My Body by Emily Ratajkowski
If you have read My Body, please message me and let’s set up a Zoom conversation, because this is a book I really feel like I need to talk through with other women. But in the absence of that conversation, for the moment, I’m going to try to muddle through some of the ideas Emily Ratajkowski brings up (I’m going to refer to her below as EmRata, which is what she goes by on Instagram).
In this collection of essays about women’s bodies with a focus on her own body, EmRata explains that her mother was a beautiful woman who taught her that what is important, above all, is being beautiful. And EmRata is beautiful, with a small, slender, sexy body. As one fashion industry person says to her: “you’re like Kate Moss, but with big boobs.”
Even though she is short for a fashion model (5’5”), EmRata has become a very successful model, a position she worked hard to attain. And this is, of course, a profession that is all about how you look. Cue Billy Crystal saying “it’s not how you feel, it’s how you look,” and, in this case, it’s completely true.
What is a world like in which women are judged by their looks? What it is like to be a woman who chooses a life in which she will be judged by her looks? And what does it mean that the world, in large part, judges women by how they look, and that the prevalent and all-powerful male gaze represents the panel of judges? This book addresses all of those questions.
I’m not a fashion model, but I identified with many of the cirrcumstances described by Emrata. My mother didn’t tout beauty as the all-important quality, but it’s not like she de-emphasized it. I was frequently subjected to her once-over before going out, and was sometimes the recipient of the comment “you’re going out in that?” or “why don’t you put on a little lipstick?” In her world, and hence in mine, it matters how you look.
Because of that, I, like EmRata, care, and have always cared, how I look and not just that, but I care about what people, even complete strangers, think of how I look. When I describe it that way, it almost sounds like some sort of disease. Perhaps it is. (Let’s give it a name. How about insecurity?) How I look is a crucial element of the impression I make, and I want to have a say in that impression. Who am I going to see today, I’ll think while getting dressed, and what sort of impression do I want to make on that person? I’m reminded of a line I heard in a song recently: how do I know my first impression is really mine? When I heard it, I thought: that’s just a cute throwaway line. But on further reflection, it actually isn’t. Your first impression of me, of Emrata, of many other (dare I say beautiful) women, is not yours – we crafted it. And we spend way too much time and energy on it.
The book isn’t just a well-written reflection on what it’s like to live subject to the public and the male gaze. It’s also about the ways in which women are abused because of their beauty, from sexual harassment of models by photographers to rape. And it looks at the things we let men get away with because we think we should just smile or turn away and pretend it didn’t happen. But it did, and it does.
This is a thoughtful book that addresses questions EmRata has been considering, and living, for a long time. It’s complex and I’ve only touched on a few of the issues it raises. Overall, it is themed around one central question: are our bodies our own?