Mswas’ CBR-III Review #5 – Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi


Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi is the story of de Rossi’s struggle with anorexia. Touted as not having been ghostwritten, which I tend to agree with, this memoir is an unflinchingly honest look at what goes on in the mind of someone with an eating disorder.

He doesn’t wait until I’m awake. he comes into my unconscious to find me, to pull me out. He seizes my logical mind and disables it with fear. I awake already panic-stricken, afraid I won’t answer the voice correctly, the loud, clear voice that reverberates in my head like an alarm that can’t be turned off.

What did you eat last night?

I’ve seen de Rossi on TV from Ally McBeal to Arrested Development and then Better Off Ted. On Ally McBeal, she always came across as so brash and confident that it’s hard to reconcile her character with the demons that haunted her inside.

Not only does de Rossi struggle with her weight and self image, a large part of her mental anguish is due to the fact that she is gay and still in the closet.

In my mind, being with a woman was like being with your best friend, forever young, whereas being with a man felt like I would be trapped in adolescence with acne and a bad attitude.

De Rossi’s writing is not the most eloquent or well composed, but her anguished prose comes across as honest and true. Because she tells us what she was thinking, at times I felt bogged down and trapped along with her. It was compelling, though, and I want to find out how she got out of the vicious cycle of anorexia.

Her collapse on the set of a movie is the final straw that causes her to get help and see a doctor. The only photos in the book are used effectively at this time, interspersed with the comments from the doctor about the lack of getting her period, her liver enzyme levels (at the point of cirrhosis), and more. The posed fashion photos are artistically done, but your eyes  focus more on her thin legs and bony arms. The final image is a candid shot from an event where she is possibly dancing – caught in an awkward pose. She’s smiling, but her right arm is raised so we can practically see the tendons holding her muscles to her bones. The top of her left arm looks as thin as my wrist. It’s really frightening.

The book is extremely compelling. Though I would have liked to have heard more about behind the scenes of Arrested Development and anything about  Better Off Ted since I’m a big fan of those shows, they take place mostly after her recovery so they are not really included.

The epilogue does cover her recovery, which is a good thing. The book doesn’t end with “and then I found Ellen and everything was magically ok.” Recovery was hard, confusing, and a struggle, but it sounds like she’s in a good place now.

“I’d still like thighs the size of my calves [!!], but the difference is that I’m no longer willing to compromise my health to achieve that.  I’m not even willing to compromise my happiness to achieve it,  or for the thought of my thighs to take up valuable space in my mind. It’s just not that important. And while there are things that I don’t like about the look of my body, I’m very grateful to it for what it does. I’m grateful that it doesn’t restrict me from doing my job the way I restricted it from doing its job. When I sit quietly and silently thank the universe for all the blessings in life, I start with Ellen and end with my thighs.”

Thankfully Portia de Rossi was able to recover soon enough to be able to focus on the good things in life. What blessings do you count?



  1. […] Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi, the story of de Rossi’s struggle with anorexia is now up on my blog. […]

  2. Good review. I do want to read this.

  3. i love her so much in arrested development, i had no idea she had suffered through this. nice to see she recovered so well. nice review.

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