world, it might resonate. If you watched Ally McBeal, it's fun (and disturbing) to look behind the scenes.
For me, the early part of the book is strongest. As de Rossi spiraled deeper and deeper into her disorders (both bulimia and anorexia and plenty EDNOS in between), the story becomes almost too upsetting and confusing, even for those of us who suffer from EDs. But her description of the process -- of the slow creeping of the disease disgused as diets, heath-consciousness and necessity -- is riveting. I certainly saw myself in de Rossi and making the connection was sobering. She describes, in a really accessible way, what so many of us feel and are, and then goes on to show the terrifying places where that may lead.
And that's important. It's important to be shown exactly where you don't want to go. It helps you avoid it.