I am embarrassed it took me so long to get around to reading this book (I’ve had it on my shelf since it came out but never found time to actually sit down and read it until recently), but alas, I read it and I am so glad to add it to my library of eating disorder recovery books. The book I am referring to is Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi, best-know these days for being the lucky wife of the one and only Ellen Degeneres.
This book has a lot of similarities to other autobiographical accounts of suffering from a serious eating disorder, but with an extra element added- being gay and trying to hide it. This story proves that internalized shame (as a result of living in a homophobic society) is a true killer indeed.
Portia attributes her eating disorder to a number of forces but mostly to Hollywood pressure to be thin and the criticism she endured as a 12-year-old in the modeling industry. But it was also about shame:
“[My mother] didn’t really know how devastating it is for a parent to say ‘I accept [your homosexuality], that’s the way it is and it’s fine but don’t tell anybody.” It’s a strange message to send somebody. There’s a very fine line between being private and being ashamed.”
Portia directly addresses how this imposed shame about her sexuality enabled her disorder and how coming out helped her recover. It’s another reminder of how non-acceptance can be deadly. Sometimes eating disorders and being closeted complement each other quickly: a talent for concealing your desire for sex/love can translate into a talent for concealing your desire for food.
Today, things look very different for Portia- she is happily married to Ellen Degeneres and has become an outspoken advocate for gay rights and women’s health. She is a true ‘body image warrior’ and self-loving woman who has so much to teach the rest of us about accepting how we look and listening to our hearts.