Shame weighs a lot more than flesh and bone. – Portia De Rossi (pg 234)
It will probably surprise you to know that I would say Unbearable Lightness by Portia De Rossi is one of the best books ever written about what it’s like living with – and working through – an eating disorder.
Why would I say it?
What would I, an admitted fatty, know about someone with anorexia and bulimia?
First, get rid of the words anorexia and bulimia.
Second, let’s replace them with the words, “eating disorders”.
Then… let’s talk about when food becomes the center of your universe.
Let’s talk about when the very thought of food can propel you out of bed in the morning and fill every waking moment of your day.
Let’s talk about choosing an amount of food – say, 300 calories a day – and being absolutely obsessive (and compulsive) about sticking with it.
Let’s talk about how someone can look perfectly normal on the outside and be dying – sometimes literally from your own choices regarding food – on the inside.
Let’s talk about hating your body. Looking at your body. Dressing your body. Everything about your body.
Let’s talk about me.
See what I did there?
Let’s also talk about Portia De Rossi.
One of us obese. The other thin.
Both have struggled (and I suspect will always struggle, no matter our size) with food.
Food. Fuel. Needed to live and thrive.
Also, rituals. All the ways we worship food. And now, being the holidays. Ugh. And add in the whole pandemic thingy.
Food. So much food. Been there, done that. You?
When I first read this book, it was audio. I listened as De Rossi described (in agonizing detail) an average day. It’s been five years – at least – since I read it (listened) and I can still feel her angst over her choices about food, yes, but also her sexuality. While this isn’t a book about her being gay (or her marriage to Ellen DeGeneres) it also can’t be pushed to the side. It matters. *Everything* matters when talking about eating disorders and addictions.
I remember when De Rossi first showed up on Ally McBeal. Blond and beautiful, icy as hell. Gorgeous. Mysterious. Sexy. Size 2. Maybe 0.
And then, there she was on Arrested Development. Equally beautiful but not icy… in fact, not cool at all. She was awkward, blended in well to the Bluth family of dysfunctional nuts and bolts, hilariously funny. Skinny. Goofy.
And all the while, this perfect-looking woman was dying inside – literally.
I am a fan of memoirs, as you know. I think we get as much self-help from them as we do from actual self-help books. The thing about people is that… they’re people… just (as I’m fond of saying) clunky, old humans just trying to get through if not unscathed, at least with a minimum of scarring.
De Rossi is one of us.
Now, I could go into a literal dissertation about how fat and thin, obesity and anorexia, heaviness and lightness all fit together into a eating disorder and body dysmorphia stew. I have VERY MUCH been there, done that. Over and over again.
All these years after originally reading this book, I can tell you that certain things she shared have come back to me again and again.
One of them is about Pam butter-flavored cooking spray. She would use it with an egg white to create a kind-of omelette. Very, very low calorie and low fat. I have never looked at a can of Pam without thinking of her – and I mean it.
Another, her rituals… a certain plate and fork, for instance. Food cannot be eaten unless it is served in exactly the same way, time after time.
All the tricks of the trade… which I and a million-bazillion others have used throughout the years.
Take one bite and throw away the rest? Smell it and then throw it away? Eat it all and then barf it up?
Tea with sweet & low sweetener whenever you’re hungry. Lemon water when you’re hungry? Cigarettes when you’re hungry? Anything but food when you’re hungry?
Saucer instead of dinner plate? Liquid diets? Just stop eating all together?
Jog until you drop? Wrap yourself in plastic and sweat it off?
Love yourself the way you are and skip all the diet stuff? <<< HAHAHAHA! Because, seriously? As if!
De Rossi – and I – have tried it all.
In her case, being her authentic self (no secrets), falling in love and a horse named Mae saved her life.
And yes, she has gained weight and is maintaining it. She talks about being recovered. I’m so happy for her!
Me? Still fatter than holy hell.
My birthday is coming up and it’s always a time of reckoning for me… especially these years after 60. My third act.
I keep thinking that if I talk about it enough, the ****reason**** for my excess weight will become obvious and will simply disappear.
Is there a kind of shame I’m carrying that’s manifested itself into weight? That’s what I keep coming back to…
De Rossi would probably say yes, that sounds about right. She might ask me…
What are you carrying?
And I would say…
The weight of the world.
Not to be dramatic or anything.
PS: This book is excellent. You know, if I didn’t make that clear. It also touched me deeply.