On Emily Ratajkowski’s Nakedness in ‘My Body…’

On Emily Ratajkowski’s Nakedness in ‘My Body…’

The model creates a career with her body as product and power, then maps the distance between the two. The product sells. Power wields. The distance doesn’t.

How we react to feminism or misogyny, often depends on how we were brought up and by whom. Our parents determine our life responses, to anger, hostility, betrayal, confusion, love and sex long after we leave our “home” of behavioural programming. Socio-economic class, education, city and country matter of course. Finally though, what we make of deeply visceral influences such as these—feminism as a social movement; misogyny as toxic, intergenerational bias—is through intellect, course correction, coming of age through filtering life experiences.

Some call it evolution.

Supermodel Emily Ratajkowski’s book, My Body (Quercus, 2021) published last month, a collection of first person essays reviewed by major publications across the world, that memoirs personal reflections on her modelling career keeps falling off this ever-spinning carousel of evolution. What you find as a reader is an extraordinarily attractive female model talking about the privileges, power and problems of her body as object and control centre, without being able to knife these ideas starkly, separately. Privilege becomes power. Then privilege becomes a problem. The problem then downsizes privilege with a disillusioning blow till it raises its head to try better luck in the guise of capitalism. Or feminism. Or both. Or the argument that the two can coexist in her life, flanked on one side by fame and the other by shame.


The model-author with her book.

Born in London in 1991, Ratajkowski, as the world knows even better now with this book was among the three models featured in Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, a 2013 video directed by Diane Martel which spawned toxic-erotic commentary when it was released. Seen as perpetuating rape culture, it had, with Thicke, co-writer Pharell Williams and rapper T.I dance around three models wearing transparent thongs. The men all clothed. Women naked. Blurred Lines even before it was censored, brought down, reposted with cuts, undressed the grating moves of bawdy male gaze while keeping the women dressed in personal choice. It sent Ratajkowski hurling into global notice which even her fully nude cover on Treats magazine a year before in 2012 had not managed.

It was only later when Ratajkowski told the world that Thicke had physically abused her during the making of Blurred Lines.


My Body as an idea for a book was seeded when Ratajkowski wrote the essay ‘Buying Myself Back’ for New York in 2020. It famously became the most read piece of the year for the magazine. Written compellingly and with lucidly expressed comfort with her body and the bane it becomes from time to time, it got the attention it deserved.

The book makes an attempt to keep that vein of writing alive. Needless to say it is very well written but most essays lack the perceptive width or depth of that first essay (reproduced in the book) where she wrote indignantly about being sued for posting her own photo to Instagram which was taken by a paparazzo on the street. She ‘buys herself back’, not only that photo but a painting by appropriation artist Richard Prince. As is now world news, hackers leak her nudes on 4chan while photographer Jonathan Leder published Polaroids of her with a forged release form. She called his insolence, “digital penetration”. (Leder denied the charges to New York).

The essays, with titles like ‘Beauty Lessons’, ‘Blurred Lines’, ‘Toxic’, ‘Transactions’, ‘Bc Hello Halle Berry’ take us in and out of Emily’s childhood and adolescence to her adult life. From her early hustle for modelling jobs, to capitalist career turns. From the power of the image and the powerlessness of (her) the person who stars in that image. From the gratification she seeks and gets by driving male attention to earning big money, fully paid trips to exotic locations for posting these on her Instagram feed.


A billboard advertising Ratajkowski’s book.

Ratajkowski started modelling as a 14-year-old and went on get small and big ticket assignments. From fashion modelling to getting paid to hang out as companion at a Super Bowl with a rich Malaysian dude. She would launch her own womenswear line selling bikinis and lingerie, while sticking out red glossy lips sucking lollipops on Instagram to market it.

All this as 28. 7 million followers (as of today) watch, some with enviable glee, others with hypocritical censure.

The one question that doesn’t stop perturbing a reader is that despite the resentment boiling inside her given repetitive experiences of physical, psychological or ideological abuse, Ratajkowski doesn’t alter or rethink her choices. Of landing up at some incompletely comprehended events and places for a good fee. She leaves her reader judging her life skills and basic intelligence instead of getting curious about her beauty and body, the battlefield of this narrative.

Ratajkowski is a smart girl. Last May, she auctioned off a non-fungible token, (NFT) of a photo of herself standing next to the Richard Prince print, coolly reappropriating Prince’s appropriation of her image. Christie’s sold the NFT for $175,000.


Why would that smart girl repeat experiences risking rape culture and humiliation? So when she writes “My position brought me in close proximity to wealth and power and brought me some autonomy, but it hasn’t resulted in true empowerment,” you feel like saying, ‘Obviously. Shouldn’t you have known better?’

My Body is a front row view of Emily’s life by Emily, of Emily. It is not every woman’s identifiable narrative nor every model’s untold tryst with fame and shame. It is not a feminist text.

Yet, every woman (and many men) should read it. At least in parts.

To allow it to provoke lateral and peripheral thoughts about our relationship with our bodies outside the male gaze. To ask—what Emily does not answer—what drives the attention of men to women’s bodies outside objectification, rape culture, misogyny or femininity? Which is the talent between the body and beauty of a person, especially a woman paid for her body if the mind is not needed in the game?

Ratajkowski says she wants it all. “To have my Instagram hustle, selling bikinis and whatever else, while also being respected for my ideas and politics and well, everything besides my body.” Yet it is hard to find the real Emily as author Emily tells us about model Emily.

The final chapter, Releases, can leave some of us angry. In it she admits she thinks anger makes women “look repulsive”. “I try to make anything resembling anger seem spunky and charming and sexy,” she writes. “I fold it into something small, tuck it away. I invoke my most reliable trick—I project sadness—something vulnerable and tender, something welcoming, a thing to be tended to.”


Banner: Ratajkowski at the 2021 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021 in New York. Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP