By: Portia de Rossi
Rating: (four out of five bookmarks)
Arguably, one of the most coveted professions is being a performer or public figure in show business. Nearly every little girl wants to grow up to be an actress, a dancer, a model or a singer. Many boys aspire to be action stars in movies and on television.
Even my own husband decided last year, after working at a broadcasting company for over four years, that he wants to give the acting world a try. Yet how many people truly understand the pressure, the work and the anxiety that professional entertainers go through every day?
One actress’ memoir, “Unbearable Lightness” by Portia de Rossi, gives a clear, emotional and often heartbreaking look into the life of an onscreen actress. Her constant fear about her public image and social life spurned her to extremely self-destructive habits, including a severe diet and workout regimen that at one point dropped her 5-foot, 6-inch body to 89 pounds.
De Rossi is perhaps most recognizably known for her work on TV shows such as “Ally McBeal” and “Arrested Development,” as well as being married to Ellen DeGeneres. In her memoir, she recounts her life starting from her childhood in Australia, when she wanted to venture into modeling as a teenager. Not having the “standard” body proportions for modeling, she started a strict diet that her mother helped enforce for her, not realizing that what models did to stay thin — including anorexia and bulimia — was “abnormal.”
Choosing to pursue acting over law school, she moved to Hollywood and started landing major television roles. The stress of maintaining a good image on camera, the pressure of costume fittings and the fear the paparazzi may expose her homosexuality caused her downward spiral of weight loss to continue.
Even after consulting a nutritionist and being confronted by her family about her weight loss, de Rossi continued her self-mutilating patterns until her body had reached traumatic, nearly fatal, ruin. Her story is about her coming to acknowledge her mental “disease,” and ultimately finding balance and happiness by letting go of her fears.
De Rossi’s story touches on how the media, the public and many people’s desire for acceptance are tied into the image of the “perfect” body. The belief that attractiveness determines one’s level of success, romance and lasting friendships has affected how people view and act when it comes to personal health. More than just a warning about taking care of one’s health, “Unbearable Lightness” is a deeply personal reflection about how lacking self-love ruins not only oneself, but weighs heavily on everyone else connected to that someone.
The most captivating moments of de Rossi’s narrative are her relationships with her mother, her brother and her life partner; these are all of the people who love de Rossi for who she is and slowly help bring her around to realizing she doesn’t need to embody what is socially “beautiful.” Through her writing, readers can tell de Rossi is an intelligent and, at times, poetic person, which makes her hardships all the more tragic.
“Unbearable Lightness” is a forthright, direct and eloquent memoir. De Rossi is able to acknowledge the mental state she once had, helping us to understand why women like her may push themselves to such extremes for the sake of beauty, and observe how her view of being socially accepted has changed.
Her story is entertaining as well as enlightening, and hopefully can help heal others who have experienced the same fears and struggles.
Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life.
Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life