Portia de Rossi covers her lifelong battle with anorexia and bulimia in new memoir

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Portia de Rossi, who has changed her legal name to take on her wife Ellen’s name, Degeneres, has a new memoir coming out in early November called Unbearable Lightness. We first heard in a February interview with the Advocate that Portia was writing a book and I’m surprised to learn that it’s out already. As the title might suggest, it deals with Portia’s lifelong battle with eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia. I remember hearing that Portia had some issues with anorexia but I had no idea how bad it was. Entertainment Weekly has a review, and what Portia went through sounds brutal.

Portia de Rossi — now known in private life by her married name, Portia Lee James DeGeneres — knew she wanted to be famous back when she was an Australian teen named Amanda Lee Rogers. Lucky L.A. hopeful, her dream came true. On TV, de Rossi is especially famous for her roles on Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, and just regular-famous for her parts on Nip/Tuck and Better Off Ted. And on the red 
 carpet, she is most recently famous for her marriage to Ellen DeGeneres. We’ve seen “Porshe” — as her family calls her — look blond and blonder, and have admired her sparkle; we’ve also seen her look thin and thinner, and we’ve wondered about her health in a business that fetishizes feminine coltishness.

Unbearable Lightness, de Rossi’s memoir of a lifetime of starving and bingeing and purging (as well as part of a lifetime hiding her sexuality), is at times so wrenching that it’s difficult to imagine how the author, now 37, has kept her misery hidden for so long. ”Since I was a twelve-year-old girl taking pictures in my front yard to submit to modeling agencies, I’d never known a day when my weight wasn’t the determining factor for my self-esteem,” she writes with weary honesty. At her most perilously anorexic, the publicly glamorous TV star weighed 82 pounds. Ten months later, in the depths of bulimic bingeing, she had doubled in size. As an autobiographer she reports this with a vivid eye for detail, particularly about foods devoured, foods refused, and the ways a woman can hide her self-destruction, particularly when posing under the searchlights of fame.

The blunt, pity-free matter-of-factness with which de Rossi shares secrets and lies about her eating disorders and her sexuality makes this forthright confessional story at once shocking and instructional, especially for younger women who may be secretly suffering on their own.

[From Entertainment Weekly, print edition, via Check User Account, ONTD]

Portia has stayed under the radar for a while, and has pretty much been known as Ellen’s better half for years. She’s had solid work on television, and in the past few years has starred on Arrested Development, Nip/Tuck and the now-canceled Better off Ted. As far as publicity goes she hasn’t received much apart from her relationship with Ellen, but all that is about to chance when she promotes this book. I’d like to know if there are more revelations in this book, and if she reveals much about her marriage to Ellen. They seem very solid and like they’re very much in love. I don’t know if I believe that Portia has conquered anorexia. She’s still very tiny, but she’s probably the only person who can say how much her weight continues to preoccupy her.

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23 Responses to “Portia de Rossi covers her lifelong battle with anorexia and bulimia in new memoir”

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  1. RHONYC says:

    ellen looks really bad-a*s in that shot. i love her style.

    good for portia. she’s really brave to reveal her past so honestly. i’m sure it will help alot of young girls & women suffering from that affliction. :-)

  2. Johnny Depp's Girl says:

    Hope she gets well.

  3. Samigirl says:

    Love Portia. DO NOT love her eyebrows.

  4. bee no.2 says:

    It’s great that she’s sharing her personal battle. It must be tough, but when celebrities hide anorexia and say they’re naturally thin, they’re only spreading the problem. Girls may think that’s a healthy weight and they will only get more frustrated and prone to develop those issues themselves.

  5. launicaangelina says:

    i am really curious to learn more about her time on Ally McBeal. I watched the show when it was on the air and remember thinking Portia was very pretty. then, i remember her getting scary thin on the show. calista flockhart never discussed whether she had an eating disorder but rumor has it her scary thin body influenced several women on the show.

  6. Kelly says:

    God, poor thing. I remember well her super-thin phase; it was obvious she was anorexic – her elbows were way bigger than her upper arms, her legs were stick-like… it was horrible to see. I never saw any close-ups, but I bet she had that downy hair on her body that anorexics get. She was still pretty thin in the Arrested Development era; I was so happy when she began to put on weight.

  7. KateNonymous says:

    I wonder if coming out helped her deal with other issues–I can see how trying to hide who you are would accentuate control issues in other areas of your life. She seems like a nice person, and she and Ellen seem like a loving couple. I hope they are happy, individually and together.

  8. TQB says:

    I have always thought Portia was one of the most beautiful and funny women in Hollywood. I could never understand why she’d get so emaciated every now and then, it just took away all her natural sparkle. She and Ellen are members of my List of Hollywood Couples that I am Way Too Invested In; if they ever break up I will be devastated.

  9. Kloops says:

    Calista Flockhart most definitely has an eating disorder and her family tried to years to get her into treatment. I can’t say how I know, and I shouldn’t even have said this, but it’s true and obviously not surprising. She is very ill.

  10. ! says:

    Knowing the issues she had/has, it always made me cringe when her character’s mother on Arrested Development would attack her weight. The women looked skeletal on AD and yet they allowed jokes like “A diet is the best defense.” And the joke of course was that she was too thin as it was, but I can’t imagine that’s a good thing for the psyche of a person dealing with eating disorders.

  11. Tia C says:

    It was glaringly obvious on Ally McBeal that Calista Flockhart had (& probably still has) an eating disorder, but I didn’t realize Portia de Rossi did, too. Can’t say I have much sympathy. It’s a choice to be healthy or not. Just like with drug/alcohol addiction, many people just can’t seem to make the right choice. I do enjoy her work and hope she’s healthier now!

  12. Raven Sparrow says:

    Gosh, that’s so sad. I really hope she’s getting healthier now. I think I’ll get her book to read.

    I just finished reading “Hungry” by Crystal Renn and it’s an amazing story too. I’m not anorexia nor do I have a problem with food but I do have my post baby weight that’s still lingering and yet I do not want to start a diet and fall into the spiral that is calorie counting and weighing yourself everyday. I’m working on eating a bit of everything (healthy) but exercising every other day and it’s actually working.

  13. let says:

    Tia, it’s a mental illness, not a choice. Certainly there are decisions one can make that influence their illness, but studies show that if you don’t eat enough fat (which anorexics certainly don’t), it drastically changes your brain chemistry. So it’s really a catch-22 and we shouldn’t blame the victims…

  14. Jo 'Mama' Besser says:

    As a person with mental illness (not body-associated), I can understand why people would see something like anorexia as a choice. On the surface it is, and being in the entertainment industry, warped beauty standards reward unhealthy behaviours, so I can totally see how the logical conclusion is ‘you choose the behaviour, you live with the consequences, and if those ‘consequences’ mean money, fame glamour–the whole gambit, heck I want to be ‘sick’, too.’

    But the titles are just superficial, really. I think eating disorders are compartmentalized because weight and food are such a huge part of beauty discourses since time immemorial. As women, we all have that pressure impressed upon us to be ‘beautiful’ and exercise in self-denial. The extent to which these pressures dominate our self-images differs from person to person, and how we experience life differs in that way, as well. A ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ kind of frustration can occur when we see someone else affected in an acute way–it can look like childish histrionics–so we dismiss it.

    I guess that’s why eating disorders are as tricky to deal with as they are, because much can be gained through dangerous practice. Before I was diagnosed, I was a big ‘ol cutter–I had to get scars re-surfaced. Now, you’ll think ‘Now, that’s illness, that person is actively hurting herself is a serious way. It’s time to step in and help a sick person address her health’. It’s a compulsion that depreciates classic beauty, and since beauty is a lady’s passport to life, something must be really seriously wrong for a person to sabotage herself that way.

    Really, I see them both as the same thing, because they are only symptomatic of the greater illness at play. It’s the difference between breaking your right leg over the left leg, but in any case, something hurts. When something hurts, you want to fix it, but since your capacities are compromised, you resort to some pretty ways of controlling things so place some artificial order on your life, to distract you from the bigger issue, to punish yourself for whatever you’ve convinced yourself you’ve done wrong, and take up solitude.

    I can’t speak for alcohol or narcotics, though, not my experience. That’s a harder one for me to understand–why many of the persons who do turn to it do so in the first place. But you can’t get on a high horse about stuff like that. ‘Ha-ha, I was BORN thi way…so, I win?’ That’s stupid. But why did I turn to cutting my leg to ribbons? I don’t know, my experience is limited.

  15. Serena says:

    Jo ‘Mama’ Besser

    I really enjoyed your comments, I found them particularly interesting because, as a recovering alcoholic, (goodness we’re all on here aren’t we!) I find it hard to imagine finding release from cutting. I think that it all comes down to trying to find some sort of control be it through straving, cutting, or indeed drinking (I certainly found a bizarre comfort in getting quietly blotto every day, it was the one thing I felt I could control) Strange how our own mind tells us that we are in control when we are anything but. Now I am not drinking I still see obsessive, controlling aspects to my personality-luckily now I just put fruit gums in colour order rather than pickle my liver!
    Anywhoo, I wish Portia the best, it’s very brave of her to be so candid and it’s nice to see her and Ellen so happy x

  16. sickofit says:

    luckily i was never affected from eating disorders and none of my female family members are, but i had some friends with ED. At some point it always came to destroy the friendship. I just couldnt deal standing next to a person with so much self hate and the invisible wish to destroy ones own life. Everything was about food and sports, and other people were judged for not having this control one self has. its just a horrible thing and yet its being approved by society… Suffering from an severe illness i lost a lot of weight once in my life, i was sceletal thin and all i could hear was: o you look so good did you loose weight? it suits you… its just scizophrenic.

  17. Hautie says:

    Those last few years of Ally McBeal… Calista, Portia and Courtney Thorne Smith were all frightening skinny.

    It was a thing that David E. Kelly wanted… all those girls… that skinny.

    It seems like Courtney was the one that spoke about it being a unwritten fact that it was a requirement to stay on the show.

    And during those years on that show… Portia plucked off all her eyebrows and had to paint on some heinous looking replacements.

    Portia has looked much better in the last few years. So has Calista and Courtney for that matter.

    You can tell that Calista has filled out a bit. Though still a tiny girl.

    If you see her next to Sally Field… and you can see that Sally is much tinier than Calista. And Calista is still really slim.

  18. Crash2GO2 says:

    I have wondered about her health, having seen some pictures of her extremely thin. I am sorry to hear of her struggles and wish her all the best.

    Great post Jo ‘Mama’ Besser.

  19. K McFarlane says:

    Tia C, please don’t assume. I am a naturally thin type and the weight falls off me when I’m stressed. At one stage everyone I worked with was convinced that I was anorexic but I’m not! I just struggled to keep the weight on. I have never been on a diet in my life. When I see stars like Calista and Keira, my suspicion is that they’re the same.

  20. lucy2 says:

    I’ve heard several comments of the Ally McBeal time, that extreme thinness was practically a job requirement. Really sad that was encouraged, and no question that several of the women were unhealthily skinny while on the show.

    Between her brilliant comedy on Arrested Development and Better Off Ted, Portia is one of my favorite TV actresses. I wish her the best and hope she stays healthy, and finds another great role.

  21. Jo 'Mama' Besser says:

    I was just about to come back to make a remark about the Single Female Lawyer show, but you guys got here first. I didn’t know that it was actual show policy to be that thin, but it make sense when you think about people like Lara Flynn Boyle. My understanding of it was that since all female ingenue characters seem to get much, much thinner throughout the course of a show’s run, they saw this happening and mutual insecurity bade them to half-silently compete with each other. Either way, it’s messed up.

    Well, I guess the one thing that’s consistent is that certain disorders have a genetic component. I have a couple other family members with it, but their cases are luckily very mild. Actually, my, er…very, very not mild case of two different ones spurred them to see for themselves, so there is that. All I can say is that I was inordinately lucky to learn about this when I was still young enough to have the time ability and resources to do something positive about it.

    This is where I really feel for people who are in the orbit of those dealing with it, because you can’t see the progression and therefore, do not ‘look’ sick…until you do, but whatever. So people who care get worried and frustrated because they won’t ‘snap out of’ the behaviour(s).

    If your illness manifests itself in the form of an eating disorder: just eat a hamburger.

    -alcohol: don’t drink alcohol

    -self-harm: stop cutting and etc. I haven’t been on the other side, but I know that there have been times when people around were justifiably exasperated when it looked like I wasn’t doing anything to hasten my progress. If you get cancer, for instance, your body is being ravaged from the inside by a malicious disease. Outside of aggressive external intervention, you can’t control the disease at all. In the same way that you can’t snap out of a tumor, you can’t just snap out of a behaviour that you used as a self-soothing (and punishing) technique full-stop without replacing it with something else–hopfully something good. And like any illness you have to get there early. I’m not really trying to milk the cancer well, but my first therapist explained it me this way to help me remember that it does worsen if not treated because it is largely a disease of the body, whatever the stigma brigade tells you think. When the ritual is gone, there’s a free-falling panic that can set in, and not having something to replace the old would be like have having surgery without anasthesia, and I’m not interested in that. So, I totally understand how someone who isn’t intimate with this world would scoff–it doesn’t make sense to those who are in it.

  22. Tredd says:

    Is this news – seriously – to ANYONE?

  23. Sprmcandy says:

    Portia is a Beautiful & Gorgeous Lady.