Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss And Gain by Portia De Rossi

I’ll start this review with an anecdote. I went to an unnamed bookstore in search of this book, and I had no clue where to look. It wasn’t in the memoir section, and even though I hate asking for help, I decided to ask the sales associate to help me find it. She searched in the computer, and said that the book was in the “Gay and Lesbian” section, which she had never seen before. And she also said that in most cases if this particular bookstore chain didn’t have a “Gay and Lesbian” section, those books were always found in the “Self-Improvement” section. I found that really discouraging. Why would people who want to learn from these stories have to look in a section of the bookstore that tells them they’re not good enough? Luckily I found this book in the “Gay and Lesbian” section, but I was once again saddened by the fact that it was only the size of two small shelves. At least I came out of that bookstore with my copy of Portia de Rossi’s memoir, Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect of this memoir. I had only known Portia de Rossi for her role on the TV show “Ally McBeal” and her marriage to Ellen DeGeneres. I will definitely say that I learned a lot from her memoir, and I enjoyed it. She talked very candidly about her battle with anorexia and her struggle to fit into Hollywood, which I appreciated hearing about. I also had no idea that she was initially married to a man, or even that her mother raised her, single-handedly, in Australia. And I definitely enjoyed hearing that she was more comfortable in black jeans, an Iggy Pop shirt, and boots because that’s basically my uniform.

de Rossi’s style is really interesting. I like how she jumps around a lot in timing, as opposed to following the normal, point A to B format of a memoir. The tangents she goes on make sense perfectly with the stories she’s telling. As I read the book, I felt like I was watching a movie where the protagonist has flashbacks to explain her current life and more recent events. Her flow is very natural, and her metaphors and descriptions work very well. I particularly loved her comparison of stale cigarette smoke to “a party guest who’d passed out on the living room sofa after everybody else went home.” It’s the perfect combination of being both artistic and relatable.

I’d have been able to read this book at any point from the eighth grade onward, because the subject matter wasn’t too coarse. Also, I think every child from the age of 13, especially girls, should learn about eating disorders so that they can avoid them and learn to love themselves.

The thing I loved most about this book was de Rossi’s candid discussion of insecurity in general. Her insecurity stemmed from both her sexuality and her body consciousness. She writes of the drill sergeant in her head, constantly asking her what she ate for dinner. She writes of her marriage to a man to cover up her sexuality to both herself and the general public. As a child, she modeled to gain confidence but only ended up sinking lower than ever before. But the important thing is that she was able to pick herself back up again. She didn’t let her insecurities beat her into submission. She now owns her sexuality, and is in a wonderful marriage to Ellen DeGeneres. She also has an extremely successful career right now. The most important thing I can hope to take away from her memoir is that confidence really helps to gain success. Success not only materialistically, but intrinsically. Believing in yourself is honestly one of the most important things you can do.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss And Gain" in comments!


Claudzilla said...

Great review. Your anecdote saddened me, too. Because while it is to a degree about being gay, it's also about something outside of that. Being ghettoized on the first point reduces the audience for the book. It also tells people who are gay that it's the only aspect of their lives that matters.

Jessica's said...

I loved the book but found it challenging as a person recovering from an eating disorder. She goes into great detail about her behaviors and I found myself triggered as I was reading it. I would just add a caution if this is something you struggle with to stop reading if you need to or get some support.

Natasha Holme said...

I discovered this work whilst writing my own book as a lesbian who has experienced an eating disorder. It's a page-turner, very well-written and absorbing, the continual sense of shock at Ms de Rossi's tale keeping me in its grip. Her fear of coming out was saddening, her ultimate embracing of her sexuality warming. Loved this book.