I don't often read books written by celebrities. Most times, they are too stylized and over-indulgent -- much like Hollywood itself -- and when you do finally find an auto-biography or memoir that seems to strip away the glitz and glamour, you're disappointed to find out that not all of it is true, and much of the story was detailed by a ghost writer.
"Unbearable Lightness" immediately sets itself apart from the crowd. It does not glamorize its writer or her life, or even Hollywood in general. You easily forget it's even written by a well-known actress, a famous celebrity. This book chronicles how its writer was, for the longest time, fighting a losing battle with her own demons, and whether you can relate to the issues that are dealt with in this novel or not, it will prove to be something of substance over style.
Born in her native Australia, you see how one little girl was thrust into the modelling industry at a young age -- an industry which prizes the thin, the beautiful, the perfect. It was then that young Amanda Lee Rogers realised that if she was ever to fit in, she would have to lose weight. Her waist was too big, her thighs too fat. Her face was too round, and her eyes spaced too far apart. Her name didn't have that certain "ring" to it.
Out of this came Portia de Rossi, a successful law student who moved to Hollywood to pursue a lifelong acting career. Once there, she landed a role on the popular show "Ally McBeal", where she soon realised that things weren't as glossy as they appeared on the television screen or on the pages of a tabloid magazine. She also came face to face with her worst fear: that she was too big to fit into her wardrobe.
Thus enters the reader into a downward spiral of yo-yo dieting, sessions of binging and purging, and extreme calorie restriction. From eating no more than 300 calories a day, to eating only with chopsticks and out of the same bowl with the crack down the centre to measure precise portions, to running up and down the six flights of stairs in her apartment building to burn off 60 calories of gum, the eating and exercise habits/rituals that de Rossi would put her body through become intense and harrowing to read.
Perhaps what sets this book apart the most, when talking of novels written by celebrities, is how there is no way to skip over the truth on this story; there is no way to hide from the evidence of how sick she really was, as documented by several pictures near the end of the book, each one scarier and harder to look at than the last.
Portia de Rossi proves to have the soul of a poet with this book, each sentence finely crafted and flowing beautifully. She also puts her skills to good use by writing a book as important as this, since so few people in her position are willing to be as open, honest, and vulnerable as she is about her struggles with both her disordered eating and body image issues, as well as her sexual orientation. It's something that will hopefully help many others who are going through the same situation.