Sunday, August 7, 2011

Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi

Overview from Barnes and Nobel:
“I didn’t decide to become anorexic. It snuck up on me disguised as a healthy diet, a professional attitude. Being as thin as possible was a way to make the job of being an actress easier . . .”

Portia de Rossi weighed only 82 pounds when she collapsed on the set of the Hollywood film in which she was playing her first leading role. This should have been the culmination of all her years of hard work—first as a child model in Australia, then as a cast member of one of the hottest shows on American television. On the outside she was thin and blond, glamorous and successful. On the inside, she was literally dying.

In this searing, unflinchingly honest book, Portia de Rossi captures the complex emotional truth of what it is like when food, weight, and body image take priority over every other human impulse or action. She recounts the elaborate rituals around eating that came to dominate hours of every day, from keeping her daily calorie intake below 300 to eating precisely measured amounts of food out of specific bowls and only with certain utensils. When this wasn’t enough, she resorted to purging and compulsive physical exercise, driving her body and spirit to the breaking point.

Even as she rose to fame as a cast member of the hit television shows Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, Portia alternately starved herself and binged, all the while terrified that the truth of her sexuality would be exposed in the tabloids. She reveals the heartache and fear that accompany a life lived in the closet, a sense of isolation that was only magnified by her unrelenting desire to be ever thinner. With the storytelling skills of a great novelist and the eye for detail of a poet, Portia makes transparent as never before the behaviors and emotions of someone living with an eating disorder.

From her lowest point, Portia began the painful climb back to a life of health and honesty, falling in love with and eventually marrying Ellen DeGeneres, and emerging as an outspoken and articulate advocate for gay rights and women’s health issues.

In this remarkable and beautifully written work, Portia shines a bright light on a dark subject. A crucial book for all those who might sometimes feel at war with themselves or their bodies, Unbearable Lightness is a story that inspires hope and nourishes the spirit.

My thoughts:
Because celebrities are in the spotlight and act confident in public, the rest of society seems to buy into the act and feel like insecurity belongs to those who haven't attained fame and money, but the thing is we are all insecure about something.  For a lot of us it is how we look and who we really are.  If people really knew us would they still like or love us?  If every single bite of food isn't calorie counted will we weigh a pound more tomorrow?  What exactly is a healthy relationship with food?
Portia became a model as a child after her father died in her quest to find validation that she was pretty, but found that in modeling she was considered a bit too heavy so she started a cycle of binging and purging to self mediate with food and then throw it up before it could be used by her body.  At a weight group meeting when she was fifteen each of the women were asked to tell some part of their body that they liked and she, as the smallest and youngest one in the group, couldn't come up with anything.  She spent years feeling that she didn't deserve to be where she was or that she wasn't getting more lines because she was too heavy.  After seeing a nutritionist she modified the eating plan and eventually ended up eating 300 calories or less a day and working out for hours a day.
Most of us never get to this extreme, but it is easy to let thoughts of food, what to eat and what not to eat, how many calories something has and how long it will take to burn them off, become a big part of our day.  For some reason we seem to have unlearned knowing when our bodies are full or maybe fast easy food is just too prevalent.  Maybe it is fast food or being more sedentary, but when I look around I see a lot more people who are at unhealthy weights.  I know in the past year I gained weight from a combination of factors.  It seems so much easier to gain than to lose.
I could feel Portia's pain in her writing.  When her joints started to hurt just from moving to when she passed out on the set, she just couldn't shut down her internal critic.  There is someone in my life who I feel has lost too much weight, who exercises to an extreme and I have mentioned it too her but not in a confrontational way.  I was hoping that through reading this I might find out how Portia came to see that she needed help, but she only recognized she needed help after she passed out and was treated by a doctor who told her the results to the test that were done that showed that she was going to die if she kept going like she was.  When Portia's mother and brother both told her she was too thin and cried that they were afraid she was going to die, she just told them what she thought they wanted to hear but didn't follow through on it.  I'm not sure what I am going to do because with issues like this it is hard to change someone else's mind and if I am too confrontational it may be more detrimental. 
•Pub. Date: November 2010
•Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
•Format: Hardcover , 308pp
•ISBN-13: 9781451328776
•ISBN: 145132877X


  1. Eating disorders are insidious and tend to make the sufferers secretive, dismissive of concern, and manipulative. Unfortunately, so many people just don't either understand the seriousness of it or just don't care enough to intercede. Good for you for trying to open the dialogue about it. You have to do what you know is in your friend's best interest...Wishing you strength for's a very difficult place to be.

  2. I think it's admirable that you are trying to reach out to a friend who is in pain and need. I will be thinking of you as you try to find a way to help them.