Portia de Rossi on the Link Between Eating Disorders and Sexual Orientation

The actor explains how she focused on her body instead of addressing her sexuality.
May 13, 2015·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

From the outside looking in, Portia de Rossi seems to have a pretty nice life. She’s been married to comedian Ellen DeGeneres for almost seven years, and her successful acting career has landed her starring roles on hit shows from Arrested Development to Scandal. Yet her past is plagued with years of disordered eating and hiding her sexual identity.

In the newest episode of the online docuseries It Got Better—part of the “It Gets Better” project to foster hope in LGBT youths—de Rossi discusses how her eating disorder distracted her from addressing her sexual orientation.

“I didn’t want to think about being gay,” de Rossi explains. “Having the eating disorder was kind of like a babysitter. It kind of allowed me to not think about who I really was.”

Growing up in the 1980s in a small town outside Melbourne, Australia, de Rossi felt isolated and confused about her sexual orientation. She first noticed her feelings toward other girls at the age of 10. Being gay was the ultimate taboo in her family. When her mother initially discovered de Rossi’s interest in women, she encouraged her daughter to keep her romantic life private.

When de Rossi headed to the States in the 1990s to pursue her acting career, she battled anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating as she pushed down her personal feelings.

“I was 82 pounds at the time, very much in the closet,” the 5'7" actor said of her time on the law drama Ally McBeal. “They were both hand in hand. It was all the same thing: shame.”

De Rossi’s dual struggle is a common one in the LGBT community. Lesbian and bisexual teenagers are twice as likely to report binge eating at least once a month, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Instances of violence and bullying and fear of rejection when coming out contribute to a predisposition of eating disorders in LGBT teens.

True to the form of the “It Gets Better” campaign, de Rossi reveals how her life changed and improved. After getting a wake-up call about her deteriorating health because of self-starvation, she began the long road to recovery. As de Rossi learned to accept her body, she also accepted that she was gay.

“Who you are is enough,” de Rossi tells struggling teens. “There is no us and them. There is no way to be. There is no normal.… How amazing is it to be alive and be uniquely you?”