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Not one for readers vulnerable to eating disorders
on 30 September 2016
Back in the late 1990s I was a massive fan of the TV show Ally McBeal (though something tells me I'd probably hate it nearly 20 years later) so I knew Portia de Rossi as the ice-maiden blonde lawyer Nelle. More recently I knew her through her rebirth as Mrs Ellen de Generes and, like many people I'm sure, I had wondered how one became the other.
I would have had no idea that under the steely blonde exterior, Ms de Rossi was a quivering heap of insecurities and self-doubt. I guess many of us suspect that actresses are just having a wonderful time, and Portia clearly wasn't. 'Unbearable Lightness' is a shockingly frank account of her years of dietary abuse and eating disorders as well as her battles with the demon of her sexuality.
I found the book fascinating and surprisingly well written (given I'd seen many reviews moaning about poor editing - perhaps that got fixed since the first edition) and hard to put down.
So why only 3 stars?
I think de Rossi may have needed to be a little more guarded in what she wrote. I say that because I fear this book is at risk of being used by vulnerable people as a 'how to' guide to eating disorders. Any would-be or half-way anorexic or bulimic will find within the covers a frightening array of tips on how to stay skinny or get skinny and may fail to pick up on the messages that it's not a smart thing to do. de Rossi did things to her body that seem insane to the casual reader but they worked - temporarily of course, but they were still effective. Any desperate person looking to shift 5-10 pounds very quickly and willing to eat miniscule portions of tuna with chopsticks will find plenty of short-term effective ideas on how to do that. I think there are too many 'triggers' and too many hot tips. The use of 'Cheetos' as an marker food to help the bulimic know how much they've vomited will stay with me as a particular disturbing image.
I've never had an eating disorder and never felt vulnerable to such things but I know that others aren't so lucky. I wish de Rossi had held back a little on the techniques she employed as I'm sure there are readers who will be tempted to try those techniques for themselves.