Book review: Unbearable Lightness
I picked up Portia de Rossi's autobiography 'Unbearable Lightness' (2010), just before I went away and read it in a day. This is the story of de Rossi's life so far but it mostly focuses on her eating disorders. In 2004 she collapsed on a movie set weighing just 37kg.
It is a terribly tragic story. When she was 9 her father died and her teenage years were spent pursuing a modelling career. She convinced her mother to let her participate in a modelling competition at significant cost and even though she hated the process kept pursuing jobs. At the age of 12 she started dieting - to lose just a few kilos in the lead up to a show or photo shoot. Her mother had always dieted and helped her by giving her the strategies she needed to lose weight in a short amount of time. From 12 years old she was always yo yo dieting - binge eating in private because around her friends she was a model. She couldn't be seen to be eating normally.
I know that the issue of eating disorders is a very complicated one. I have had a number of close friends struggle with it and I know that the struggle does not always end. This can be hard when you become a mother because one of your primary tasks as a mother is related to food decisions. Even as they get older, the food provision remains constant. I do feel as mothers we have to work out how we are going to develop a healthy and balanced attitude in our kids about food. Not being slack and letting them eat anything but then not going overboard in the other direction so that our kids can't hang loose to a few fries without feeling anxious.
Over the years I have read many articles in the paper that say that often women who struggle with self-esteem around their weight, grew up with mothers that were always dieting or negative about their own weight. The correlation between maternal discontent and that of their daughter's is strong. Please, please don't hear me saying that eating disorders are mum's faults-they are a very complex mental health issue.
But the book did make me stop and reflect that most Western women are not happy with their bodies. Our girls learn early on that whatever women are, we are certainly not happy with the state of our bodies. And as mums we have the power to help stop that trend. It is so easy to be unhappy with our bodies (especially in a society that expects mums to look like the process of becoming a mum had no impact on their body) but I think we have to work hard to be content or at least not talk about our discontent with our children.
This is a confronting book. She is very brave in sharing a lot of the gory details about the destructiveness of her anorexia. And it is terribly sad. While it seems that by the end of this book she is in a much happier place, I think this is a woman who will always struggle with her self image and sense of worth (I heard recently she's had significant plastic surgery).