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Book of the Week

9 years ago

Unbearable lightness : a story of loss and gain / Portia de Rossi.

Many people will know that Portia de Rossi is married to Ellen DeGeneres and that she acted in Ally McBeal, as well as other TV shows and movies. De Rossi's life was overshadowed by a severe eating disorder since the age of 12 when she began a modelling career and increasingly since that age, she lived a nightmare, feeling compelled to engage in extreme food denial, bingeing, purging and obsessively exercising. She compulsively examined her body for the smallest sign of fat and often lived in fear of consuming more than the smallest number of calories.

It is difficult not to feel sympathetic toward de Rossi, so caught up was she in this self-destructive behavior. She was encouraged in her weight loss efforts by her mother (although not when it became very extreme) and her mother enrolled her in Jenny Craig when she was 15. She is a beautiful and talented actress but her quality of life and health diminished until she became very ill. At its lowest, de Rossi's weight was only 82 pounds and adding to the anxiety about her weight was her fear that it would become known that she is gay.

During this time, de Rossi pursued her acting and modelling career and in fact she obtained jobs due to her slender figure. One of the "gains" referred to in the title are her finally dealing with her affliction, as well as meeting DeGeneres and creating a life with her.

The author has to be admired for revealing what she surely feels is bizarre behavior, for it brings out into the open a disorder that, because it's hidden, is likely more common than we know. It also is a reminder of the tremendous pressure that is faced by people, especially movie stars or those in the public eye, to "measure up" or more accurately, "measure down (less)" by maintaining a very thin, often very unrealistic, body size.

The book is a gift in showing the possibility of hope and recovery even for an individual as severely afflicted by an eating disorder as de Rossi had been.

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