de Rossi, Portia. Unbearable Lightness: A tale of loss and gain

Hardie Grant, $35

If you read Portia de Rossi’s memoir expecting tales of “when Portia met Ellen”, you’ll be disappointed. Neither is this a story about a lesbian coming out, or life on the set of ‘Ally McBeal’, although both these factors are relevant. This is a chronicle of an eating disorder: A tidily written and occasionally horrific account of how eating (or not eating) food and obsessively exercising can consume one woman’s life.

And what a sad and boring life it becomes, when reduced to a constant account of calories eaten, burnt, and regurgitated. Where a day may be spent searching for just the right type of low-fat tuna (which she allows herself one spoonful of for lunch). Where dates, dinners, and friendships are declined, as they would interfere with self-imposed mechanics and rituals.

De Rossi’s uneven relationship with food and dieting began when she was a teenage model, and peaked when she was a merely thin actress in the closet of near-skeletons that was Ally McBeal. Acting pressures combined with the stress of hiding her sexuality left her seeking control via anorexia. She felt it was a form of “professionalism”, although the desperately sad shallowness of an all-encompassing eating disorder muddied her relationships and eventually threatened her health.

Packed with paragraphs full of self-loathing and body obsession, Unbearable Lightness occasionally resembles the journal of a vain teenager – albeit one who’s a great storyteller. But if you wish to understand the mind of the anorexic, this delivers absolute warts-and-all insight.


Reviewed November 2010