Madeleine Rousell reviews...
When Emily Ratajkowski’s collection of essays ‘My Body’ came out in 2021, countless opinions were given on if she should write, how she should be writing, and what effect the model/actress could have with her words. ‘My Body’ is Ratajkowski’s narrative on her body and the success it gave her. It provides an insight into the mind behind the Blurred Lines body, and the ‘other woman’ figure she played in Gone Girl. Shamefully, before reading this book, when I thought of Ratajkowski, I too thought immediately of the Robin Thicke 2013 music video which pre-pubescent boys obsessed over and gave their opinions on. Even since the success of this book, and her various essays in newspapers, it is fair to say that Ratajkowski is still widely known for her physical features.
The message is undoubtedly powerful, she’s self-aware (or as self-aware as a celebrity can be) and isn’t ashamed to admit that her body is a “tool I use to make a living”. Money is a core focus of her career, as she describes dropping out of school during the recession to earn a living. The way she writes separates her completely from the 21-year-old model in Blurred Lines, or even from her bikini Instagram shoots, and magazine covers. Ratajkowski states that: “I have learned that my image, my reflection, is not my own” and describes feeling separated from her physical body whenever she does shoots. It seemingly is a complete means to an end for her. In ‘My Body’, the model reclaims her narrative, and secures her place as a successful feminist critic, confirming that she can be “respected for [her] ideas and politics and well, everything besides [her] body.” But at the same time, she ensures that readers understand that she is not ashamed of the way in which the uses her body. She states that: “All women are objectified and sexualised to some degree, I figured, so I might as well do it on my own terms.”
Although certainly a presenting a powerful message, Ratajkowski evokes a certain kind of privilege in some of her words. In The Guardian’s review of the book, Becca Rothfeld states that “in a book about female desirability and injustice, it is worth emphasising that beauty requires time, skill, money and effort”. To be able to separate herself from her body, Ratajkowski communicates her privilege. In a chapter ‘Buying myself Back’, she discusses the artist Richard Prince, who used nude photos of her as a part of a collection. He then listed the image for 80,000 US dollars and would not give Ratajkowski any of the practice prints for free. She purchased the print – thus buying herself back. Ratajkowski’s success comes from beauty, and in a modern world where standards are ever-changing, beauty requires money. It’s undeniably empowering that she managed to ‘buy herself back’, from a wealthy, powerful man who was keeping images of her hostage, however what she fails to mention is that not many women have the income to do this. In a social media dictated life, where revenge porn is rampant, the ability to reclaim your images, is a complete privilege earnt through money. In Rothfeld’s words:
“Models or not, we have no choice but to see ourselves through the prism
of our bodies; we are forced to endure the conflation of self with appearance;
and we are all at pains, in one way or another, to buy ourselves back. The rub
is that many of us still cannot afford to”
Undoubtedly, Ratajkowski is a woman who has experienced inexplicable misogyny and abuse and is still struggling to be taken seriously and prove that women can have a body and a brain. When discussing her first serious film role, as Andy in Gone Girl, she describes that Ben Affleck brought up her name when the director asked for a woman who “men were obsessed with and women hated”, which again bases Ratajkowski on her body and the stereotypes which surround her, instead of purely on her acting skills. Moreover, in previous interviews, Ratajkowski describes how Affleck referred to her as “the girl in Blurred Lines”.
Although these recounts obviously provoke empathy and sympathy, what the author neglects to do is comment on the bigger picture according to this suffering. Her experiences with Robin Thicke during Blurred Lines, where she says he touched her breasts, or the way in which she was still slut-shamed and ridiculed for her first serious acting role, could have been a way to open up a narrative about the damaging aspects of the modelling industry, or even about working alongside rich and powerful men. While being a very prominent feminist speaker, she neglects to speak about other critical views/approaches and predominantly focuses on herself, which is slightly disappointing. As such a prominent model and social figure, with nearly 30 million followers, she could certainly be someone who could evoke change in the industry.
Despite the glazed privilege which is present in ‘My Body’, Ratajkowski’s book is ground-breaking in the way that it exposes powerful men such as Robin Thicke, and finally gives her a narrative, years after viewers’ assumptions were made following the music video. Despite her beauty and model status, her words are relatable. She presents herself as a respectable woman, and what’s more: a hustler. Something which many, shamefully myself included, may have overlooked, due to her job as a model. I think that ‘My Body’ is a book which every woman, and man, should read. Particularly if you have ever held a narrative about Ratajkowski – whether it be that you think she’s fit, and not much else, or if you hold internalised misogyny, because your boyfriend’s always liking her pictures. It certainly grounds her and humanises her. Although she can seem worlds away from any of our own female suffering, the misogyny and abuse she has endured is relatable on many levels, making ‘My Body’ an insightful piece of writing, which certainly draws on experiences of misogyny which many readers will have faced.
Words: Madeleine Rousell