Not too long after joining the cast of Ally McBeal, Portia was asked to do a striptease scene. Since she was hired to play a lawyer who seemed to be very professional and buttoned up, Portia was surprised to find her character stripping down and begging her boss to sleep with her within a few episodes.
"Now this happens on TV—you don't really have control over where your character is heading," she says. "The only thing I really had control over was how I looked and what I weighed."
Portia says the scene left her feeling "cheapened" as an actress and deeply insecure. Feeling unsure of how she appeared on camera, she asked everybody she knew how she looked.
"I was constantly looking for external validation," she says. "'How was it? How did I look?' And one friend of mine, one very good friend, said to me, 'You looked like a normal, healthy woman.' And those three words really sent me into shock."
To Portia, those words translated to robust and curvy—far from the skinny and narrow ideal that she was reaching for at the time. She says the scene sent her into a downward spiral.