I have to confess, I didn’t know much about Portia de Rossi before reading her book, Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain. Forgive the odd choice of word considering the subject matter, but I devoured it. (Usually it takes me a week or more to read a book, this was finished in a few days.) I remember when Portia came into stardom in 1998-1999 on Ally McBeal and seeing her in magazines and thinking she was exotic and beautiful (and stunningly thin). I never realized that at that time, anorexia and bulimia were literally eating her alive. In this brave memoir, Portia reveals in detail the bizarre and extreme methods by which she was able to drastically lose weight – at one point weighing in at only 82 pounds. She limited herself to 300 calories a day, and exercised compulsively for hours and hours on end.
Eating disorders aren’t exactly a new topic, but surely plenty of girls and women still suffer from them. I was surprised at the self-deprecation that seemed to fuel the story. Despite being a model and a successful TV actress at a young age, Portia never quite developed self-esteem when it came to her body, or learned healthy eating methods. On top of all of this, she was struggling internally with keeping her sexuality from the world. Before I read this book I just knew Portia was the beautiful wife of Ellen DeGeneres (who I like and admire a great deal). I learned that she made up her name, is from Australia, and a lot of intimate details about an undoubtedly horrific time in her life.
Portia is a good writer, an honest one. The story is brutal – but it’s not until you reach the end until you see the result of years of starvation and abuse put onto her body – lupus and osteoporosis to name a couple. My only real complaint is that she seemed to rush through the recovery portion of the story. The “book” ends when she finally gets diagnosed with anorexia. The recovery is abbreviated into 20 or so pages explaining that it was essentially “difficult,” and that her horse Mae helped her a lot, and her relationship with Ellen also saved her, which I think is romantic and sweet. Portia also claims to no longer diet or consciously exercising, electing to eat whatever she wants in abundance and staying active by walking her dog. She also speaks about accepting the body you have at your natural healthy weight, which I can relate to. I have never been overweight but I still struggle with body image and the desire to lose a few vanity pounds. (In my humble opinion, most people cannot afford to be overly passive about diet and exercise, but I guess someone who had an eating disorder has to be careful not to let the disorder grab hold of them again by becoming too restrictive.)
All in all – a great read, inspiring, wrenching, wonderful. I have a lot more respect for Portia after learning everything she went through, and how much happier and healthier she is now.