Portia de Rossi: With Ellen, 'I Could Finally Accept Who I Am'
By Nicki Gostin Posted Nov 5th 2010 08:00PM
Portia de Rossi has penned 'Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain,' an unflinching and bravely honest account of her battle with eating disorders and dealing with her sexuality. It is an extraordinary account, incredibly vivid and shocking and quite simply one of the most powerful books about anorexia ever written. De Rossi took time to discuss her struggles, along with the healing power of falling in love with now-wife Ellen DeGeneres.
"I stopped looking in the mirror and obsessing how I looked," she tells PopEater. "I realized who I was and what I thought was a lot more important to her and therefore it became more important to me."
It must have been so painful writing this book.
It was but there was a beauty in it because part of the reason why I wanted to write it is because ever since being with Ellen I'm living a more and honest life and just having made the decision to come out and be openly gay, it really kind of made everything feel better to me. I felt like I could finally accept who I am and be comfortable in my own skin. And yet I would think about my past and cringe and just know there was this big, dark period of my life that I just didn't want to talk about so I thought I should go back and examine what it was that made me feel so shamed and have so little self-esteem.
It's so ironic. You played such a confident person on 'Ally McBeal' and you were closeted and anorexic.
It was an interesting character for me anyway because this woman was so self assured and I had to be really mindful of keeping my head straight and standing straight. It was so unlike who I was. When I stepped into that role I was just very fearful, I wasn't that excited. I was just very anxious. I didn't know what I had to do to earn it even though I had already won the role. I felt like I had to backtrack and do all the groundwork.
What was your lowest weight?
82 pounds. 300 calories was my staple, it was what I used to eat day to day. It would go up sometimes. I would have a bad day and eat 500 calories.
Did you beat yourself up when you did that?
Of course, yes. This spanned over maybe two years, of being that restrictive with food. I had stages where I would eat more but 300 calories was always my goal. It was really what I kept to.
There isn't the usual array of photos in this memoir, just some very disturbing ones at the end.
The classic memoir has a well of pictures in the middle and I never wanted to do that because I wanted the pictures to help me tell a story in a way where I didn't want people to flick to the middle and look at the pictures and say, 'Oh here she was fat, here she was skinny.' I wanted people to understand what it took to look like that. Also I chose glamorous publicity photos instead of private photos because I wanted people to see the image they'd already seen before. I wanted to show them how sick I got.
You really had a double whammy of hiding your eating disorder and hiding your sexuality.
It really was because I was so paranoid that I was going to find out that I'd be exposed as gay and lose everything. I think that desire to be in control of my life was heightened. Being on a T.V. show you don't have control over your character, I realized the only thing I had control over was what I looked like and I just thought that as being thin as possible I was getting rid of one problem. I just thought, let me solve this one problem and I'll deal with the striptease I have to do on 'Ally McBeal' or the fact that I'm throwing myself at my boss begging him to sleep with me when I thought I was going to play a whole different character.
Do you think your anorexia was linked in anyway to you being closeted?
I really do think I would have had a major eating disorder if I wasn't struggling with my sexuality because my eating disorder started when I was 12 years old and started modeling. It continued throughout my life and it escalated when I got 'Ally McBeal.'
Modeling taught me that what I looked like was more important than what I thought or did and I kind of think that's what set up to the kind of place where all of my energy was focused on what I looked like. All of my self-esteem was always in question. I think that anyone who bases their self-esteem on how they look is going to be insecure. I was insecure all of my life; modeling triggered that and the eating disorder because I had to go on a diet in order to model.
Of course being closeted is not a great way to live and I was in constant terror and fear that people were going to find out I was gay and my entire career would be over. It certainly contributed to me having such a chronic problem at that point.
What was the breaking point for you?
It was the moment when the doctor told me my organs were about to shut down if I didn't change. I was either choosing sickness and death or I could start trying to rebuild my health. That was the moment where I went, 'Oh I don't want to die in order to be thin.'
What's your weight now?
130, I'm assuming because I haven't weighed myself in years because it's the weight I've always gone back to. We all have that weight that we return to and if you can accept it you can live your life free of dieting.
What is your food intake like now?
I eat everything that I want. I never restrict food. I will never go on a diet again. I have a really good relationship with food now because I honestly don't think about it.
You write of being healed by Ellen.
Yeah love is everything. It's what everybody deserves. It's just the most beautiful thing I think the world has to offer. I think with Ellen by the time we got together I was really 100% recovered but love and acceptance of me just the way I am was kind of lovely and surprising and made me rethink how I saw myself. It forced me to truly love myself as I am without makeup or a pretty dress. I stopped looking in the mirror and obsessing how I looked. I realized who I was and what I thought was a lot more important to her and therefore it became more important to me.
When you are so obsessed with how you look it's not a vanity thing. It's the opposite. It's not like I had such a big ego, I felt so insecure about my looks that I had to constantly alter them and try to live up to this idealized female image because I thought I was so far short of it. Now I just have no interest in playing that game anymore.
Ellen and Portia
Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi is seen around Lincoln Center during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week on September 9, 2010 in New York City. Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2011 - Seen Around Lincoln Center - Day 1 New York, NY United States September 9, 2010 Photo by John Parra/WireImage.com To license this image (61549834), contact WireImage.com
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