‘My Body’ by Emily Ratajowski: Feminist Essays On a Woman’s Sense Of Self
Similarly to many other avid readers, I often find myself feeling prematurely sceptical of celebrity books. This was true of ‘My Body’, Emily Ratajowski’s literary debut comprising of a range of essays that highlight her complicated (and often fraught) relationship with fame, her sexuality and female power. Chronicling the deeply pivotal moments of her life, Ratajowski fluently and emotively uses her words to share the experiences which have shaped her deep understanding of self and the world, while also vividly investigating wider society’s damaging fetishisation of the female body and feminine beauty.
While I can confidently admit that I will never experience a successful career as a globally recognisable and highly sought-after supermodel, as I progressed through her essays I was struck by the relatability of Ratajowski’s life experiences. Describing the world as a place that ‘celebrates and rewards women who are chosen by powerful men’, she highlights a fact that I believe will resonate with all women who open ‘My Body’: that even in the 21st century, women can never break free nor fully occupy their own bodies while men are persistently resolute on appropriating and commodifying them. Ratajowski fluently expresses her belief that all women are victims of a deeply-rooted culture that values women’s beauty above all other aspects of their being, reflecting on her encounters with authoritative and stubborn men in a fundamentally patriarchal society. Her frank language and direct approach forces the reader to reflect on their own encounters with men in positions of power, with parallels emerging which enable us to relate to her striking descriptions of being at once a woman and a product which men continue to capitalise upon. I found her writing familiar and true, experiencing a profound connection between reader and author, woman to woman.
Ratajowski explores the outside perceptions of her career, acknowledging the contradictions between drawing attention to her own body while also demanding respect for her body in her life outside of work. Her writing draws attention to the heated issue of consent: while she exposes herself and allows the world to frequently see her feminine figure in full, she expresses her retained power to freely reject unwanted touch whenever she feels necessary. This is paralleled on the outside world, with the topic of consent rising in prominence over recent years following both high profile scandals and smaller-scale cases of rape and assault. This relates to ownership, with ‘My Body’ presenting a clear potential to explore the issue of revenge porn, with Ratajowski noting the infamous iCloud phishing scam of which she was a victim alongside cases where scores of men debated who held the rights and ownership of an image she was the sole focus of: ‘all these men, some of whom I knew intimately and others I’d never met, were debating who owned an image of me’.
Ratajowski’s understanding of the world has been fundamentally shaped by her existence as an only child, with her essays revealing the impact her small family has had on her relationships both as a child and in the present day as she navigates adulthood. She expresses how valuable her female friendships are, and how she has struggled to form deeper relationships with partners following numerous instances of sexual assault and unwarranted advances, ultimately leading to her experiencing disturbing disassociation during intimate moments with her husband. Ratajowski is open when expressing her difficulties in trusting another individual following deep violations and transactional relationships with past partners: ‘even the love and appreciation of a man I trusted, I had learned, could mutate into possessiveness.’ As a reader, I was struck by her honesty, with such sincerity feeling deeply personal and as though Ratajowski is trusting the reader as she would a friend, encouraging us to reflect on our own experiences with similar candour.
‘My Body’ is an articulate, deep and truly insightful exploration of what it means to be a woman in a society that fundamentally exploits the very meaning of the word. This unexpected and intense book forces us to reconsider what it means to be a female member of the celebrity class, highlighting how we can all do better both as active bystanders as well as in our own experiences to recognise our worth and take ownership of our own bodies.