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Unbearable Lightness, A Story of Loss and Gain

Actress Portia de Rossi and comedian Ellen DeGeneres arrive at the 19th Annual GLAAD Media Awards on April 25, 2008 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California.

Unbearable Lightness:
A Story of Loss and Gain
by Portia de Rossi
2010, Atria Books (

There’s a fine line between “want” and “need.” You didn’t need another cookie, chocolate-dipped goodie, or brownie hiding beneath powdered sugar. You didn’t need that creamy glass of eggnog with the holiday garnish. And definitely, you didn’t need the calories.

But oh, you wanted them. So imagine denying yourself those treats, and almost all other foods. Imagine living on 300 calories a day. Then read Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi.

Young Amanda Rogers always wanted to be “special.” She was a smart kid and aspired to become a lawyer in her native Australia, until the modeling bug bit her and she quickly decided that the runway was the way to run.

She convinced her mother to drive her to an interview, and she convinced executives that, at age 12, she could handle the world of high fashion. Though she felt uncomfortable and self-conscious about perceived body flaws as compared with other models, she persevered. She changed her name to Portia de Rossi and worked part-time while attending school.

Later, when given the chance to be in a movie, de Rossi was surprised that she loved acting but wasn’t confident about her beauty. She thought her face was too round, her cheeks too fat, her thighs too chubby. Her weight yo-yoed. Wardrobe tailors on the Ally McBeal set were kept busy with alterations.

De Rossi was mortified.

But that wasn’t her only source of personal loathing. Portia de Rossi had always known that she was gay, but it wasn’t discussed. She married, but the union ended when her husband learned the truth at a couples therapy session. Co-workers weren’t told because de Rossi feared for her job. She denied her feelings and lived in terror of being outed.

Embarking on a nutritionist-recommended low-calorie diet didn’t quell the diet demon in de Rossi’s mind, so she went on her own “program.” She meticulously weighed each ounce of food, fretted over hidden calories, and obsessively avoided anything that might add one single calorie to her daily intake.

Writing about the day she hit 82 pounds, she recalls that a celebration was in order, but “. . . first I had to silence the drill sergeant that reminded me of that extra inch of fat. First I had to get rid of that.”

As with many memoirs like Unbearable Lightness, I had two very dissimilar feelings while reading it.

First, this book reeks with pain. Author Portia de Rossi is very clear about the bruising thoughts and negativity that she felt in hiding so many personal aspects of her life. Although this book has a make-you-grin, wonderfully happy ending, getting there hurts. Which leads me to the second issue: her book also hurts to read because sometimes it’s slow. In the end, de Rossi’s pantry held a paltry handful of items—a fact hammered home in many ways, many times.

Still, if you’ve ever lived too long with a secret that ate you alive, read this. You won’t just want Unbearable Lightness, you’ll need it.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.


Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terry Schlichenmeyer is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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