“I’ve capitalised on my body within the confines of a cis-hetero, capitalist, patriarchal world, one in which beauty and sex appeal are valued solely through the satisfaction of the male gaze. Whatever influence and status I’ve gained were only granted to me because I appealed to men. My position brought me in proximity to wealth and power and brought me some autonomy, but it hasn’t resulted in true empowerment.”
My Body is a self-reflective debut from Emily Ratajkowski as she discusses body politics and the commodification of her own body throughout her career. At the beginning of the book, she notes how the work she is doing on herself is ongoing and that the purpose of her writing was not “to arrive at answers” but instead to “examine the various mirrors in which I’ve seen myself.” Thus, in this essay collection, Emily seeks to establish her own voice after 10+ years of working in the modelling/film industries where she has been seen, but largely gone unheard.
While at the start of her modelling career she had convinced herself that she felt empowered by her ability to be sexualised on her own terms, she now understands that performing to the male gaze offers only a facade of control and personal autonomy. She writes, “facing the reality of the dynamics at play would have meant admitting how limited my power really was - how limited any woman’s power is when she survives and even succeeds in the world as a thing to be looked at.” In one essay Emily references the events of the ‘Blurred Lines’ set, whereby she was reminded that in Robin Thicke’s ability to sexually assault her in front of a whole crew of women, none of them had any real power in that situation and that she herself “was nothing more than the hired mannequin.”
My favourite parts of My Body are where Emily offers more personal insights. For example, I loved reading about the women’s-only Korean spa she frequents and I appreciated her sharing details about her mum’s terminal illness later on in the book. It was also interesting to hear about her parents’ perception of her beauty and how the way her mother responded to her growing up had introduced her to competition between women “before I [she] had even learned to read”. Emily writes really well to weave all of these details about her life into the points of her essays and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know more about Emily outside of her public career.
So far I’ve not read a critique of this book that is actually helpful and most of them are wildly unfair. I think a lot of people have read My Body as a celebrity autobiography but forget (or perhaps do not care) that Emily is sharing some deeply personal experiences in this book. The woman literally describes multiple occasions of being raped and sexually assaulted and people have been like “she’s so out of touch!”, “she needs to check her privilege!” Do you hear yourselves? Please, rest.
Further, it isn’t true that she skims over her privilege throughout the essays. She frequently mentions how being white, well-off and conventionally attractive (to men in particular) are the reasons for her huge success in the modelling industry. She even brings up specific instances where she has been made aware of said privilege. She also understands the hypocrisy of her stance, which sees her wanting to sell bikinis and making money through Instagram, whilst also desiring to be respected for her ideas and politics. Did people expect her to issue an apology for how she’s benefited off of the patriarchy? Ultimately, this is her memoir (not a feminist manifesto) and if you thought it was going to be anything other than an account of her white, mostly privileged life and experiences then the onus is on you.
If I had to offer a criticism it would be that Emily spends a lot of time examining how men see her, but it would have been a welcome addition if she had also thought about how women, in particular young girls, see her too.
I love this book, I love Emily, that is all.