Woman of the Week: Portia de Rossi

This Wednesday’s Woman of the Week is Portia de Rossi, an Australian actress most known for her roles in Ally McBeal and Arrested Development. In her 2010 books Unbearable Lightness, Portia writes about her lifelong struggle with body image and her battle with anorexia. She is deserving of woman of the week because of her brutal honesty about what it’s like to live with an eating disorder. Her insider knowledge and willingness to relive every detail will help other people to understand the warning signs of an eating disorder, and the impact they can have on a person struggling with one. Below are some excerpts from the book that stuck with me the most:

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“In that scene I was no longer a brilliant attorney who could make the firm more money than it had ever seen. I was stripped of that ability and the respect that comes with it when I stripped down to my heart-covered bra and panties. I was just another blond actress playing a vulnerable woman who has sex with her boss, in the costume of an efficient, crafty attorney.” (Pg 79)

While Portia had been struggling her entire life with her body image, in the book she recounts one of the first scenes she played in Ally McBeal which changed the course of her eating disorder. The pressure to be perfect and thin dramatically increased after she realized she would need to be nearly naked on camera, and she didn’t respect herself nearly as much once she realized her character would be more famous for being sexy than smart, and as she started to believe that was all she was good for.

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“I brought my life in two suitcases from Los Angeles to make my long stay comfortable during the five-week movie schedule. In one suitcase was my kitchen scale, then I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter sprays, a large box of Splenda sachets, twenty cans of tuna, forty packets of oatmeal, Mrs. Dash, Extra chewing gum, a carton of Parliament Lights, and my digital bathroom scale.” (Pg 245)

This excerpt highlights a common theme with eating disorders: the rules and patterns may not make sense to anybody else, but they make perfect sense to the person with the disorder. If those rules are broken, the person may panic and do something to “make up” for breaking them. Every day at lunch I used to have a piece of bread (folded in half to make a sandwich) with only turkey and lettuce on the inside, and a CapriSun. I ate that as a meal for months on end, and I loved having the control over what I ate and how much I ate of it. These rigid, meticulous, and sometimes odd dieting patterns are often (but not always) a warning sign for an eating disorder.

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“After I had gained an acceptable amount of weight and looked like a regular person, mostly everyone in my life assumed that the problem was solved…Gaining weight is a critical time. The anorexic mind doesn’t just magically go away when weight is gained – it gets more active. Anorexia becomes bigger and stronger as it struggles to hold on, as it fights for its life.” (279)

This quote is the most important one to remember. Eating disorders aren’t just about weight – it’s about a mindset. That mindset doesn’t simply go away once someone is back to a healthy weight, but instead it takes much, much longer to eventually have a healthy body AND mind.

Because of Portia de Rossi’s honesty and openness, she continues to help people all around the world through her inspiring words. I recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in learning more about eating disorders and what it’s like to be in the Hollywood spotlight – she’s a great writer!

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