Dear Portia, An Open Letter on Unbearable Lightness

7 Dec

In a recent post, I mentioned Portia de Rossi’s new book Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain. After reading the memoir in approximately two days, I knew I wanted to share it with Cheekie readers, but I wasn’t sure how.

An absolute page-turner, the book offers an experience that cannot be described in any kind of summary or review. de Rossi’s honesty about her eating disorders made me cringe, tear up, become nauseous, and ultimately gain a respect for her that I’ve developed for few people I don’t personally know. Every woman who has ever struggled with body issues or lack of self-esteem (which, I would dare say, is every woman) ought to read this book.

In lieu of a book review, Cheekie turned to Jerzy Jung, a New Jersey-based singer/songwriter who often writes about the issues discussed in Portia’s book, for her response to Unbearable Lightness. We hope Jerzy’s public letter to Portia will help generate a conversation about this important memoir, or at least encourage you to get a copy for yourself and a friend.

What shames us, what we most fear to tell, does not set us apart from others; it binds us together if only we can take the risk to speak it. – Starhawk

Dear Portia,

Thank you.

I read your book, and then I read it again. The second time I underlined all the passages that moved me. My copy is now covered in ink.

I think the first element of Unbearable Lightness that moved me was your honesty. I agree with your thought that “There is a great deal of shame surrounding an eating disorder, with its abnormal practices and bizarre rituals,” so I really appreciate you sharing so many details that may have embarrassed you. I think there are many women who can see themselves in your stories of doing laps in a public parking lot or jumping up and down in front of your family at a Christmas meal, desperate to work off calories. Those women probably also have an internal drill sergeant like the one you spoke of, and know what it’s like when that voice, the one that often sounds too cruel to be their own, tells them what a fat failure they are. 

I want to thank you for describing the pressure you put on yourself to look “perfect,” the way your weight determined your mood each day, the belief that “‘healthy’ was a euphemism for ‘fat.'” I was frustrated to hear that the majority of the questions you were asked during your first time on the red carpet were about your favorite makeup and how you stayed in shape, and I’m glad you chose to bring attention to the fact that “most women’s sense of self-esteem still largely rests on what they look like and how much they weigh despite their other accomplishments.” It was easy to understand, then, how your eating disorder took over your life so violently, especially when you felt like you didn’t fit in when it came to looks or your sexuality. 

I can deeply relate to your statement that “No one can be any one thing all the time,” that we lose ourselves when we try to fit any extreme, inflexible molds. Your story is proof that it didn’t work for you, and I think we need to hear from more who have suffered while trying. Thank you for being honest about that struggle, and also about how living in an in-between space full of pasta dinners, honest relationships, and appreciation of nature can be a wonderful choice. 

Your book made me want to say something, to do something. That’s what I am most thankful for. I am another one of those women who has hurt myself to be thin, who has said things about myself that would utterly enrage me if they were said about my sister or my best friend. And I am happy to be living a healthy life now, but it’s been a hard road.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I know that it’s not silence. Your book helped me feel I wasn’t alone, that I am not the only woman wondering if there’s a better way to live besides constant dieting and self-abuse. In turn, I hope this blog helps other women to find your book and begin asking their own questions, having their own discussions, and sharing their own ideas about what it means to be “exceptional and special.” 

Then maybe we’ll begin to realize that the real weight we need to lose belongs to the drill sergeant. And that we never need to fight such a big voice alone.

Jerzy Jung is a singer/songwriter from New Jersey. Most of her music is about love, fear, and body image. She loves reading, cookies, and boots. Check her out on myspace, youtube, and facebook.


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