Book Review: Unbearable Lightness

I remember the first time I was called fat – ironically by a blonde little girl in my Sunday school class in Grade 1 who ended up being obese herself. But even before that I knew that being thin was more desirable.

If I remember the story correctly, my mom weighed 90kg (or something crazy like that) at her matric farewell and 51kg on her wedding day. I remember how she fondly told me the story of how both her and my dad could fit into her matric dance dress.

My dad too loved telling stories about his chubby youth and how he lost weight running around his neighbourhood at night so that no one would see him.

Reading Portia De Rossi’s very personal and very honest account of her battle with bulimia and anorexia I found myself able to relate to so much.

For as long as I can remember I have been trying to lose weight. In high school I ate practically nothing besides two apples a day, substituting cigarettes for food. Of course my mom also allowed me to drink this slimming tonic which gave me such a buzz – it must have had ephedrine or some crazy amount of caffeine in.

After gaining some weight in my first year at university I became obsessive about gyming – going twice a day on most days, sweating like a beast from the fatburners the other gym goers recommended. My diet consisted of plain oats, egg whites, boiled chicken breasts, salad and apples. Even then, weighing as much as I last weighed in primary school, I felt fat.

And here I am today – what most people would see as a grown up woman. And yet, I still have that little blonde girl’s voice in my head. Telling me I am fat. Telling me that – no matter how good I am at anything else – that I will always feel ashamed because I do not look perfect.

Reading this book has made me reconsider the conversations I have with the mirror. It has made me realise that living in a state of perpetual dieting (or self-loathing because you are not dieting) is as much an eating disorder as anorexia or bulimia may be.

“If you can accept your natural body weight – the weight that is easy for you to maintain, or your “set-point” – and not force it beneath your body’s natural, healthy weight, then you can live your life free of dieting, of restriction, of feeling guilty every time you eat a slice of your kid’s birthday cake. But the key is to accept your body just as it is. Just as I had to learn to accept that I have thighs that are a little bigger than I’d  like, you may have to accept that your arms are naturally a little thicker or your hips are a little wider. In other words, accept yourself. Love your body the way it is and feel grateful toward it. Most important, in order to find real happiness, you must learn to love yourself for the totality of who you are and not just what you look like.”