Unbearable Lightness

  • by Portia de Rossi
  • Narrated by Portia de Rossi
  • 9 hrs and 20 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

“I didn’t decide to become anorexic. It snuck up on me disguised as a healthy diet, a professional attitude. Being as thin as possible was a way to make the job of being an actress easier . . .”
Portia de Rossi weighed only 82 pounds when she collapsed on the set of the Hollywood film in which she was playing her first leading role. This should have been the culmination of all her years of hard work - first as a child model in Australia, then as a cast member of one of the hottest shows on American television. On the outside she was thin and blond, glamorous and successful. On the inside, she was literally dying.
In this searing, unflinchingly honest book, Portia de Rossi captures the complex emotional truth of what it is like when food, weight, and body image take priority over every other human impulse or action. She recounts the elaborate rituals around eating that came to dominate hours of every day, from keeping her daily calorie intake below 300 to eating precisely measured amounts of food out of specific bowls and only with certain utensils. When this wasn’t enough, she resorted to purging and compulsive physical exercise, driving her body and spirit to the breaking point.
Even as she rose to fame as a cast member of the hit television shows Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, Portia alternately starved herself and binged, all the while terrified that the truth of her sexuality would be exposed in the tabloids. She reveals the heartache and fear that accompany a life lived in the closet, a sense of isolation that was only magnified by her unrelenting desire to be ever thinner. With the storytelling skills of a great novelist and the eye for detail of a poet, Portia makes transparent as never before the behaviors and emotions of someone living with an eating disorder.
From her lowest point, Portia began the painful climb back to a life of health and honesty, falling in love with and eventually marrying Ellen DeGeneres, and emerging as an outspoken and articulate advocate for gay rights and women’s health issues.
In this remarkable and beautifully written work, Portia shines a bright light on a dark subject. A crucial book for all those who might sometimes feel at war with themselves or their bodies, Unbearable Lightness is a story that inspires hope and nourishes the spirit.


What the Critics Say

“Breathtakingly honest, brutal and beautiful.” (Jonathan Safran Foer)
“Possibly the best book on the subject ever written. De Rossi is the real deal, a fine writer with a sharp mind and substance. This rich, layered book of remarkable courage, power, and significance will serve as life-changing inspiration for many.” (Augusten Burroughs)
“De Rossi tells her story with genuine insight and unflinching honesty. You will cheer her on.” —Jeannette Walls


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

For All Dieters, not just Anorexic Girls

What did you love best about Unbearable Lightness?

She speaks from the perspective of someone who has not just been there, but who came out the other side truly understanding what it was she had done, and why. It isn't clinical, but she documents her experience without the reader/listener feeling as if she is trying to make you feel sorry for her in any way. Very developed mature presentation of the facts of her circumstances, but you see into her psyche and emotions in a way that is so open that it is nearly intimate.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Unbearable Lightness?

When she was alone in the hotel room, in agonizing physical pain, even understanding why it was she was hurting, and yet unable to stop herself from continuing the ritual OCD behavior that made up her disorder. The description was so real, so vivid and raw, that it touched my heart and was somewhat of an emotional experience.

Which character – as performed by Portia de Rossi – was your favorite?


If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Couldn't do better than the front of the book: A story of loss and gain.

Any additional comments?

I only read the book because I was curious about what kind of woman Ellen Degeneres had in her life. Ellen has helped me see life in a more positive way, and I had to ask myself what kind of woman her wife was, to back up such a powerful and inspiring person as she is. Well I expected a book on anorexia, and being a very overweight middle aged man, I did not think there would be anything that I would get from it on a personal level, other than to satisfy my curiosity about Portia's character . Well I was very wrong. Although the results were different, she got very skinny, and I got very fat, the basic attitudes about food and even some of the OCD behaviors were exactly what I had been through. Even some childhood experiences were similar. I'd basically been on a diet every day since first grade, and had become progressively fatter doing many of the same things Portia was doing. In fact, in all my life, the only time I was a normal weight was during high school when I worked out like a mad man and starved myself. But like Portia, I knew my behavior was not what others were doing, but it was 'working' and I patted myself on the back. Of course, as soon as I quit starving due to health issues that frightened me (similar to Portia again) I got even heavier. So long story short, I have been applying the advice she gives in the book about never dieting, never restricting foods. I also have adopted a plant based way of eating. And since I first read this in May '12, I've lost about 80 lbs. My health is returning, and I'm eating what I want when I want it, without starving or glutting, just listening to my body. I'd heard that advice before, but never in a way that actually sunk in or connected with me in any way. She says the book is for anyone who has been on a diet. I didn't believe that when I picked up the book originally. But I've now read the hard copy 3 times and listened to the audiobook. Every time I do, I pick up another insight into my own lifelong behavior and it helps me make further healthy adjustments in my attitude and actions. This is a must read if you have struggled with weight either way.

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- Coghan "CBB"

Beautifully Sad

How someone could hate themselves so much is astonishing. This is a beautifully written yet heartbreaking book. I enjoyed that it is read by Portia herself, her warm voice soothes you over even as you wish you could go back to that time and grab her and shake her and tell her that she was beautiful and to stop hating herself! I was engrossed from the first sentence.
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- Dawn

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-01-2010
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio