Review: Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi @PortiaDeRossi1

Genre: Biography
Format: Audio
Publication: April 2011

Unbearable Lightness
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 (37kg) 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 (1,260kj) 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.

Portia deRossi @PortiaDeRossi1
This Australian stunner first made waves as a virginal nude model in the 1994 big-screen comedy Sirens. After a succession of small parts in mostly forgettable films, the actress joined the cast of the hit drama Ally McBeal in 1998 and stayed with the series until it ended. Although she continued to take occasional movie parts, the small screen remained her primary medium, and in 2003 she signed on as part of the ensemble screwball sitcom Arrested Development. Off screen de Rossi has enjoyed a high-profile love life. After a short-lived marriage to a sound engineer, she began dating singer Francesca Gregorini, whom she eventually left for comedian Ellen DeGeneres.

I am not a biography reader and I may even venture to say that this may in fact have been my first biography. It was an impressive one to start with and one that has triggered my taste for exploring biographies in the future.

I was never a mad Ally McBeal fan or a Portia de Rossi fan for that matter so, the fact that I enjoyed this book, I mean, really enjoyed it, is even more surprising. Perhaps 'enjoy' is the wrong word to use here. The book was mind boggling. It was fascinating to delve into the mind of someone so obsessed and addicted. At certain points in the book it made sense that Portia was going down the path of destruction based on the things that were actually going on in her head. Portia was able to effectively communicate, in an explicit way, the link between mind, body and spirit.

Highly recommended. Really worth a read.

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