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

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; Reprint edition (July 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439177791
  • Genre:  Memoir


Now in paperback, the New York Times bestselling memoir from Portia de Rossi explores the truth of her long battle to overcome anorexia and bulimia—“an unusually fresh and engrossing memoir of both Hollywood and modern womanhood” ( Los Angeles Times, 5 stars).

In this groundbreaking memoir, Portia de Rossi reveals the pain and illness that haunted her for decades, from the time she was a twelve-year-old girl working as a model in Australia, through her early rise to fame as a cast member of the hit television show Ally McBeal . All the while terrified that the truth of her sexuality would be exposed in the tabloids, Portia alternately starved herself and binged, putting her life in danger and concealing from herself and everyone around her the seriousness of her illness.

She describes the elaborate rituals around food that came to dominate hours of every day and explores the pivotal moments of her childhood that set her on the road to illness. 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, ever more in control of her body and the number of calories she consumed and spent.

From her lowest point, Portia began the painful climb back to a life of health and honesty, falling in love and marrying Ellen DeGeneres and emerging as an outspoken and articulate advocate for gay rights and women’s health issues. In this remarkable and landmark book, she has given the world a story that inspires hope and nourishes the spirit.

My Review:

This is Portia’s first book, and I hope it’s not her last!  Portia is rather open and very detailed, as she chronicles her journey into the dark world of eating disorders.  She certainly sheds a lot of light into her daily struggles that slowly evolved from when she first began modeling at the age of 12.  The pressure to stay thin and having to strip down to her undies to show her bottom to a client, who then critiques her hips saying they are too wide.  At 125 pounds, she felt fat as she competed with other slimmer teens and the cycle of losing/gaining weight began.

Enter Hollywood.  I never understood why actors would cringe at the thought of their own children wanting to join the entertainment business.  However, after reading this book, I now understand!  The pressures to stay thin, the sample dresses actresses are made to wear for photo shoots and on set, and the competition to stay relevant in the media is so intense that I can now understand why so many actresses succumb to the stress.  As a size 8, Portia was seen as fat in tv and the embarrassment she faced from it caused her to cave in to the world of eating disorders with binge eating and bulimia.  It wasn’t until she was 82 pounds that she was posted in the “Best Dressed List” for a gown she wore.

Portia describes the breakdown of her body, mental state, and even the family issues that resulted in her physical demise.  It was interesting that Portia had made the comment about media and women striving to be thin, which means to look like a pre-teen with long arms/legs and very thing body.  At 80/90 pounds, Portia was able to fit into sample dresses from designers, which caused me to wonder: who is the media and fashion designers really catering to?  Are they focused more on attracting teens and keeping adults in teen bodies, rather than adjusting their expectations to make room for a woman’s natural body?  Why can’t sample dresses be made bigger? Why are sample dresses the standard?

Portia spends about a chapter writing about her recovery. While her eating disorder is something she doesn’t focus on anymore and instead focuses on healthy eating and living, she hasn’t sought therapy to address the underlying issues that caused this downfall.  Media aside, Portia had to deal with the loss of her father, rewarding from her mother to be a certain size, modeling pressures, and moving to a country and living in a city where she had to make it on her own.  This is all in addition to dealing with her sexuality and feeling comfortable to live as a gay person.  She even mentions the expectations within the gay community of being “butche” or “femme” and how she didn’t feel she was either. Portia discusses that feeling of always sensing she is neither here nor there, and those are issues that a therapist could certainly help her with.

I would love for Portia to write a book on the recovery process she goes through, as a part 2 to this book.  While she is in recovery, I couldn’t help but wonder if the way she has learned to quiet those internal voices is by moving and staying busy….which eventually catches up with anyone and can be evident in the fluctuation of her weight.

The picture of her wedding with her and Ellen shows her bones peering through her gorgeous wedding gown.  So, while I understand that eating disorders are a process and life is a journey, I can’t help but feel that therapy to address her childhood issues and struggles will help her finally silence that voice that keeps telling her how she isn’t good enough and doesn’t deserve happiness.  I hope Portia can have peace and am so thankful that she opened her heart and struggles for others to learn that they are not alone and beauty starts with self-acceptance.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, you can get help.  Contact Eating Disorders Anyonymous and Locate a Therapist to help.

2 thoughts on “Review: Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi

  1. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in
    it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message
    home a bit, but instead of that, this is magnificent blog.
    A fantastic read. I will certainly be back.


    • Thanks so much for your kind remarks. Being a marriage and family therapist, I have worked with clients experiencing food addictions and with body dysmorphic disorders. However, a reader doesn’t need to be in that field to appreciate and enjoy this memoir. It’s done quite well. Thanks for visiting!


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